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Double (Dis)Comfort: The Hell-O-Ween Challenge

Compatibility in couples is something I really didn't truly appreciate until I started dating Mrs. 614orty-Niner. In the food realm, we've found we like many of the same things, one of them being spicy foods.

In fact, since we've become official, our exploration in this field has grown more pronounced. The Fiery Foods Festival at the North Market has become a regular event for us, my spouse has delved into spicy Korean recipes, and this year my spouse experimented with growing Habanero and Thai chili peppers. However, this hadn't led into anything even close to considering an extreme food challenge until this last week, when Double Comfort announced its "Hell-O-Ween" spicy food challenge.

After hearing about their event, my spouse let me know about it. Before even thinking, I responded, "I'm game if you're game" and soon enough, I was calling the restaurant up to reserve our spots before I knew what hit me.

As I was giving the information to the folks at Double Comfort to reserve our spots, my mind started thinking ahead to that day. Suddenly, a certain phrase was repeating in my mind over and over...

"...for Fools rush in where Angels fear to tread."
- Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism (1709)

Double Comfort plays up the rustic barnyard motif to very good effect
Open for just a scant three months, Double Comfort has brought a menu centered around the latest big thing in the Columbus dining scene (Memphis-style fried chicken) as well as other Southern staples like Po' Boy Sandwiches and Chicken Fried Steak. While we didn't sample their regular menu on this visit, we got an introduction to it anyway by the couple that was seated with us for the competition. One member, who was competing, had eaten at Double Comfort before and highly recommended the Po' Boy Sandwiches. The other member, who was a friend of the competing member, ordered up their Fried Chicken dinner while we tackled our challenge. She loved the fried chicken but did not care for the vinegar-based slaw. With that said, this type of slaw would be the preference of my spouse and I, especially if it's anything like the competition-created slaw we ate.

Also unique to Double Comfort is their proclaimed status as a "social enterprise." The restaurant donates a portion of the proceeds from each meal served to a local food pantry (in their case, this would be the Mid-Ohio Foodbank.)

Having been to Knead (the space's prior occupant) a couple times before Double Comfort's arrival, we noticed that the biggest change in the interior was in the decor. Double Comfort's went with an appropriately rustic, barn building style setup; in fact, the walls themselves were lined with re-purposed wood from a barn in Holmes County in Ohio's Amish country.

As one of the first people to arrive for the challenge, we got to chat with owner Mary Lyski as we signed our waivers and paid for our tickets. Mary couldn't have been a more welcoming host, and was genuinely excited to be hosting this first-time event for them. We were also very interested in seeing what Chef Dan Varga, whose food we had enjoyed immensely at Explorers Club, could create with the no limits on the heat content. Adding to the anticipation, the staff played off the energy of the Highball Halloween event just outside their doors; servers were either decked out in costume (including, of course, a yellow-feathered chicken) or in the T-shirts that those who conquered the challenge would be rewarded with for tolerating the heat.

Chef Dan and Mary announced the rules before we started. Chef Dan would summarize the dish for each round to everyone before eating commenced. Anyone who tapped out of the competition before its end would be rewarded with a Creamsicle and a loud but good-natured taunting by the restaurant staff. Those who survived to the end would be rewarded with the special edition T-shirt.

Our menu, our chef, and our six heat-laden food challenges
We started off with the Terrifying Russian Roulette Meatballs. Basically, all participant tables received a bowl of spicy pork and beef meatball equal to the number of participants. All participants would pick one, pop it in their mouth, and eat, but one unfortunate soul would get a meatball loaded with pequin peppers. As it turned out, my spouse ended up getting the loaded meatball, but the heat level was well within her range of tolerance. My non-pepper-laden version still had a pleasant kick, and is something I would enjoy either on its own or as part of a Double Comfort dish.

Next up came the sweet jalapeno johnnycakes dubbed the Double Comfort Hell Cakes. Topped with a habanero coleslaw, this dish turned out a bit lighter in the heat content then Chef Dan might have wanted. With that said, if this was on their regular menu, I would order this in a heartbeat.

At this point, we were feeling pretty nice and comfy with our chance, but the next dish (the Taunting Wings of Mass Destruction) proved to be our first good smack inside our mouths. These wings, tossed in cayenne and Ghost Pepper sauce, brought the competitors at our table first good sweat. The blue cheese buttermilk dipping sauce and celery relish didn't bring much in the way of heat relief, but they were delicious nonetheless.

Temperature heat, not the heat brought in by capsaicin, was the most daunting thing about the Scarrrr-y Trinidad Ghost Chili & Habanero Mac & Cheese, the amped-up version of the Double Comfort standard. A burned tongue would NOT have been ideal for finishing this challenge, so everyone made doubly sure to cool down their spoonfuls sufficiently, At the end, all three of us were breathing a bit of fire but still standing, but the scariest-sounding dish of them all was up next.

The Fire Breathing Etouffee was simply described as chicken and shrimp with "a menacing concoction of chilies." Chef Dan came by to give us the breakdown and, indeed, he threw pretty much the whole kitchen sink of peppers he had on hand in the etouffee here.

This one burned really good, and I could feel myself start to waver. The endorphin high, searing heat and a third, unforeseen occurrence (a near-full belly) were tag-teaming against my will to get through this dish. It didn't help that my spouse and our table's other contestant had finished as I was only halfway done. However, I just wasn't going to quit on this one, and with dogged determination I got down that final triumphant slurp, although I didn't feel all that triumphant at that time.

The final dish was a scrumptious victory lap of sorts - a scoop of homemade chocolate cayenne ice cream with a crispy shell was heaven. The cayenne was barely detectable in the form of heat, and the frozen temperature and dairy base of the ice cream was a perfect salve for our overheated mouths.

Double Comfort's Hell-O-Ween event proved to be a fun and spicy introduction to their fine cuisine. I think the thing that impressed both me and my spouse the most was how delicious the entire menu was, regardless of the heat quotient. I suspect next year, they'll probably crank up the heat quotient a bit (just under half of the participants on this night took home the grand prize) and I hope we'll be ready to take what they can give us by then.

But I'm sure we'll be back way before then to sample their Po' Boys and Fried Chicken, as recommended by the couple who joined us in our quest. And maybe we'll both wear these shirts when we visit.

2017 Update: Double Comfort closed its doors in March 2017. After a hiatus, it has re-emerged as a hot sauce company with a similar social mission as the restaurant. For more information, please consult their new website at Double Comfort Foods.

Double Comfort Restaurant
505 N. High Street (Downtown - Google Maps)
Columbus, OH  43215
(614) 745-2183

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