Venezia's Pizzeria Party Pizza Challenge

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The average person's stomach can hold about a liter of food, or close to two pounds' worth. But who wants to be average? All over town, restaurants are offering up contests of confection, defying brave eaters to ingest more food than they should eat in a week -- daily recommended values be damned!

Armed with a brand-new college degree and a big mouth, our intrepid writer Zach Fowle has dared to become one of these food fighters -- travelling metro Phoenix to face new challenges and prove to the animal kingdom that man belongs at the top of the food chain.

I've been known to put away a whole pizza by myself in one sitting. Throw on a football game, pair it with a cold beer, and over the course of a few hours I'll demolish the pie slice by slice like a slowly disappearing Pac-man. But these are pedestrian pizzas. They come in heat-maintaining boxes with pre-packaged ingredient combinations and manageable sizes.

The Venezia's (33 E. Southern Ave., 480-858-1660) Party Pizza is an entirely different beast.

With a 24-inch radius, it's the widest pizza I've ever seen; 452 square inches of chewy dough, tangy sauce and oily cheese. According to the Venezia's menu, it serves between seven and eight people. In contrast, the next biggest pizza on the menu, the XL, is only 16 inches wide -- a mere 200 square inches of pizza pie.

​The challenge: A team of just two people must finish the entire pizza in one hour. If you win, you get a shirt proclaiming to the world that you "took down the big one," and a Polaroid of you, your partner and the empty pizza tray goes up on the wall of fame.

My fellow food fighter is my buddy Todd, who also joined me in attempting the Three-pound Lobby Burger. Since he failed that challenge as miserably as I did, I figured he could use a little shot at redemption.

The Party Pizza is $22, plus an additional $2.50 for any toppings. I go with the classic: pepperoni.

Twenty-four inches, two people, one hour. The Party Pizza Challenge is hard, but not impossible. About half of the people who attempt it finish, Brian, a Venezia's worker, tells us, with most taking between 45 minutes or more. So far this year, 39 pairs of worthy challengers have completed the task, earning their spots on the pizza joint's wall of fame.

Watching the Party Pizza being created is a sight to behold: it takes several giant ladles of sauce and great handfuls of cheese to cover it, and it barely fits inside the restaurant's industrial-sized ovens.

Brian brings out the pizza and lays down the ground rules: We have five minutes to let the 'za cool, then our clock begins. We both have one hour to finish the whole thing. No bathroom breaks, no throwing up, no crying.

​Each piece of pie is greasy as all hell, but contains a perfect balance of ingredients, a golden ratio of sauce to cheese to meat to dough. It's easy to see why Venezia's is one of the best places in the valley to pick up a real New York slice.

There are some who have finished the Party Pizza ridiculously quickly. The lowest time I saw on the board was 13 minutes. Neither Todd nor I am interested in impressing anyone; we just want to be immortalized with a spot on the wall. It's the simple things.

We take a leisurely pace, attacking the pizza piece by piece, cutting with forks when the slice is too long, adding pepper and oregano as we see fit. It's all very tranquil.

​At 12 minutes in, we've demolished over a fourth of the manhole-sized pie. Twenty minutes later, Todd finishes his half, and I'm left with just two meager slices. I take my last bite 45 minutes in, solidifying Team Todd and Zach's place in the annals of Party Pizza lore. That's fuckin' teamwork!

​Brian comes out of the kitchen to congratulate us, take our picture and bestow on use the spoils of victory: our T-shirts.

"Most people who do finish look like they're in pain after they're done, but you guys look fine!" he says.

Damn right, Brian. Damn right. 

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