The venerable Polish bar in Pittsburgh will close for good after Saturday night after nearly 32 years.
The young man was crouched, almost squatting in a corner against the wall. Shaking a little, his shaggy hair was wet with sweat; his nose running, his goatee dampened with saliva. Tears streamed down his face from eyes vacated to a thousand-yard stare.
At the table next to him, his friend turned to another and said “Yo, man. Look at Josh.”
The other replied, “My God. He's gone feral.”
It wasn’t a full moon that brought about this lycanthropic change in Josh Depretis, but rather hot sauce. He was in the midst of enduring what could only be described as an exercise in culinary masochism called “Melt Yo Face Off” – a gauntlet featuring some of the hottest hot sauces in the world.
South Side resident Todd Keebler put together this esophageal Bataan death march with his friend Matt Christie, chef and owner of Streets on Carson (where the event was held). Its modeled the event after the web series “Hot Ones” in which celebrities eat a series of progressively hotter wings while answering questions, often to hilarious effect.
Mr. Keebler last month acquired two bottles of “The Last Dab,” a collaboration between Hot Ones, and Ed Currie, a self-taught horticulturalist behind the Carolina Reaper, a pepper previously certified in 2014 by the Guinness Book of World Records with an average Scoville Heat Unit rating of 2.56 million.
“The Last Dab” incorporates Mr. Currie’s latest nightshade of doom, simply dubbed: Pepper X, which is said to clock in at an supernova-esque 3.5 million Scoville Heat Units. Only 1,000 bottles were produced and sold out online in minutes, at $20 a piece.
The 10-sauce lineup started with a mild picante sauce and ultimately ended with The Last Dab. A Facebook page for the event was appropriately illustrated with the face-melting penultimate scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
Mr. Christie’s signature confit chicken wings acted as the vector vessel for this test of taste bud and abdominal endurance. Participants were encouraged to BYOM – bring your own milk – to coat their mouths and stomachs. Courtney Rehak, a biologist from Mt. Washington was more than prepared with a banana, full fat Greek yogurt and honey and a loaf of Wonder Bread.
“The banana bases out your stomach acid out so you don’t get a stomach bomb,” she explained. “The fat in the yogurt absorbs the capsecians so it travels through mouth but it’s not as intense. And the bread is … just in case.”
Geoff Maddock of Allentown slurped vanilla ice cream between bites and was quick to warn a participant headed to the bathroom, “Don’t touch your face or any other mucous membranes … or anything else.”
The first six sauces were generally tasty and pleasant, ranging from a traditional Louisiana cayenne-style hot sauce, to some more citrusy Caribbean and sweeter Asian varieties, to others with a vinegary nose.
Mike Tomlin described the second half debacle of Sunday’s Steelers’ loss as “when the bomb went off” and that is almost exactly what happened here.
After sauce no. 7 – “Zombie Apocalypse” upped the ante significantly with a lava orange ghost pepper and habanero sauce that burned the lips and elicited expletives -- “Da Bomb – Beyond Insanity” was dropped.
This was the consensus hottest sauce that caused spontaneous coughing, crying, chills and a pulsating surge in the lower extremities. One participant said, “I’d rather have strep throat.” Another, Jim Sabella from Johnstown, chugged a bottle of blue cheese dressing.
At this point, the air in the kitchen felt like tear gas, and Mr. Christie and staff used gas masks, including Army vet Wes Van Aucker who broke out his military issued mask from his tour in Afghanistan.
The final two sauces, including The Last Dab, were almost anticlimactic, as they were both much tastier, but provided a slower-building, smoldering internal heat rather than that immediate frontal assault of Da Bomb.
Mr. Depretis did survive, although it was touch and go at times.
“My hashtag is swollen lips and hot wing tips,” he joked. “It was invigorating. Jalapenos make me sick and I went all the way to (sauce) 10. It’s a milestone. I’m gonna go wash my hands and have a cigarette and hopefully it’ll be alright if I do.”
Dan Gigler: email@example.com; Twitter @gigs412