By Cheryl Clemens
1:27 PM EDT, October 24, 2011
Sean Brown and Doug Jones were brainstorming ideas for a signature burger to add to the menu at Players Bar & Grill in Woodstock when Brown, the restaurant's general manager, threw out a crazy idea.
"We were trying to figure out what we could put on a hamburger that would be unique, and I said, 'How about a chicken breast?'" he recalled of his discussion with Jones, Players' chef. "It started out as a joke, but then something clicked."
Soon their creation also contained two types of cheese and they were toying with adding bacon when Brown had another crazy idea.
"Everybody likes bacon, but Doug's pulled pork is so delicious we thought, why not go with that instead?"
Today the restaurant sells about a dozen Players Signature Sandwiches every night, and according to Brown, almost everyone who orders the mammoth sandwich actually finishes it.
Every week Travel Channel host Adam Richman brings "big food" into American living rooms on "Man v. Food" -- where an episode's big challenge can be devouring anything from a 12-egg omelet in Seattle, Wash., to a 2-foot-long hot dog with all the works in Hartford, Conn.
Closer to home, a number of local restaurants have crafted their own eating challenges, with rewards ranging from bragging rights to a free meal to a photograph on the wall.
When Dave Israel took his wife, Karen, and son, Isaac, for dinner at El Hidalgo in Elkridge one night last summer, he had no way of knowing that very night owner Ricardo Vanegas was unveiling the Ultimate Burrita Prenada -- an 8-pound burrito that was free to anyone who could eat the whole thing in one hour.
"We all knew there was another customer in the restaurant that night trying to finish it and he was really on a mission. Then my wife started joking that maybe I should give it a shot," said the engineer from Elkridge, who decided to give it a go. "But when they brought it out on this giant platter and I saw it was 2 feet long, I knew right away it was going to be impossible to finish."
Israel managed to eat almost one-third of the burrito, but ended up taking the majority of it home stuffed into three large carryout containers. The other customer who accepted the challenge that night only fared slightly better.
"Big food" opportunities may intrigue most people, but only a small number actually take the challenge.
Dr. Carl Lejuez, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Maryland College Park, said that while occasionally a diner like Israel will undertake such challenges on a lark, more typically a "big food" fan is someone who exhibits a degree of extreme behavior in other areas of his life as well.
"There's a pretty good chance this is only one example of a pattern of extreme behavior, even if we're talking about someone who handles everyday events in extraordinary ways," said Lejuez, who, ironically, was an undergraduate student at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., at the same time as "Man v. Food" host Richman.
Interested in seeing if you've got what it takes to conquer a food challenge? We've compiled a list of local establishments with at least one menu item sure to make you loosen your belt a few notches. And remember, if you're afraid there's no way you’ll be able to clean your plate, bring a few friends with you and try a team approach.
1: The 9 Pounder at BGR: The Burger Joint
6250 Columbia Crossing Circle, Columbia, www.bgrtheburgerjoint.com, 443-319-5542
It may be called The 9 Pounder, but the actual weight including the bun and condiments is just over 15 pounds. This notorious burger -- which has been featured on "Man v. Food" and The Food Network -- feeds 10 to 15 and requires 24 hours to special order the brioche bun. It costs $79, but if one person can eat the whole thing in one sitting, it's free.
So what does it take to construct a 9 Pounder?
"We start with 15.4 pounds of the same prime aged beef as our other burgers and cook it to order," said owner Topper Person. "Then we add two heads of lettuce, eight tomatoes, three red onions, four whole pickles and a river of our special Mojo sauce."
BGR has been open in Columbia since May, but so far no one has been able to eat a 9 Pounder in one sitting.
"We've sold a dozen so far, but usually they are for groups, not a single person," said Person. "Usually a group will come in for one, although we did have one boy who loves our burgers so much his dad ordered a 9 Pounder as his birthday cake this summer."
2: Players Signature Sandwich at Players Bar & Grill
10795 Birmingham Way, Woodstock, www.playersbargrill.com, 410-461-2900
Can't decide between a burger, grilled chicken and a pulled pork sandwich? Now you don't have to. The Players Signature Sandwich ($12.99) starts with a 6-ounce burger topped with pepper jack cheese, a 4-ounce grilled chicken breast, Monterey Jack cheese, 3 ounces of pulled pork barbecue, lettuce, tomato, onion and chipotle mayonnaise.
