"The most hot dogs I've ever eaten—and it wasn't in 10 minutes—was, like, 61," says Patrick Bertoletti. The 24-year-old competitive eater is displeased with the pace at which he downed as many hot dogs as Roger Maris hit home runs back in 1961. As with the 162-game schedule many feared would affix an asterisk to Maris' feat, a 25-minute practice session made Bertoletti's accomplishment harder to relish. The Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest lasts 10 minutes; in 2008, the winner, Joey Chestnut, downed 59 in that brief amount of time—and this year, he shattered that number by eating an astounding, record-breaking 68! So Bertoletti hasn't eaten 61. It's 61*.
The chowhound recently competed in the July 4 contest in Coney Island, where he hoped to finally etch his name in the frankfurter record books. It may be hard to believe, considering the media's hot dog–centric bias—some pundits judge eaters solely on their success at downing wieners—but "Deep Dish" entered the showdown as the world's second-ranked eater (according to the International Federation of Competitive Eating). The Mohawk'd Chicago native has inhaled generous servings of waffles, strawberry rhubarb pie and even a five-pound "Burritozilla," defeating household names Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi all the way from Dallas to North Dakota to San Jose, CA. But let's be frank: Coney Island is the capital of the eating world. Either mark down a "W" here or endure a perpetually mustard-stained legacy.
"At some point, my body revolts and says, 'No, this is it, you're not eating any more.' I'm not full. I just get grossed out," he says. At the Saturday contest, nobody looked better than our hero—he donned a 1970s-style tuxedo with suspenders, sunglasses and a lush brown wig—but even a career-high 55 hot dog gorgefest wasn't enough to top Chestnut and Kobayashi. After finishing third at this year's Nathan's, fourth in 2008 and third in 2007, Bertoletti is aware of his shortcomings and recognizes the strengths of his rivals: "Joey and Kobayashi are able to push through it."
Still, he harbors high hopes that he'll someday hoist the Mustard Yellow Belt that goes to the champion of the One Eating Contest That Matters. "I've been practicing," he explains. "I'm not gonna retire until I win. And whether or not [Chestnut and Kobayashi] are still competing, I'm going to be in the Nathan's contest until that happens."
While Deep Dish's dogged pursuit of victory didn't pay off this time, his trip was not for naught. "I love New York," he said. "I've been here probably 10 times, and every time it's an adventure." What's on the agenda for this trip? "I've always wanted to go to the [Coney Island Circus] Sideshow, because we're kind of sideshow freaks ourselves." And when it comes to practicing his nosh, Bertoletti has a few favorite NYC spots, as well as some he'd like to check out for the first time:
• Katz's Delicatessen: "It's been on my list of places to go for the longest time."
• Per Se: "Hopefully I can get in there," he says of Thomas Keller's renowned eatery.
• Di Fara Pizza: "In New York, there's a crazy amount of pizza places! If I have time to go back to one I'll go to Di Fara in Brooklyn."
• Otto: "I'd also go back to Otto, because I had one of the best pizzas ever there. The lardo pizza was amazing!"
• Cake Man Raven: "I've had the Cake Man's red velvet cake. I wouldn't mind going out there and getting a fresh cake, because it was really good the last time." (Among other feats, Bertoletti downed 9.17 pounds of blueberry pie—hands free—at a contest in 2007.)
• Ruby's Old Tyme Bar and Grill: "We go to Ruby's right after the contest every year. I love that spot," says Bertoletti of the place where he celebrates temporary freedom from unnaturally large portions.
Bertoletti's official website also lists other NYC favorites, including DB Bistro Moderne, Brasserie Les Halles and Craftbar—so don't cry for him. His trophy case may still be missing the big prize, but his stomach remains pleasantly full of incomparable New York foodstuffs.
For more on Pat "Deep Dish" Bertoletti and his continued quest for gastronomical glory, visit deepdisheats.com.