The 6 Toughest Eating Challenges in St. Louis and One Foolish Man's Attempt to Beat Them All


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Mama's Pasta Challenge with meatball | Zach Garrison

Mama's Pasta Challenge
$24.95
Mama Campisi's Restaurant
(2132 Edwards Street; 314-776-3100)

At Mama Campisi's on the Hill, I'm led to a back table covered in lovely white linen and a single lit candle. The immaculate tablecloth will be the field upon which a war will rage between myself and a gigantic meatball resting upon a king-size bed of noodles and sauce. There will be casualties.

Mama's Pasta Challenge consists of three pounds of pasta, a half-pound of homemade tomato sauce and, the pièce de résistance, a two-pound meatball. Owner Lance Ervin has a grin on his face when he tells me that only three individuals have ever conquered his challenge. Those were pros whose strategy, Ervin tells me, was to "keep shoveling it in as fast as possible."

This was my first food challenge, and I arrived with bright, hopeful eyes. I still believed with childlike naiveté that if I tried hard enough and really focused, I could complete the list of challenges set before me.

I was slightly shocked when the plate of pasta appeared from the kitchen. The meatball was easily the size of softball, and the bowl of spaghetti looked capable of feeding a family of four. I started by tearing into the meatball, stabbing at huge chunks with my fork. It was steaming hot (I burned my mouth on the first bite and tried not to cry) but surprisingly tender and tasty. Soon enough, the massive orb of meat and spice had disappeared. I held up my hands in victory. But then Ervin came back from the kitchen to check on my progress and quietly reminded me that the huge bowl of pasta and sauce still sat there, mostly untouched. Meanwhile, the meatball was lodged in my stomach, digesting glacially. But I soldiered on, twirling my fork in the pasta and tomato sauce.

Soon, however, I began to sweat and feel dizzy. I suddenly felt disgusting, like the glutton from Se7en. I attempted one last bite of spaghetti, scooped up a chunk of sauce and forced it into my unwilling mouth. Breathing heavily, I put my hand over my stomach and let out a mammoth belch -- it was the sound of defeat. Ultimately, there was just no room in me for the hill of pasta and sauce. (Ervin sardonically offered bread, but I did not partake.) I was ashamed, even after having eaten two pounds of meatball and roughly one pound of noodles.

Aftermath: My stomach remained distended for hours and hours as I lay on my couch, wondering what I had gotten myself into. For the next day, the mere thought of food made me slightly sick. Pepto-Bismol and I would become fast friends in the coming weeks.

Difficulty: ++++
Without years of training in some remote Russian compound, an elastic stomach and the ability to swallow a softball-size object whole, I don't see how a regular human being could possibly win this challenge.


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