One of the most amusing feats of eating that I’ve ever seen attempted came at a Baldino’s Giant Jersey Subs about four years ago. This is among my favorite sandwich shops, and it’s hidden so that just about nobody knows that it’s there. It’s in one of the little outparcel strips in front of the Harry’s Farmer’s Market on Powers Ferry and 120, just a couple of doors down from a big Yoga center. Between that place’s packed classes and the restaurant’s constant overflow of officers and airmen from the nearby Dobbins ARB, parking here is often a challenge.
Baldino’s is a small chain with only eighteen stores. Eleven of them are in Georgia (seven of which are in and around Savannah) and the other seven are in North Carolina, dotted around Fayetteville. Unless I’m mistaken, the owners have found their success in targeting their ads, specials and word-of-mouth marketing at the troops stationed at nearby military bases. The Savannah stores serve Fort Stewart, the North Carolina stores Fort Bragg, and the Marietta store is set up for a constant flow of uniformed men from Dobbins.
At least one of those men has a ravenous appetite.
I was there one evening as the store was getting ready to close. They’ve always kept very odd hours. These days they’re shut on Sunday and close every other day at seven, making a living on a huge lunch rush and a trickle of take-out orders for supper. One evening, the kids and I got in about twenty minutes before they wanted to lock the door and sat down to our usual meals. I almost always get a half Sicilian, a sub thick with delicious bread and stuffed with ham, pepperoni and capicola, and a small side cup of pasta salad. My son likes the turkey and cheese and my daughter, forever forgetting why we’ve come to any given establishment, usually gets a plate of spaghetti. Happily, it’s made with pretty darn good sauce and it’s quite cheap, so I’ve never made a fuss.
Satisfied that we were going to be the last customers, the two fellows behind the counter quickly put together their own dinners and sat down at a table a few feet away and synchronized their watches.
“You fellows going to eat all that food?” I asked, because they each had two absolutely enormous sandwiches in front of them.
“There’s this guy,” I was told. “He comes in three times a week and orders two whole number 25s. He sits down and eats both of them in twenty minutes.”
“Three times a week, he does this,” his buddy emphasized. “We’re going to try to do it.”
“I can barely finish a half seventeen. This I have to see.” Marie can barely finish a half of a half herself.
Oh, they tried. They gave it as good a go as any two championship eaters with a huge prize at stake. I think that you have to straddle a deeply uncomfortable line between speed and pace, because if you eat slowly, your brain will start listening to your belly’s “full” notice before you’re ready to stop, yet you have to keep a steady pace, because too long a pause and it’s goodnight, Vienna. Too late a pause and it’s hello, men’s room.
They each finished their first subs in good time, but nevertheless behind schedule. About two bites into the second, they started tapering off and slowing down. Time was called, their twenty minutes were up, and each of them left behind more than what I’d call a meal’s worth. They were as done as I’d ever seen a man. They had much to say about the constitution of this regular champion eater.
“How big is this guy?” I asked. “Fit. He’s in good shape. Tall.”
I’m not sure who I have to kill to get that man’s metabolism. My doctor won’t give me any more than 150 micrograms of Synthroid. I figure if only he’d up me to 600, I could eat two whole subs like that fit, tall mystery man.