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Pies Wide Shut: 2 guys, 2 beards, 1 intense pizza challenge

J.R. McMillan



Competitive eating can be a bit of a cult. Like fans of TED or The Walking Dead, there are rules and rituals of which the uninitiated are blissfully oblivious.

That’s why it seemed disingenuous to write about food challenges without joining the inner sanctum by taking one on personally—so I did.

Joseppi’s Mega Meat Pizza Challenge was the obvious choice for several reasons. It was the only team contest, so spreading the blame as generously as the sauce would still preserve my street cred. It also had the lowest rate of success, which set the bar right at my level. Finally, the payout was pretty impressive, not that I’d be in the mood for another pie any time soon.

I presumed finding a partner would be equally challenging, but it turned out to be quite easy. One post on Facebook yielded a quick offer from someone who also had the gumption, just not a teammate. Blase Pinkert and I are in the same neighborhood beer brewing brood. The sometimes powerlifter and Gaelic football player could crush you with a gaze as easily as a clenched fist. It didn’t hurt that he also had a reputation for eating anything at least once and a beard big enough to hide a few slices under it if the contest was close.

“In the Air Force, I was the guy who would take on any challenge, that was my role in the shop. I’ve always been an entertainer; so I fed off of the attention,” Pinkert revealed. “I learned I could get people to throw 10 or 20 on the table and make a few bucks doing this.”

We’d called ahead the week before, so they were expecting us. The crust starts out on a pan the size of a wagon wheel, and by the time they’re done topping it with successive layers of meat and cheese, it’s nearly as thick as one. It’s so big, it has to go through the oven twice and takes two people to carry it.



This is when the head games begin. The kitchen staff tells you cautionary tales about those who have failed—and the “Loser’s Bucket.” They start prepping the table with bowls of ranch dressing and barbeque sauce, explaining that the taste turns on you and most have to change it up to keep going. They warn you about drinking too much, or too little. Passing patrons and dutiful denizens weigh in on the long odds of finishing, or even getting close.

When the pie hits the table, it almost eclipses it entirely. If not for the lingering heat, they could just put legs on the pan and scoot chairs under it. It looks like a cinematic sight gag, from the movie Top Secret.

We’d prepared the way professional competitive eaters do, with a stomach stretching meal the evening prior and lots of water to preserve the new found space until go time. A few quick pics for posterity and the clock started. We went hard charging for the edges and mentally broke up the 60 slices into short-term goals.

Chew too little and you waste space. Chew too much and you waste time. At 20 minutes, we’d already blown past Cameron Fontana and his camera guy’s mark. It was looking good.

Then the meat sweats set in and we hit “the wall.”

The wall is different things for different people. For us, it was the salt of the bacon and ham that did us in. When you can’t quench your thirst and have plenty of room left to drink, but can’t stand the thought of another bite, that’s the wall.


We’d each eaten about a large pizza, no small feat considering by the time we got from the edge to the center, it was more than an inch thick. Pinkert’s athletic training came into play, but we still couldn’t overcome the physics.

“It did help from a psychological aspect, the fact that you learn to push your body and ‘turn off’ or ignore the signals it tells you, to push yourself that much further,” he said.

After a few final slices, we took a break hoping for a late rally that never came. We barely knew each other before that evening, but after spending an hour gorging and gossiping, we’d joined the cult—even if we still didn’t know the secret handshake.

We parted ways, went home, and both slipped into a long carb coma, like a python that swallows a gazelle and has to chill for a few days before it finds the will to move again.

By the way, the pizza was delicious and is highly recommended. Otherwise, we never would have gotten as far as we did. Unlike almost all other food challenges, you get to keep the leftovers. I didn’t have to buy pizza for two weeks. And it was also an irresistible chance to try out that time-lapse app on my phone, shrinking an hour down to three minutes—scored to the theme song from Benny Hill, of course.

But bawdy British sketch comedy is another kind of cult altogether.

Joseppi’s has locations in Lincoln Village, Grove City, Harrisburg, and Hilltop. Click here for more info. 

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Food & Drink

Nile Vegan offers plant-based Ethiopian food near Ohio State’s campus

Mitch Hooper



Tucked away on Worthington St. near Ohio State’s campus is a hidden gem awaiting your arrival. There are no bright neon signs attracting visitors from the streets, and the interior only holds three booths. In an age where Instagram aesthetics and social media presence dominates, Nile Vegan chose to focus on what’s really important: the food.

