How I Took On The Citi Field Food Challenge (And You Can, Too)
Five giant stadium items. Nine innings of baseball. One man's valiant quest for food immortality.
Let's get this out of the way up front: This is a bad idea. Possibly even a terrible idea. You're reading about the Citi Field Food Challenge specifically because it's a bad idea, and when you're done reading, maybe you'll consider taking the Challenge, too — again, because it's a bad idea, and what are we if not adventurers in the face of stupidly large food challenges?
And let's just acknowledge that, you and me: This is a bad idea, and it may or may not end with your head buried in a trash can outside the right field bleachers. Challenger, beware.
So onto the challenge. It's simple, really: We looked at the menu at Citi Field, the home of the New York Mets, and dug up the best, the biggest, the most insane food that money could buy. And then we stuck it all on a Bingo card.
The outside edges of the card are the biggest foods: your mountains of ribs, your savory meatball sliders, your fully-stuffed Italian subs. We loaded the inside ring with more reasonably-sized food options: fried dough and bacon-on-a-stick and humongous milkshakes. (Your definition of "reasonable" may vary.) The free space is a Brooklyn Summer Ale, one of the many excellent local beers sold at the ballpark. Let no one say the stadium food gods are less than merciful.
The rules are simple:
1) Your first bite starts at the scheduled time for first pitch. (Rain delay? You can still take that first bite at 7:05.)
2) You've got 9 innings to finish five food items — any five, as long as they're in a row. No extra innings eating allowed, sorry!
3) You must hold your food down for at least 15 minutes after your last bite.
4) You accept the consequences and the punishment the Challenge will almost certainly dole out.
So here's my attempt. The night? Aug. 12. The game? Nationals-Mets. The Challenge? A very bad idea.
Me before the challenge. Wary, but excited.
There's a lot you won't see at Citi Field this year. (Among them: A competent manager, a solid bullpen, a young starting pitcher without arm problems... OK, OK, you're getting the idea.) But Citi Field is home to an impressive selection of foods — from the big to the massive to the super greasy. It makes for a heck of a Bingo card.
And at the ballpark, there are a few decent paths to victory in this Challenge. There are ways to eat five in a row that are maybe even semi-doable.
I do not go down one of those paths.
For you, dear reader, I take on one of those worst possible paths: The B column, straight down. In order, that's: A filet mignon steak sandwich. A lamb gyro. A meat lovers jumbo slice. A chicken tenders and fries basket.
Oh, and a double cheeseburger from Shake Shack, just to finish it off.
I show up with a buddy from college, Tyler. He's along for adult supervision and moral support. (If you attempt the Challenge, bring a friend. You'll need one.) Tickets are $11. By the end of the night, my food tab will run into the $80s.
There's rain in the forecast, but that's not a bad thing. Rain means shorter lines, a potential rain delay (more time to eat!), and low humidity. I'm feeling good. I haven't eaten since 9 a.m., and I've been on my feet all day. I tell myself one thing: If I can get to Shake Shack, I can go the distance. Of all the things on the menu, I'm least intimidated by that burger. I've never been a big Shake Shack fan — frankly, I've usually leave there a little hungry. So if I can get through four, I think I've got a shot.
The steak sandwich: finished product, and on the grill.
The steak sandwich
I've been to a dozen major league parks, and a filet mignon steak sandwich from Pat LaFrieda ($16) is just about the best food I've ever had at a ballpark. So I start there, at the stand out past center field. The filet mignon is searing on the grill, and the onions are right next to them, monterey jack melting right on top.
And that first bite — right at 7:05, scheduled first pitch — is incredible. The beef is amazing. The onions are amazing. The cheese is amazing. The bun is buttery and oily and crunchy and amazing. I throw some jalapeños on top, because why not, and I take bite after bite, two hands on the sandwich at all times.
For the first and only time today, I am actually happy about what I ate.
It's a fantastic sandwich, but the best news of all — as far as the Challenge is concerned — is that it goes down easy. I finish it in five minutes.
I feel good.
The gyro: unfortunately larger than expected.
It's in the middle of the second inning that I go for the gyro. I hadn't really considered timing before — after all, how often do you think about when your next meal should happen at a ballpark? — but it's obvious that in order to eat all five items in nine innings, I'm going to have to time this out just right. Especially worrying are the lines at Shake Shack, which can stretch for two or three innings, sometimes. What if I get there too late and can't eat my burger before the final pitch?
So I set a goal: Finish the gyro by the end of the second. Go for the pizza in the fourth. The chicken fingers and fries in the sixth. And I'll be in line at Shake Shack by the 7th-inning stretch.
Next up is the gyro ($11) at Corfu Grill. I get mine with everything: lettuce, tomato, onions, tzatziki. It's an okay gyro, but nothing special. It's also a little bigger than I'd hoped for. I was thinking that maybe they'd skimp on the meat, but here I am, plowing through a sizable amount of lamb. I'm also a little queasy from the tzatziki, but nothing too bad. It takes me six minutes to work through the gyro. Two innings down, three items to go.
And that's when I catch a huge break. The rain starts coming down, and the game goes into a 25-minute rain delay. By the time crews pull the tarps up and the game gets back underway, the tzatziki has stopped rolling in my stomach, and I'm feeling good again.
The pizza. Oh, the pizza.
The pizza slice
It's the middle of the 4th, and I go for the slice. It's from Two Boots, and it's called Meat the Mets ($6.50). I'm not sure what I'm more upset about: that pun, or the unconscionable amount of grease I'm shoveling into my stomach. Either way, I'm not happy. The slice is topped with creole chicken, pepperoni, sweet Italian sausage, ricotta, and mozzarella. And it's pretty big. At least the crust is thin. There's probably a lot of flavor on this pizza, but I don't taste any of it. All I feel is the grease.
