justin sanders

In recent weeks, tall, lanky Joe Collver has accomplished two culinary feats of somewhat local renown; he downed the ultra-spicy five-habañero-popper platter at Salvador Molly's (note: each popper contains three habañero peppers and is dipped in habañero pepper hot sauce), for which they posted a photo of him on the wall of fame. Then, days later, he devoured, in one sitting, a "really fucking huge" calzone from It's a Beautiful Pizza, estimated by sources to be at least 40 ounces of dough and cheese. Pumped up by his digestive derring-do, he readily accepted an invitation to take the legendary Sayler's 72-ounce steak-eating challenge.

Started in 1946 by restaurateur Dick Sayler, Sayler's has survived sluggish economies, a terrible fire (in 1978), and a visit from George Bush Sr. (a photo of him hangs on the wall) to become one of Portland's most beloved eateries. The place is massive, but maintains a cozy vibe, with cushy booths, friendly servers, and a surprisingly cool bar that runs happy hour from 3-6 pm and 9 pm-midnight every day of the week. The menu is meat, meat, meat, and every meal comes with salad, choice of baked potato or fries, bread, and a lovely little dish of ice cream for dessert.

The Sayler's challenge, in addition to its centerpiece massive 72 ounces of beef, consists of two of each item from a relish plate (carrots, olives, etc.), one piece of bread, one salad, 10 French fries or a baked potato (note: any challenge-taker who chooses the potato over the fries is a fool), one beverage, and one dish of ice cream. The participant has one hour in which to eat the steak (the side dishes may be eaten at leisure), and may not leave the table at any time. In the 50-plus years since its institution, 1,092 men have braved this meal, with 524 actually completing it. Notably, 29 women have tried it, with only eight succeeding.

With history giving him approximately even odds, Collver opted to eat all the accoutrements first (including the ice cream), while waiting for the steak to arrive (it takes an hour to prepare). His strategy left him lighthearted and confident—perhaps a bit too confident.

"That was nothing," he bragged, setting aside the empty ice cream bowl. "This is going to be easy." But then the steak materialized, and his eyes bulged in dismay. The mighty slab was at least a foot and a half long, and topped out at five inches high in the middle. It sizzled menacingly as Collver tucked a napkin into his shirt collar and dug in.

As observers and servers cheered him on, Collver started off strong, gulping down at least a third of the steak in less than 20 minutes. But as the middle section loomed, he flagged. None of us had previously considered the difficulty of cooking a 72-ounce wedge of flesh all the way through, and its core was basically raw, red blood oozing out with every knife cut. Wisely, Collver began cutting off pieces and sending them back to the kitchen for further heating, while he continued to eat portions that were actually cooked. But the meat's mass was so great, and his time so limited, that he still wound up eating an unfortunate amount of underdone flesh, and it started to wear on him. At the 45-minute mark, Collver dropped his fork and lowered his head.

"I can't do it," he said. "I can feel the chunks of meat pushing out on different parts of my stomach, like little men pounding on it with hammers."

"Vomit into the bread basket," suggested a bystander. "The rules don't say anything about actually throwing up; you just can't leave the table." But Collver, for some reason, refused.

In the end, he consumed over two-thirds of the steak, an amount estimated to be around 50 ounces, or three pounds of meat, plus the side dishes—all in all an impressive achievement.

"As soon as I saw it I knew it was impossible," Collver sighed. "I'm more about intensity of spice than quantity... but I hope your readers know that I'm just a normal guy, and not some fatass."

For a consolation prize, his leftovers were offered as a take-home gift. Collver declined.