Nile Vegan is a new restaurant offering plant-based Ethiopian cuisine created by chef and owner Siyum Tefera. The inspiration behind the menu here is thanks to Tefera’s roots growing up in Ethiopia where he lived until 2010 when he and his family made the move to Columbus. Whether it’s the injera or the Shiro be Gomen—chickpea sauce with stewed kale—these recipes come directly from Tefera’s time watching his mother in the kitchen throughout his childhood. It’s this feeling of home cooking combined with community that Tefera is hoping to build with his eatery.

As mentioned previously, the interior of the restaurant is simple. It feels somewhat like sitting in a dining room in your home with a kitchen attached to it—this was intentional, too. Tefera said when he was younger, he would sit in his dining room while his mother cooked meals and the two would converse about life. He continued this ideal with the design of the restaurant by keeping the kitchen area open and visible to customers. When I ordered my meal and took a seat, I watched Tefera slice onions and tomatoes that would eventually find their way into stews and sauces on my plate. Not only does this provide the chance for customers to interact with Tefera and his team, it’s also a bit of a flex. These folks aren’t using frozen goods from giant grocery stores or mass creating food—they are using fresh ingredients made to order.

The eating experience here is also twofold: it’s delicious, and fun to eat. Instead of forks, spoons, and knives on the table, your eating utensils are your hands. The injera—a sourdough risen flatbread—serves as a bed and sponge for scooping and soaking up the various sauces and stews.

And the options for sauces and stews can range from mushroom stew to curried vegetable medley featuring freshly chopped cabbage, carrots and potato chunks stewed in vegan butter, onion, garlic, and turmeric. While most dishes are made on the mild side, Tefera said he can make dishes more spicy, or you can control your spicy adventure by adding as much—or as little—berbere, a fiery bright red seasoning, which is available on your table.

With winter on the horizon, trying Ethiopian food should be on everyone’s to-do list. The dishes are akin to comfort food, but on the non-traditional side. Instead of mashed potatoes and chicken noodle soup, it’s hearty portions of slow-cooked stews chock full of spices and seasonings. While you’re free to attack the menu as you see fit, I recommend bringing a friend and each ordering something different so you can share entrees. This gives you the chance to experiment with new flavors and options while also finding your menu favorite. If you ask Tefera, he recommends the Shiro, which is a slow-cooked chickpea sauce. And if you ask me, I’ll take three extra helpings of the Misir be Bamia—a stew featuring red lentils with okra.

But why plant-based? A cursory Google search shows a multitude of Ethiopian dishes where the main star is meat like Tibs—sauteed meat chunks, or Kitfo—Ethiopian beef tartar. For Tefera, it wasn’t so much adding a new vegan eatery to a growing list in the city, rather it was just a part of his lifestyle. He said he grew up eating mainly vegan, as Ethiopian traditions maintain ideals such as fasting on-and-off for nearly half the year. On those days, observants only eat one meal in the afternoon or evening and cut out all animal products. Choosing to stay vegan wasn’t so much of a concept as it was just what Tefera naturally knew.

Though Nile Vegan has only been open since mid-October, Tefera already has his eyes set on the future. First he said he wants to better understand his customers and their desires so he can serve them better. This includes tweaking the menu options as well as adding a few new ones such as an eggplant stew. Additionally, he wants to change up the interior of the restaurant. As of now, the three booths that are available can be quickly filled up, leaving patrons nowhere to sit. In the future, expect more options for single eaters, as well as a patio area once the weather warms.

For now, though, Tefera said he has been humbled by the amount of reception the restaurant has received. Beyond Tefera’s work, it’s been a family effort, as his mother can be found in the kitchen, cooking orders, conversing with her son, and serving as quality control. Hey, she did create these recipes, after all.

Nile Vegan is located on 1479 Worthington St. near Ohio State’s campus. For hours, operations, and more information, follow Nile Vegan at @nilevegan on Instagram.

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Food & Drink

Tea Time: Spritz puts new twist on bubbly beverage craze

Mitch Hooper



It’s Friday night and you and your friends are at the bar. While everyone else is sipping back glasses of wine, cocktails, and beer, it’s your turn to be the designated driver of the night. We all take our rounds, and these rounds are usually a reminder that being out at the bars sober while everyone else is working on getting intoxicated just feels off. As your friends reach for their glasses to toast in celebration, you might take a sip of your ice water, or just wait to get the nod to round up the crew and go home. However, Kathyrn Dougherty is hoping to change this all-too-common situation with her line of non- alcoholic sparkling teas called Spritz.