I am grease, and grease is me.
Still, this was my chosen route. Other potential Bingo routes included too many combinations of foods (meat, seafood, dairy) or an undesirable item (hello, double Nathan's hot dog). By comparison, this one was almost simple! Just beef, lamb, chicken, and a small amount of pork to finish off in nine innings. An almost pedestrian buffet, really.
And so far, my strategy is working. I mean, sure, I'm force-feeding myself a slice of pizza I don't want. Sure, the grease is sitting heavy in my stomach, and sure, I'm in a full-on sweat from all the meat. But aside from that, I'm great! The JumboTron is showing a promo for an upcoming post-game concert, Boyz II Men. The end of the road is near.
Chicken fingers: before and after.
The chicken fingers
Somewhere in the fifth inning, I realize that I haven't sat down all game. I don't even think I can at this point. It's not that I'm full — amazingly, I still feel like eating — but there's all that grease and meat and bread in my belly, and well… sitting down just seems like a very bad idea.
And a few minutes later, it occurs to me for the first time that I am going to have to take the subway home, and it's going to take 40 minutes, and the 7 train is not really the kind of place where you can deal with the amount of food I just have (and soon) will eat.
I don't know what to do. So I keep eating.
It's 9:03 pm — the top of the sixth — when I go for the chicken tenders basket ($12.25), which has three chicken fingers on top of a heap of Nathan's crinkle-cut fries. The concession stand lists the calorie count next to each item. I don't read it. I don't want to know.
The chicken fingers are bland, and the fries are cold and greasy. I finish it all within the inning.
I am disgusted with myself. I am sickened by the thought of myself. I am on the road to victory.
The burger: the last stand (but an incredible first bite).
Only the Shake Shack ShakeBurger is left, and I'd told myself that if I could get here, I could go the distance. And here I am. It's the top of the 7th, about two and a half hours after the scheduled first pitch. In a normal game, it might already be the 8th or the 9th, but thanks to the rain delay, I've bought myself an extra half hour.
There's no line at Shake Shack, so I go right to the front. Nobody else seems to be ordering burgers at this hour — what, nobody else wants a cheeseburger at 9:30 on a Tuesday? — and I can see the chef at the grill throw on my two patties. For the first time since Pat LaFrieda's, I'm excited about what I'm about to eat. The smell alone is impressive.
But my stomach is struggling. Is there a grease version of sea sickness? Because I've got that. I am basically a walking vat of garbage at this point, hyper-aware of the five or six thousand calories in my stomach (or more, probably!) and the increasingly-worrying subway ride home.
And then the burger comes ($10), and it's time to see how much more I can eat. That first bite is fantastic: hot and tasty, with a sauce that's creamy and lingers on the tongue. It's the best Shake Shack burger I've ever had. The burger's so good, it actually makes my stomach feel a little better. The seventh inning stretch comes, and I'm feeling calm. I've got this.
But then the bites slow down. I'm still chewing, but the burger is bigger than expected. 15 minutes in, I'm only halfway done.
And then the feeling hits. The sauce starts sitting on top of everything else that's in my stomach — the meat and the monterey jack and the grease and the tzatziki — and I know: I am going to vomit. It is going to happen tonight.
But maybe I can finish the burger in time. Maybe I can hold it off?
For you, dear BuzzFeed reader, I try.
The rain starts coming down again, and we move below the covered concourse in right field. There are eight bites left of this burger, maybe less. Tyler is telling me that I can finish this. I'm looking at my burger — these handful of bites of burger — and thinking that I can do it. It's just a burger.
I manage two bites in the top of the eighth, and two more in the bottom of the inning.
Four bites left. Four measly bites.
But then there's that feeling again, and that sauce is sitting on my tongue, refusing to go away. I have to burp, but I'm not even sure if I can. I'm worried about what else might happen if I burp. I keep one hand on the burger as I rub my lower back with the other. I am so disgusting, but also too close to victory to care.
Three bites left.
I can't. I have to. I won't. I must.
Six outs left. It's the top of the ninth. Two bites left. It has to end right now.
I try to take it all in one giant bite. But I can't. I can't even open my mouth wide enough. Even my jaw is tired of chewing. There's still one bite left in the basket, but as soon as that sauce hits my lips, I know it's already over.
There is a trash can outside section 102, and it is 10:07 p.m. on a Tuesday night at Citi Field, and I do the thing I have been fighting for a few innings: I vomit.
Then I vomit another four times.
It's so much vomit, I'm actually laughing by vomit no. 3. Who vomits this much? How does a human put enough food in a single stomach to cause a reaction like this? I laugh-vomit twice more.
I'm upset and all kinds of frustrated with myself. I'm alternating between disgust (how did I get myself into this in the first place??) and disgust (how could I not take one more bite??). But there's also a sense of relief: At least now I can take the 7 train without fear.
I spend the subway ride home asking myself what went wrong. Could I have eaten the burger faster? Should I have eaten it earlier, and then finished with the blander chicken tenders? Was this Shake Shack burger bigger than most, or have I been underestimating Shake Shack's burgers for years?
But it doesn't really matter, does it? The Challenge is over, and I've lost.
One bite short. ONE FREAKING BITE.
So here's what I have to say to anyone brave enough to take on the Citi Field Food Challenge: Maybe you have what it takes to defeat the Challenge. Maybe you have an iron stomach, or an unbreakable will. (Or maybe you just have a stronger tolerance for Shake Shack sauce.)
Either way, you should know: This is a very bad idea.
Don't say you weren't warned.