Heading home from Cranberry Township Tuesday evening, the feelings of nausea and wicked heartburn had taken over my body, coursing through me as I rode away with a much-overfilled belly from the location of an ugly battle.
The battle I speak of was not your conventional battle, but rather a food challenge – the “Big Fatty” challenge, at the Greek restaurant, My Big Fat Greek Gyro.
The franchise of My Big Fat Greek Gyro was founded by Michael Ference and Kathleen Kamouyerou-Ference, who both wanted to create a restaurant that specialized in serving authentic Greek food. With the original location having opened at McMurray, Pa. in 2005, the franchise expanded to four other locations in Wexford, Cranberry Township, White Oak and Mt. Lebanon, Pa.
The restaurant serves a variety of Greek sandwiches, salads, sides and desserts, but the restaurant’s specialty is – like the name suggests – the traditional gyro.
The sandwich’s base consists of a seasoned blend of ground lamb and beef, which is pressed together, cooked on a vertical broiler, and shaved into thin slices. Topped off with lettuce, tomatoes, onions and a creamy tzatziki sauce – a sauce that traditionally consists of strained yoghurt – the sandwich is served on a lightly grilled, hand-stretched pita.
The biggest item on the menu is the “Big Fatty” – a super-sized traditional gyro that weighs in at about 4.5 pounds, three of which, alone, consists of the meat.
If consumed within an hour, the winner gets the meal for free, as well as a T-shirt and their picture placed on the Wall of Fame by the entrance. Should the challenger fail, however, he or she gets their picture placed on the Wall of Shame by the restrooms, and has to pay $29, the cost of the meal.
Cranberry Township branch manager Evelyn Rinaman said the challenge was the brainchild of Ference and Kamouyerou, and has been a part of the company for several years.
Rinaman said during her time as manager of the Cranberry Township branch, the amount of people who successfully defeated the “Big Fatty” has so far been slim.
“I’ve been working in the business for two years, and have had many a challenger, but only one, so far, has succeeded at our store,” Rinaman said. “No one has ever completed the challenge since January of 2011.”
Only feeling a little intimidated by that bit of news, I had Rinaman describe the process of making the “Big Fatty.”
“[The “Big Fatty”] is the equivalent of about six or seven gyros,” she said, gesturing the approximate size, “so we take a pizza pan, we put it on a scale, measure it to zero, put three pitas on the pan and measure it back to zero. Then, we add meat until the scale reaches three pounds, and then we add on the rest of the toppings.”
Feeling confident at the time, I told her that I was ready for the challenge. But then, she handed me a waiver to sign.
By signing this waiver, I agreed to the terms that responsibility for my sickness, injury or death was not that of the restaurant’s, but my own.
Feeling like I had just made some sort of deal with the devil, I promptly took my seat and began to wait.
Several minutes later, the moment I was waiting for had come – the “Big Fatty” was placed before me.
My strategy was simple, yet visually disgusting – to disregard the use of the provided plastic silverware, attack the mountain of meat and toppings with my bare hands and eat at a quick and consistent pace, with intermittent pauses to sip water.
Deciding not to waste any more time, I grabbed a big handful of the meat and quickly took my first bite.
As I hastily grabbed handful after handful of meat and toppings, I wished to myself that I could slow down time so I could fully enjoy the rich, savory flavors of each bite.
Before I knew it, I had downed about a pound-and-a-half of the “Big Fatty” in 10 minutes. Things were looking good, and my audience was impressed as I kept pressing forward. It was then and there that I made my first mistake.
As I was off to a good start, I decided to slightly slow my pace so I could allow more time to chew each bite.
But it was by doing so that I began to take too long with chewing each bite.
The clock continued to tick, and I only continued to experience increased trouble with swallowing my bites. With my mouth tired of the same taste, I switched to one of the pitas and filled it with a good portion of the meat, and with 20 minutes left on the clock, I finished the first pita.
Knowing full well that time was no longer on my side, I pressed on and continued to the second pita. Because the richness of the meat made me feel nauseous, with just under 14 minutes to go, I knew I wasn’t going to make it, but I was going to keep fighting to the last second.
At this point, each bite I took seemed to last for minutes, and as I threw down the unfinished pita, my time had run out.
Conceding defeat, I planted my face into the remains before me. I had lost the challenge.
When asked about her reaction each time a new challenger takes on the “Big Fatty,” Rinaman said she always feels skeptical about their odds.
“It’s great to watch them try,” she said with laughter, “but we don’t see them for a while after they try it.”
As I finally arrived back to my apartment after what seemed like hours, the nausea and heartburn only continued to linger. I was in for a long night.