Eating Out
Clinton Station Diner - Home of Zeus: The 7 lb Burger!!!!
This was the burger that toppled Denny's "96er", and encouraged Denny to come up with an even bigger burger, "The Belly Buster". Sometimes competition is good :)

From: Courier News

Staff Writer

UNION (Hunterdon) -- Anyone who thinks competitive eating is not a sport has never watched several groups of large men each try to power down a 12.5-pound cheeseburger.

The sweating, the strain on the flushed faces, the groans of defeat from oversized contestants: Whatever it is, it ain't exactly an evening at the opera.

But it was the scene Monday at the Clinton Station Diner, where six three-man teams sat down to assail "Zeus," the diner's massive slab of beef once billed as the nation's largest burger.


"Obviously, we're not suggesting -- no one can finish that burger anyway," diner owner Michael Zambas said before the competition. "It's just for fun."

Seven pounds of ground beef, 12 to 16 slices of American cheese, half a head of lettuce, roughly two tomatoes and an onion make up the interior of the sandwich, which is about the size of the steering wheel on an average Toyota. The bun alone weighs 2.5 pounds.

Anybody walking into the diner can order one for $29.95, but the burger is free to the person who finishes it in less than three hours. Zambas said that's never happened.

"For something like this, I stopped eating at 4 or 5 (p.m.) yesterday," said Arnie "Chowhound" Chapman, discussing strategy before the event.

Chapman, chairman of the Association of Independent Competitive Eaters, approached Zambas about an eating contest involving the "Zeus" a few months ago. The diner had created the gastronomic goliath in February to celebrate its first anniversary.

"I said to myself, if this guy is crazy enough to create a 12.5-pound burger, I bet I can talk him into a contest," Chapman said.

He was. He did.

In Monday's competition, Chapman, of Oceanside, N.Y., and his two teammates, the "TriState Titans," were the closest thing there was to a trio of ringers. He holds a record for chili-eating -- 7.1 pounds in five minutes -- and was joined by "Gentleman Joe" Menchetti, of Connecticut, and Dominick "the Doginator" Cardo. Cardo, of Martinsville, Pa., said he holds a title for eating cow tongue: 3 pounds, 3 ounces in 12 minutes.

Chapman wore a hat with floppy dog ears and his name embroidered on the front, along with a necklace that looked like a dog's choke chain. Menchetti was decked out in a tuxedo and red cummerbund.

The three men probably had the largest combined waistband measurement of all the teams.

"It'll be fun. That's what it's all about -- fun and helping people," Cardo said.

The competition was also a benefit for "Operation: Shoebox," a charity that raises money to send personal items to U.S. soldiers deployed in the Middle East. It raised about $500.

As the 18 competitors were filtering into the diner, a team of cooks prepared the massive burgers in the kitchen. Eggs and bread crumbs were added, and the meat was flattened into a disc. The burgers were grilled, baked, placed on a skillet and then grilled once more.

In some cases, two chefs were required to flip the patties, if "patty" is the right word to use for something that looks like it could be used as a seat cushion.

When the contest finally began, some teams used strategy, scooping off the vegetables and eating them first, while others took a more genteel approach, cutting the 2-inch-thick burger into neat wedges.

The planning was largely moot by about 30 minutes in, when the beef began taking its toll on everybody.

"How do we look like we're feeling? Pretty bad. This is painful," said Erik Olson of Somerville, a member of "The 3 Stooges" team.

Even Cardo, a professional, was absently stirring a puddle of ketchup on his plate with a wedge of burger, saying, "I don't know about this."

The diner's head chef, Peter Karavoulias, circulated among the tables, wearing an uncertain expression under his tall white chef's hat.

"Am I proud?" he asked, pausing with an eyebrow raised. "I guess. I would like to see someone finish."

Serving as celebrity judge for the competition was Katie Stelnick, a slim -- yes, slim, as everyone noted -- 18-year-old college freshman from Princeton who in January downed an 11.5-pound burger by herself at Denny's Beer Barrel Pub in Clearfield, Pa.

Stelnick attracted national attention afterward, and was interviewed on "Good Morning America" and "The Tony Danza Show."

"I was hungry. I didn't really have a strategy. I had a lot of people betting I couldn't do it," she said. She admitted, though, that "the last 3 pounds weren't so good, I'm not gonna lie."

Of course, Stelnick had three hours for her feat. The stomachs at Clinton Station on Monday had just an hour and 15 minutes to finish their burgers.

Only one team did it: the "TriState Titans," in 1:11:52. And it was a Pyrrhic victory, in a way.

As Chapman stood to celebrate, he gurgled, bucked, doubled over and vomited onto the table, sending a collective "Ewwww!" into the room as spectators jumped out of the way. Still, his team was the only one that even came close to polishing off the burger and winning the $500 first prize.

Doris Munro of the Cokesbury section of Tewksbury said she'd stopped by after reading about the contest.

"Oh, I think it's fantastic. I'd like to see the next one," she said, eyeing Chapman's table with a laugh. "That's why you don't want to be next to the winner, right?"

Chad Weihrauch can be reached at (908) 707-3137 or

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