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Carnival Cafe's 4.5 pound Philly Cheese Steak Challenge claims two victims

Jeff Bobo • Aug 25, 2019 at 3:00 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Two challengers separated by 43 years in age took on their own 4.5 pound mountain of Philly Cheese Steak Saturday, with similar results.

Despite their age difference, 15-year-old Cody Keen and 58-year-old Phillip Braim have a few things things in common.

Both are involved in highly physical calorie burning activities. Keen plays football for Cherokee High School, and Braim is a fitness enthusiast, as well as a tree cutter with Asplundh Tree Expert LLC.

They’re both also big fans of Carnival Cafe, located on Highway 11-W on the western outskirts of Rogersville.

And both were filled with optimism Saturday afternoon when presented with the restaurant’s 4.5 pound Philly Cheese Steak challenge.

The cafe is owned and operated by Philadelphia natives and brothers Kyle, Brandt and Craig Bennett, and as one might imagine, the signature item on the Carnival Cafe menu is a Philly Cheese Steak sandwich.

That also happens to be a favorite of Keen and Braim.

But when it came to taming the cafe’s 4.5 pounder Saturday, Keen and Braim found themselves with something else in common: The Cheese Steak won.

The challenge is to eat the massive sandwich, on a 26 inch bun, in an hour. That’s equal to about five of the large Phillys on the menu. 

The challenge costs $44.95 and also comes with two large orders of fries, as well as peppers and onions, which are optional. You don’t have to eat the fries, onions or peppers to win.

Aside from earning a place on the Carnival Cafe Wall of Fame, anyone who defeats the challenge gets their meal for free, a $20 gift card, and — believe it or not — a free dessert. Presumably the dessert is packed “to go.”

Braim’s strategy was slow and steady consumption, but even after pacing himself, he reached his limit after 25 minutes.

“It was too big of a hill for me to climb,” Braim said as he admitted defeat.

Keen got about three-fourths through his Philly, but gave up with 15 minutes to go. When asked how he felt now that the challenge was at an end, his response was short and sweet.

“I’m full,” Keen said.

Carnival Cafe launched the Philly Challenge about two weeks ago, starting at 2.5 pounds, and increasing a half-pound every time someone meets the challenge.

The most recent victor, Joshua Hobson of Morristown, not only ate his 4 pound Philly, but he also ate the fries and free dessert.

In fact, Hobson defied convention by finishing his fries before he’d finished the cheese steak.

Last year, the Times News covered Carnival Cafe’s 4.5 pound cheeseburger challenge, which was defeated. Eventually the 5-pounder went down as well, courtesy of current champion Joe Waskiewicz.

Since then, there have been 18 unsuccessful attempts at Carnival Cafe’s 5.5 pound burger, and the public has all but given up.

That’s why the Bennetts decided to revive the competitive spirit at the cafe with the new Philly Cheese Steak Challenge.

“I think the 4.5-pounder will go down, and eventually someone will beat the 5-pounder,” said Brandt Bennett. “I would be surprised to see that 5.5 pounder go down, though. It seems like they can get to the top of the 5-pound mountain, but that’s as far as they can go. I hope some day someone comes in here and proves me wrong.”

Despite their defeat Saturday, both Keen and Braim said they might try the Philly Cheese Steak Challenge again sometime — after they’ve recovered.

Both were heading home Saturday evening for some well-earned rest and digestion.

Another thing they had in common: Both went home with some good leftovers, assuming they’re ever feeling hungry again.

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