Friday, June 26, 2009 | 2 a.m.
When the burrito leaves the kitchen, it’s announced over a public address system like a train arriving at a station or a boxer entering a ring.
The fight is between the burrito and the guy who thinks he can take it down. If the burrito wins, it costs $20. If you win, the burrito is free and you get a lifetime pass on the Sahara’s roller coaster. And probably a car to yourself when you ride it.
The burrito’s record, as of last Friday, stood at 274 and 4.
It takes four tortillas to construct the burrito, which is 2 feet long and weighs 6 pounds — the size of a newborn infant. Volume-wise, it is two gallons of burrito, or roughly five times the capacity of the average human stomach.
Inside, it’s stuffed with beans, onions and shredded beef. Outside, it’s drenched in enchilada sauce and then again in a nacho cheese sauce. It is sprinkled with chopped olives and topped with four alternating ice-cream-size scoops of sour cream and guacamole.
A person who orders the burrito is seated in a roped-off competition area on the other side of the restaurant from the kitchen. The burrito collects an entourage as it travels through the restaurant, so the challenger sees the burrito for the first time seconds before it is placed before him.
Steven Miller would later say this was the moment when hope nearly deserted him.
At the time he spoke an unprintable but common combination of the sacred and the profane.
The burrito (called “the B3” these days and originally called “the Bomb”) is part of a challenge placed on the menu of the NASCAR Cafe. It is not a menu that in general could be called restrained. It brags, “We don’t mess around. Grub by the pound.” Above the heading “Salads” it says “Real men don’t eat.” The BLT sandwich is made with a pound of bacon. Certain menu items are set off with a little pink icon of a pig, which a legend explains means “Man-sized portions.”
Of course, the real point of the weapons-grade burrito isn’t culinary. The point is that in a recession, the burrito is an almost perfect gimmick.
First off, as it is almost impossible to finish, not only will the restaurant not lose any money on the can-you-eat-it-all? bet, it will probably make a little. And it’s great in-restaurant advertising: The more-brave-than-wise contestant is seated in a roped-off area in full view of a hallway off the casino, where he’s sure to draw a crowd.
Miller is a 5-foot-11, 150-pound 25-year-old electrician from Houston, here for a bowling tournament. His attempt to summit the burrito comes after his bowling team goaded him. He figured it couldn’t be much bigger than the jumbo burritos back home. He was wrong.
He starts in gamely, pronouncing the burrito “very tasty,” and telling a passer-by that he won’t need any doggy bag except his stomach.
Half an hour in, a third of the way through his allotted 90 minutes and a third of the way through the burrito, Miller’s face loses all expression as he chews.
He starts to mutter, “I think I can, I think I can.”
Someone asks him if the burrito is flavorful. “In the beginning it was,” he answers.
Fifty minutes in, Miller takes a break to stretch and to stare off into space. He squeezes the lemon wedges from his ice tea onto the burrito. Anything to change its flavor.
Fifteen minutes later, Miller waves the white napkin of surrender.
The restaurant manager hands Miller a pink T-shirt that says, “Certified Weenie.” A picture of Miller wearing this shirt and posing beside his nemesis will go up on a wall near the cafe.
One of the members of Miller’s bowling team asks him if he wants a doggy bag.
“I don’t ever want to see this thing again,” Miller says, shaking his head at more than a gallon of burrito, viscous and unconquered.
Miller says he probably would have paid more than $20 just to stop eating.
The burrito advanced to 275 and 4.