General manager Sean Brown suggests, if you really want a challenge, order the Signature Sandwich with a stuffed baked potato on the side instead of the house-made Old Bay chips. "Each of our potatoes is a pound to a pound and a quarter and comes stuffed with your choice of seafood, chicken or vegetables."
3: The J.J. Gargantuan at Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches
6191 Old Dobbin Lane, Columbia, www.jimmyjohns.com, 410-872-0010
Created by Huey, brother of company founder Jimmy John Liautaud, the J.J. Gargantuan ($8.15) features Jimmy John's signature fresh-baked bread piled high with Genoa salami, smoked ham, Capicola, roast beef, turkey and provolone topped with onions, mayo, lettuce, tomato and homemade Italian dressing.
"We sell between 20 and 40 a day, and I'd say 99 percent of those who buy it are men," explained manager Mike Woizesko, who added it's a popular sandwich with those on low-carb diets. "You can order any one of our sandwiches as an 'un-wich' -- wrapped in lettuce leaves instead of on bread -- and the Gargantuan is really popular for that because it's just meat."
4: Our Famous Pounder at Cheeburger Cheeburger
8872 McGaw Road, Columbia, www.cheeburger.com, 410-290-6495
It's not unusual for a logjam to occur at the entrance of Cheeburger Cheeburger, and it has nothing to do with customers waiting for a table to open up.
"We have a wall where we post a photo of anyone who has finished Our Famous Pounder hamburger, and almost everyone stops to check it out," said Aaron Benjamin, one of the managers. "At times it can be hard to get people seated because they want to stop and see if they recognize anyone."
The Famous Pounder starts with 20 ounces of beef, which cooks down to 16 and is served on a 6-inch roll with your choice of more than 25 toppings. If you are 12 or older and you finish your burger, your photo goes up on the wall. Benjamin says they sell about a dozen a day and 95 percent of the people who order it finish it.
He adds that only about 5 percent of those who order one are women, and that the standing record is four in one sitting.
"A fellow ate four of them a few years ago -- that's 80 ounces of meat, precooked," Benjamin explained. "It took him two and a half hours and he also ate a small order of onion rings and a shake."
5: Smash Dog Pizza at Pub Dog Pizza and Drafthouse
8865 Stanford Blvd., Columbia, www.pubdog.net, 410-872-0364
If you're in the mood for pizza, you'll be glad to know Pub Dog's menu lists 21 10-inch thin-crust pies featuring everything from bacon and basil to grilled chicken and Gouda. And what's better than one Pub Dog pizza? How about two pizzas sandwiched together? A Smash Dog Pizza ranges from $15 to $20 and can be made with any combination of toppings.
"One of the most popular I've seen is our Dog Pound Pizza, which is like a meat lover's pizza, smashed together with our Wing Dog Pizza, which has boneless marinated Buffalo chicken on it," said Jason Tarazon, one of Pub Dog's managers.
He added that there's no mystery as to how it was created. "Our original location in Fells Point was one of the few places serving late-night food," he said. "After a night of partying people get hungry and ask for crazy things, like smashing two pizzas together. But soon, enough people were coming in asking for it that we put it on the menu.
"In Columbia we sell four or five of them a week," he added. "Usually late at night."
6: Ultimate Burrita Prenada at El Hidalgo
6060 Marshalee Drive, Elkridge, www.elhidalgorestaurant.com, 410-540-2999
Owner Ricardo Vanegas debuted this 8-pound, 2-foot-long burrito in July, but his original goal was the spring.
"We got delayed because I had to special order 26-inch platters that the burrito would fit on," he said.
Makes sense when you consider each one contains either Mexican or poblano rice, lettuce, tomato, pico de gallo and a choice of three of the following: shredded beef, shredded pork, ground beef, chili, steak, grilled chicken and shredded chicken. And, of course, it's topped with green and red sauce, guacamole, sour cream and more pico de gallo.
You have 60 minutes to finish the burrito ($39.99), and if you succeed, not only is the burrito free, but so is everything else the diner ordered, including alcohol.
In the first month it was on the menu, Vanegas served about 25, but the most anyone has eaten so far is about 75 percent. His advice to the curious?
"Before you come in, don't eat lunch. Don't eat breakfast either," he advised. "And pace yourself. A lot of people come in and start eating really fast, but they can't keep it up and have to stop. If you're going to eat the whole thing, you're going to have to find a steady pace and just keep going."
Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun