“I don’t know whether to be disgusted or impressed,” my boyfriend James said to me with a look of shock on his face as I twirled my last mouthful of linguine onto my fork and forced it into my mouth.
I’m proud to say that in the above moment I had just finished my first food challenge.
‘I ate the whole thing’ at Anton’s Pasta Bar and I have the pen to prove it.
That’s a 63.2-ounce plate of pasta or 1.79kg … plus meatballs.
To put it in perspective, that’s the weight of 48 doughnuts or 15 cheeseburgers.
Occasionally, when people say I can’t do something I like to prove them wrong.
This was one of those moments.
The conversation prior to walking into the legendary Italian restaurant in Burnaby, known for its lines out the door and huge portions of spaghetti that people struggle to finish, went something like this:
James: “There’s a place I have been meaning to take you that serves massive bowls of pasta that no one can finish.”
Elisia: (Eyes light up) “I’m listening.”
James: “My friends at work told me about it. They’re not small guys and they say they can’t finish it and have enough leftovers for at least two more meals.”
Elisia: “I bet I can do it. I grew up eating a lot of pasta.”
James: “There’s no way you’ll be able to do it if they can’t.”
Elisia: (Laughs) “Challenge accepted.”
On the way to the restaurant I Googled the place, seeing the pictures of the servings I started to feel a little intimidated. Maybe I was being overly confident. I was about to find out.
When you grow up in an Aussie, Italian family you learn to eat your fair share of spaghetti. Let’s just say my nonna [grandmother] trained me well. Perhaps it was all for this moment.
We sat down and ordered – I picked the linguine con polpette: meatballs topped with a tomato meat sauce. James chose the fettuccine creola:Italian sausage, chicken and shrimp in a spicy tomato sauce.
When the plates hit the table, I couldn’t be happier. I mean, who wouldn’t be happy with a mountain of spaghetti and meatballs in front of them.
I dug in. It was a thick linguine so I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task, but I twirled my way through half the plate without much effort.
I had a little break at the half way mark. Taking a few sips of beer and a couple deep breaths I continued through the mountain of pasta before me.
James, not a big pasta eater, was struggling to get through even half of his spicy dish.
I hit the three quarter mark and I started to feel my stomach tighten and beads of sweat develop of my forehead. The pasta sweats had struck. It was getting tough.
Elisia: “James, I don’t think I can do it. Maybe I should stop.”
James: “You have to do it now, you’re basically finished.”
Elisia: (Takes deep breath, while staring at plate)
It was at this moment that a bubbly waitress walked up and said: “Oh you’re going for it!”
Elisia: “Going for what?”
Waitress: “The pen! You’re going to eat the whole lot! If you eat the whole lot you get a pen.”
And somehow this was the last push I needed to complete the meal. In that moment I wanted that pen. It was all I could see.
So I pushed the boundaries of my stomach and scooped the last of the pasta up.
While James shook his head in disbelief, I felt a strange sense of relief and accomplishment.
I could not move afterwards. I looked pregnant for at least two days. I’d be lying if I said there were no repercussions from eating more than a kilo of spaghetti in one sitting.
I endured the biggest carbohydrate hangover of my life all for a pen.
But I’m not the first, and I certainly won’t be the last.
Feeling pretty happy with myself for completing this great feat, I became curious to know more about why the servings were so big and how many others had taken up the challenge.
I had a chat with a server at the restaurant, Juliette Belanger, who told me three to 10 people finish a plate at Anton’s every day.
She also said more than 80 people a day wouldn’t come close.
“A lot of people will try and get the pen; they’ll eat food to the point that it makes them feel sick just to get it,” Juliette said.
“We’ve had people eat it all and then get sick right at the table – some people get pretty desperate for that pen!”
I can now relate to these people.
An Australian abroad, I didn’t know the full story behind Anton’s.
Proprietor Tony Mauro had travelled by boat to Vancouver as a teenager from Calabria, in the southern part of Italy, following his father who had previously ventured over for better work opportunities.
In 1983 he opened the pasta restaurant with three of his mother’s sauce recipes, a four-burner electric stove and nine tables.
It was named Anton’s because Antonio’s [Tony’s full first name] was already taken.
In a short video, Anton's Pasta Bar: Big Portions and Bigger Hearts, put together by UBC students, Tony explains why he began dishing out big servings all those years ago, and his answer is pretty simple.
“It started because I used to go to restaurants for dinner and I would go home and eat again,” he told the students.
He didn’t want his customers leaving unsatisfied.
“So when I first started I made sure people pigged out,” Tony explained.
Originally, if a customer finished the whole plate of pasta it was free, and if they were still hungry Tony would give them more pasta on the house.
The story goes that once word got out of the huge plates of pasta a neighbourhood following started to grow and so did the line-ups… which continue today. Anton’s later moved to the location where it is now to accommodate the larger crowds. It's known as Vancouver's original pasta bar.
The free plate of food later turned into a free T-shirt, but things are a little more expensive these days so now you get a free pen if you’re hungry enough to eat the whole thing.
“A lot of people come here for the big portions,” Juliette said.
“People can come and feed their whole family for a really good price.”
Or you can just attempt to eat the entire plate by yourself... like I did.
Think you can do it? You’ll find Anton’s Pasta Bar at 4260 Hastings St, Burnaby.
If you have a food challenge you’d like to see me tackle next let me know: firstname.lastname@example.org