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At Coney Island, East Village Roommates Become Dogged Competitors - The Local East Village Blog - NYTimes.com

At Coney Island, East Village Roommates Become Dogged Competitors

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eater x and crazy legs 3 Tim “Eater X” Janus and Jason “Crazy Legs” Conti

This Wednesday, July 4, Takeru Kobayashi will be downing dogs at the Crif Dog Classic instead of the Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest. Meanwhile, among those returning to the eaters’ table at Coney Island are two East Villagers.

Walk into Gruppo pizzeria some afternoon and there’s a good chance you’ll see an extremely normal looking guy in a polo shirt and jeans behind the counter. He might be holding forth on Euro monetary policy, arguing with a coworker over a word in that day’s Times crossword puzzle, or chatting with schoolchildren who know him by name. This is Tim Janus, the Clark Kent alter-ego of Eater X. Mr. Janus, 32, has spent the last eight years working at Gruppo while making a name (or at least, a pseudonym) for himself on the competitive eating circuit. Most recently, he set the world record for longest burp – a monster belch so epic ESPN ran the whole 18 seconds on SportsCenter.

Mr. Janus lives in the East Village with fellow competitive eater Jason “Crazy Legs” Conti, subject of the film “Zen and the Art of Competitive Eating.” On Tuesdays, Mr. Conti hosts Crazy Legs Movie Night at Professor Thom’s, the notorious Boston bar on Second Avenue. The Belmont, Mass. native starts his films at 6 p.m. so he won’t miss the end of Red Sox games.

The Local caught up with the gurgitators during their hectic week before the Nathan’s contest, to be aired on ESPN at noon. 


What’s your week like in the run-up to Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island?


Mr. Janus: Busy. I’ve got work and a life that always require attention, and then you throw in dozens of interviews, photo shoots, ESPN packages, practice and all of a sudden I don’t have an entire day to myself. On one hand, it’s immensely flattering to be a big part of the show. On the other hand, I always wish I could find a little more time to rest so that I could show up to the event on the Fourth with all of my energy and a little more inner peace.

Mr. Conti: My week before Nathan’s is spent jogging the Williamsburg Bridge and doing yoga at East Yoga on 13th Street and Avenue B. I watch a lot of game tape of Kevin Garnett and also slo-mo video of The Tambourine Lady from Kermit Ruffins Band. I try to emulate both of them when I hit the table.


What’s the highest point in your eating career?


Mr. Janus: I was Major League Eating’s Rookie of the Year in 2004, I’m a character in a video game (Major League Eating: the Game), I ate grilled cheese sandwiches on Letterman, and I’ve traveled the world because of these contests – even to Guantanamo Bay to entertain our troops, to Thailand to eat shrimp wontons. Competitive eating has been an excellent adventure.

But for me the real highlight was eating 50 hot dogs and buns in Nathan’s qualifier in 2009, and then 53 in the finals on July 4th. I was the third guy in the history of the world to break the 50-dog barrier, and when I did it, it caught everybody else off-guard. People had seen Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi eat 50 hot dogs before. I’m not a guy who stands back often and says, “Wow, I’m really proud of myself.” But even now when I think about it, I really am. Maybe that seems stupid to some people, to be proud of eating a lot of hot dogs. I gave something a great effort, and I got a great result, which is something I should be proud of.

Mr. Conti: The high point of my eating career came in 2009 when MLE partnered with Navy Entertainment. We have sent 14 eaters on five tours to entertain every division of the armed forces. I’ve been to Gitmo with Eater X, I’ve eaten hard boiled eggs on aircraft carriers, and traveled to bases in Guam, South Korea, Japan and Europe. I couldn’t be more proud of the men and women of the armed forces who work hard and enjoy competitive eating.


How long have you guys lived in the East Village, and how long as roommates?


Mr. Conti: I’ve been in the East Village for close to twenty years and Tim moved in three days before the cannoli contest, maybe six years ago. The cannoli trophy came home, but to his side of the apartment. Tim is on a strict diet of potato rolls, hummus, protein bars, and Mountain Dew. I would say the only con is that Tim rarely turns off the lights. I think he is afraid of the dark.


What are the advantages of living here?
Mr. Janus: I love this city, but I don’t like a lot of the neighborhoods. A lot of them are kind of prissy. The East Village has a wonderful balance of people. I get the feeling that everybody else here values that diversity too. I walk down the street and on so many blocks I see people I know and say to hello to them. Some people say, “Hey, pizza guy,” which is cool. Then I see people who see people they know, and they’re saying hello to each other too. It’s so peaceful here, maybe not on every street, but on enough of them for it to really feel special.

I walk home at night from Gruppo and it’s so quiet that I almost can’t believe I’m in New York. I think if I could record that silence and play it back to people who don’t live here, they wouldn’t believe that I’d made that recording in New York. I grew up near Hartford, Conn., and sometimes, even though it doesn’t seem possible, this city feels a lot like the suburbs where I grew up – only much more interesting, exciting and much richer in its offerings.


Where do you like to eat?


Mr. Janus: I really love the block that I work on, Avenue B between 11th and 12th Steets. Fu Sushi and Barbone are fantastic restaurants – and really great values. And further down the street is Boxcar, which is a great little bar to hang out in. Closer to my apartment near Second Avenue, there’s a Thai restaurant that I love, Zabb Elee. I’m also a big fan of the wandering vendors of the East Village. You can get some really great homemade Mexican food on the street if you know who to look for.

Mr. Conti: I generally cook for myself and my girlfriend, but I do love to eat in the East Village. I go to B & H Lunch Counter on Second Avenue for soups and juices. I just tried Nicoletta, the new pizza place, and ate the left side of the menu. I liked the carbonara pizza. I really enjoy huevos rancheros, so Puebla on First Avenue and Third Street is a great breakfast spot. Finally, on Mondays I have the lobster special at Professor Thom’s and then on Tuesday I host a double feature movie night in the Loft there. I buy one order of the world’s largest nachos. Last week, seven guys couldn’t finish them. For ramen, I head to St Marks for Setagaya Ramen – their salt egg is amazing.