Beefy challenge

Published 10:34 pm Thursday, May 16, 2013

Mike Williams, owner of The Baron’s Pub at the corner of Market and North Main streets in downtown Suffolk, cooks up a burger for the restaurant’s Baronator challenge. With three pounds of hamburger and a total of seven pounds of food, all served on a pizza pan, the one-hour food challenge is unbeaten since being created in 2009.

Mike Williams, owner of The Baron’s Pub at the corner of Market and North Main streets in downtown Suffolk, cooks up a burger for the restaurant’s Baronator challenge. With three pounds of hamburger and a total of seven pounds of food, all served on a pizza pan, the one-hour food challenge is unbeaten since being created in 2009.

The Baronator remains unbeaten

Thomas “Smiley” Matthews is a soft-spoken, lean young man who works in maintenance at the Robert House Wastewater Treatment Plant in Chuckatuck.

Whatever sort of person it takes to conquer a challenge consisting of seven pounds worth of food, he is probably not the sort that readily comes to mind.

As Matthews sat with a group of friends and co-workers at The Baron’s Pub in downtown Suffolk recently, he was the quietest in the group. There was no bluster regarding the plate full of food that was coming his way, and as he waited at the head of a table of nearly 20 people who had come to watch him take on the Baronator, he kept glancing over at Candice, his wife of seven months, who seemed to accept the situation with something approaching quiet resignation.

Newsletter

Email newsletter signup

Smiley would do what he would do, she seemed to say.

Or he might not.

The Baronator is a gargantuan amount of food — a three-pound hamburger patty atop a one-pound bun, with two pounds of cheese, mushrooms, onions, tomatoes and other fixin’s, served on a pizza pan alongside a pound of French fries.

“I had not seen a picture going into it, so I was pretty surprised,” Matthews said. “For the first half hour or so, I had some hope.”

But the Baronator has proved to be too big a challenge for all those who have tackled it since Baron’s owner Mike Williams introduced it in the summer of 2009, and Matthews was not destined to be the first to succeed.

“I’ve never been a fast eater,” he said. “If I had a couple of hours, I might have been able to do it.”

But the rules are clear: Anyone attempting the challenge must finish everything on the plate within one hour without getting up from the table or pay the $18.95 cost of the meal.

“Nobody has ever finished,” Williams says. “One guy got down to one bite and just couldn’t finish.”

Williams hasn’t tried to conquer the Baronator himself, but one of his chefs, Chris Riddick, tucked into one of the burgers — equal to six of the restaurant’s popular Baron Burgers — in January 2010, as two other guests in the restaurant made their own attempts.

All three failed.

“I don’t think it’s impossible, but it’s far from possible,” Riddick said at the time, adding with no sense of irony that the quantity of food on the platter had been chosen because, “We wanted to do something that was going to be realistic.”

Just halfway through the burger as his time ran out, he asked, “Who can eat six burgers?”

Matthews came closer to finishing the heaping plate of food than one might have expected, considering his lean frame. He ate all the toppings, about half of the burger and half of the bun. The French fries remained mostly untouched.

There are other food challenges in Suffolk — a hot-wings challenge at Buffalo Wild Wings and a breakfast-skillet behemoth at The Egg Bistro, for instance — and Matthews said he might try to conquer one of them one day.

“But maybe not this one, not anytime soon.”