What did local restaurateur Nick Zukin do after eating 72 burgers in three months?
Dessert, of course. The food blogger
and co-owner of downtown deli Kenny and Zuke's downed 10 deep-fried hand pies in 30 minutes
on Sunday to be crowned the new "Pie Champ" of the Whiffie's Fried Pies
cart in Hawthorne.
"I'd been calling the previous record of nine bullshit for ages," Zukin shrugs. So when his two teenage brothers came to visit from California for the weekend, he decided it was finally time to shut his pie hole and claim the title for himself.
If Zukin's previous efforts of systematically taste-testing just about every bistro burger
, taco truck
, Vietnamese restaurant
and chocolate shop
in town didn't give it away, this is not a man who does things by halves.
He and his 15-year-old brother Gabe spent all Saturday eating huge meals and drank almost a gallon of water in order to expand their stomachs before arriving at the 12th and Hawthorne "Cartopia" cart pod on Sunday afternoon, fully prepared to ingest 10 pies each.
"The trick is to go hard early," explains Whiffies owner Gregg Abbott as the brothers peruse the day's menu and formulate a game plan. Since starting the business a little over a year ago, Abbott has seen many coulda-been contenders attempt to break the cart's record of the most pies eaten in under an hour, but most are defeated by trying to pace themselves.
Eight freshly fried pies are placed on the table. Abbott yells "Go!" and the boys dig in. Globs of steaming hot coconut creme and berry filling are oozing everywhere, but Zukin is focused singularly on the task at hand and demolishes three pies before reaching for his first napkin.
Ten minutes in, Zukin is already halfway to his goal and showing no signs of stopping. But Gabe, who has never tried the pies before today, is struggling and throws in the towel at three-and-a-half. Zukin takes a few moments out to gently mock his brother before a fresh round of pies are placed on the table and he returns to the challenge.
Eight pies down. There are some sweet ones still sitting on the table that Gabe couldn't get through, but Zukin concedes he'd rather finish with a "lighter" BBQ beef brisket filled pastry. As the final pie fries away, the phone rings. "Hi Mom," answers Zukin's other (apparently less hungry) brother. "Oh, we're just at this pie place and Nick's breaking some pie eating record," he says casually. "Would your mom be proud?" I ask. "Haha, noooo," Zukin laughs as he bites into number nine, a glob of berry jam dribbling down his chin.
The last pie arrives, and Zukin is finally showing signs of slowing. He takes smaller bites, washing each one down with water. "We should totally get some pizza after this!" he half-jokes to his brothers. "Yeah, I feel like Subway," says Gabe.
He nibbles away at the last piece of pastry, drawing out the final moments, then pops it into his mouth and swallows. But the challenge isn't quite over—Zukin must keep the 10 pies down for five minutes before the title of Pie Champ is his.
As the time ticks down, Abbott crunches the numbers: Four coconut and chocolate chip, four BBQ beef brisket and two mixed berry pies
, which he estimates is about 30 ounces of pastry and about 30 ounces of filling. "I didn't think I was going to make it [beforehand]," Zukin admits. "I thought I'd get to like eight." "I knew you could do it," says Abbott. "No one has ever come so prepared before."
The clock ticks past five minutes, and Zukin raises his arms in victory. The city's most fanatical foodie has claimed his rightful title as the Pie Champion of Portland.
"I could probably eat one more..."
he says, almost considering it for a second, "But I'm not gonna!"
Photos by Ruth Brown and Gregg Abbott.