The scene in front of me, however, is anything but friendly. Atop a giant metal cooking tray that's too big for my table, a tumult of bread, meat and condiments sits menacingly before me. The ginormous sandwich boasts three foot-long, half-pound hot dogs nestled delicately inside a three-foot loaf of French bread (which has to be special-ordered from a local bakery) and topped with a full quart of award-winning chili, pulled pork, bacon, cheese, onions and French fries. All in all, it's about eight pounds of messy, meaty delight.
This is the Junkyard Dog.
I'm at the Hawg 'n Dawg Express (12020 S. Warener/Elliot Loop, 480-9613647 near suburban Ahwatukee Foothills. Rarely do my eating challenges bring me to the 'Tuke, but this, the Three Foot Junkyard Dog Challenge, begged to be attempted for this reason: Since the tiny hot dog and barbecue shop opened in May, 14 brave souls have attempted to finish -- and none have succeeded. Not a one.
The only person to come even close, Justin tells me, was a kid from nearby Mountain Point High School, who was able to down 22 inches of bun and beef. His problem probably wasn't lack of motivation, since the first person to finish in one hour gets fifty bucks -- plus, the restaurant will comp your dog and slap your mug up on the illustrious "Wall of Wieners."
Inspired by the possibility of being the first to finish the Junkyard Dog and celebrating afterward with $50 worth of Pepto Bismol, I'm ready to take on my extensive opponent. Justin starts the one-hour countdown at 6:30, and I dive in.
The length and heft of the hot dog makes a traditional hot dog ingestion method impossible. I opt for the far more civilized strategy of cutting inch-long slabs with a plastic fork and knife instead. The bread loaf envelops all the other ingredients and dominates my first taste of the Junkyard. I've already taken several very filling bites -- and I haven't even reached the dog yet.
When I finally do, it's bliss. Justin tells me the franks are Eisenberg Black Angus Sirloin hot dogs -- high-quality dogs sold at the Chicago Cubs' home stadium. Their succulent, smoky spiciness becomes a prize, awarded after finally making my way through all the bread and chili covering them.
The brisket is equally awesome, which is no surprise: It comes courtesy of Hawg n' Dawg's pit master Sonny Woods, whose pulled pork and brisket took home gold in the 2002 and 2003 Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Contest. The chili, too, is acclaimed. The secret recipe of Hawg 'n Dawg owner Andy Jerdee, it's won best-in-state at several chili cook-offs and food competitions.
So I'm saying it's a damn good hot dog. It's also a damn rich hot dog. After about twenty minutes, with a full foot of bun, dog and delicious fixings parading down my gullet, I'm full. Yikes.
I continue to work my way through the meal, but my pace has slowed, and each bite hurts my already-too-full stomach even more. With 20 minutes left, I hit the wall. I want no mas, but must soldier on.
Ten minutes left, and I'm in agony. The bun, the beans, the brisket; every piece of food is vying to suck all the moisture from my mouth. It's a struggle just to chew, and swallowing is pretty much out of the question.
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The clock mercilessly continues to tick away while I do almost no damage to the Junkyard Dog. I've eaten about 20 inches worth of hot dog, and with just minutes left, there's no way I'll finish the whole thing. But I'm not going to let some high school punk get the best of me -- NOT AGAIN! Through sheer will and with the help of a glass of water, I choke down a few final bites before calling it quits.
Justin emerges from the kitchen with a measuring device to survey the damage, and notifies me of the results: 24 inches! A new record!
I didn't finish the whole thing, so there's no $50 prize. But having eaten more than five pounds of food and having left just a foot of hot dog behind, I've claimed the new top spot on the Wall of Wieners.
I 'm demanding a new nickname. Just call me 24-inch Zach.