Battle of the (pastrami) bulge

Two glasses of water were overshadowed by four baskets filled with identical "skyscraper" pastrami sandwiches — exactly 12 ounces of meat straddled by rye bread and weighed for accuracy — that were the center of the eating competition Friday at Tommy Pastrami New York Delicatessen.

Preparing himself to devour two sandwiches as quickly as he could, Daniel Fraley, 27, immediately took the crust off the rye bread and stuffed it into a small container of au jus. He and his competitor, Chris Staggs, 26, topped the enormous sandwiches with mustard and soaked it all in the au jus.

Then they ate.

The two stuffed pastrami and soggy rye bread into their mouths, using two hands, as friends, employees and customers cheered them on and shouted advice.

"Don't wipe your face — just eat," Alesia Staggs said as her brother, Chris Staggs, tried to clean up a little during the competition.

It took Fraley 16 minutes and 34 seconds to finish his two sandwiches, and Staggs called it quits about the same time with a little more than a half of a sandwich left — staff offered to get him a to-go box.

"I would like to go to sleep now," Fraley said after the competition.

The two were competitors in the franchise's "Pastrami Wars," an eating contest held in honor of National Pastrami Day. The Huntington Beach location, 18001 Beach Blvd., challenged customers to see how fast they could wolf down two of the restaurant's biggest sandwiches, each meant to feed two people.

Customers had to qualify for the competition by eating the entire "skyscraper" while staff timed them, and the eight quickest eaters were asked back Friday to compete for the honor of advancing to the Tri-County Championship on Jan. 30 and the chance to win a $500 Tommy Pastrami gift card, said Ellie Ward, the Huntington Beach location's owner.

In the end, Shannon Apana, 39, of Costa Mesa and Rocco Cordola, 61, of Downey finished first and second and are set for the next round of competition.

Cordola was sure he would be a winner Friday — before he ate the two skyscraper sandwiches. Afterward, he wasn't quite so confident. Cordola packed in the two sandwiches in just under seven minutes, crushing Staggs and Fraley, but it was more difficult than he thought.

"I never saw a pastrami I didn't like or didn't eat," he said.

For Cordola, whose friends called him the pastraminator, it wasn't about the gift card as much as the title.

"I just want everyone to see that some old guy can come in here and do better than the kids," he said.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World