The cheese steak.
It's a greasy, cheesy sandwich that has always been synonymous with its hometown of Philadelphia. But New York is in a position to steal the title of the home of the best cheese steaks around when a shop in Rockville Centre hosts the National Cheese Steak Eating Championship on June 5.
With Cheese Please, a relatively new restaurant on Park Avenue, will host the competition, after Arnie Chapman, a former professional eater from Oceanside who now manages his own competitive eating league, came to the restaurant and fell in love with its food.
"When I sat down at With Cheese Please, I loved the fact that this cheese steak was manly as hell," said Chapman, who is organizing the competition. "It was full of top-grade meat and it was significant. Being a competitive eater and being someone who likes big portions, that was one of the things that made me say, Man, this is a cheese steak.”
The restaurant, which opened last July, has made a name for itself by staying open late — until 4 a.m. on weekends — to cater to the village's late-night bar patrons. Co-owner T.J. Thompson said that on weekends, the line for cheese steaks can stretch out the door.
"Me and my partner, Shaun [Sullivan], are just a couple of local kids who've been going out over here for years," said Thompson. "We both grew up in Oceanside. We know every single bar owner in the area just from going out over here. We put our heads together and realized there's nothing open late."
The upcoming event is even newer than the restaurant. "This is the first time we're doing a National Cheese Steak Eating Championship," Chapman said, "so the person who wins it, in my estimation, will not only be the national cheese steak-eating champion, but will also be the world record holder for this event."
The competition will pit amateur eaters trying to make a name for themselves against some professionals, including the New York City taco-eating champion, Paul "Pork Slap" Arcaria, and two-time Long Island pizza-eating champion Mike "The Real Skinny" Hoffman.
Challengers can qualify — or try to — at With Cheese Please until a few days before the competition. To qualify, a contestant must pay a $15 entry fee and then consume two cheese steaks as quickly as possible. The 10 entrants with the fastest times will compete on June 5. There will be three rounds of competition. In the first two rounds, competitors will have 10 minutes or so to eat as many cheese steaks as possible. Three winners from each round will move on to the finals, in which they will have to eat two cheese steaks as fast as possible. Whoever wins will be crowned the National Cheese Steak Eating Champion.
But the day won't just be about scarfing down bread, meat and cheese. The money raised — $10 of every entry fee as well as donations — will be donated to lymphoma research in the name of Vanessa Burns, a Rockville Centre teenager who recently died of the disease. "We're not looking to make anything on the competition," said Thompson.
For his part, Chapman always makes sure that his competitions feature as much fun as they do feats of gastrointestinal endurance. "It's not just a bunch of guys eating a ton of stuff," he said. "It's more than that. It's the show, it's the shtick, it's the personalities.
"In this serious, serious time we live in, you need comic relief," he added. "You need to give yourself a chance to laugh."
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