Spritz is a new beverage hitting the markets based out of Dublin, Ohio. In a world where grocery stores offer seemingly endless options of sparkling waters and flavors, it was really only a matter of time until the trend took to tea. But, unlike the famous La Croix and Bubly on the market, Spritz is much less carbonated, giving it a lighter mouthfeel. They’ve even coined a phrase for it: softly sparkling. Combine that with flavors such as green tea with pomegranate, lemon, and peach, and Spritz might quickly become both your mid-day pick-me-up as well as that refreshing drink you enjoy in between a night of cocktails.

The idea for Spritz comes from Dougherty’s background in health and fitness. A few years ago, she and her friends were training for an Ironman competition. These competitions are not for the light of heart, as they feature 2.4-mile swim, a 112- mile bicycle ride, and a 26.22-mile marathon in this exact order. It goes without saying that training for and competing in this leaves little room for hangovers. As Dougherty and her friends would hang out more after workouts, they noticed they were craving a more sophisticated drink that wouldn’t cause a splitting headache the next day. Thus, an idea was born.

It started simple for Dougherty. At the time, she was (and still is) a big fan of sparkling waters. She also had grown a heavy affinity towards Teavana, a tea provider now owned by Starbucks. After scrubbing used Gatorade bottles with disinfectants and cleaners in her very own kitchen, Dougherty and her step-daughter began the process of brewing what would eventually become the basis for Spritz. While she no longer uses Teavana for her tea blends, she still holds a special spot for them in her heart.

Fast forward to present day and Dougherty is ready to release Spritz to the public in December. The first iteration of the teas will be hibiscus with dragonfruit, guava, and mango with no caffeine. Dougherty said this tea is great for unwinding after a long day, or simply treating yourself after a good stretch at a yoga class. The zero calorie, zero carbs, and gluten-free drink is both vegan and keto friendly so it fits essentially any diet. And while the idea for Spritz began during a time of looking for an alternative to alcohol, the drink maintains its fitness roots as Dougherty works to get the drinks in places such as PAI Yoga and Friendship Fitness in Dublin.

“I want something I can grab and say, ‘Hey, I get a treat now,” Dougherty explained. “But, it’s not going to be something I feel bad about.”

Spritz also serves a second purpose, and it’s something Dougherty feels is very important to the brand of the business. It’s women’s empowerment, and through channels such as hiring more women at proper pay rates to close the pay gap, or promoting other women business leaders through their hashtag #FemaleFounderFridays on Facebook, she hopes to change a few practices within the industry. In her mind, the best way to do so is to lead by example.

From her team being comprised of women, to working out of the space at Haven Collective—a woman-owned and -operated co-working office—Dougherty is very much walking her talk. Add in the fact that 1% of all sales this year will be donated to charities and nonprofits that empower women, and it’s clear that she is just as much invested in uplifting women as she is with concocting delicious beverages.

“For some people, [women’s empowerment] means being a stay-at-home mom and having 10 kids—that’s wonderful. I will celebrate that that’s your path in life and that’s amazing,” Dougherty said. “If you’re a woman who doesn’t want to be married and doesn’t want to have children, that’s amazing. Go do that. My number one thing here is that women can feel like they can choose the path that’s right for them and not apologize for being too ambitious, or ‘not ambitious enough.’”

Keep up with Spritz on their Facebook page at facebook. com/SpritzBev or visit the website at

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Food & Drink

Sweet News: Macaron pop-up opens in Short North

Regina Fox



We've adopted many things from the French—kissing, press, bread—but perhaps the sweetest is the macaron. Cincinnati's Macaron Bar recently opened a pop-up location in the Short North at 668 N High St., just in time for the holiday season.

The bakery offers "a premium texture and flavor experience enhanced by our vibrant, cosmopolitan stores," according to its Facebook bio.

Several core flavors are available in the Short North, as well as 3-5 seasonal selections. All the macarons are gluten free. Macaron Bar also offers pour over coffees and loose leaf teas.

Macaron Bar is open Tuesday through Thursday from noon- 7pm, Friday from noon- 9pm, Saturday from noon- 10pm, Sunday from noon- 6pm, and closed on Monday. Visit for more information.

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