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'Only a mortal man': York leader samples 27 orders of fries for National French Fry Day

Downtown Inc CEO Silas Chamberlin talks with guests at J.R.'s Fries at Central Market during his quest to eat french fries at 27 different downtown York restaurants on National French Fry Day Friday, July 13, 2018. J.R.'s was the fourth stop on the Fantastic French Fry Frenzy tour. Bill Kalina photo

Yorkers love fries — and to prove that, Downtown Inc CEO Silas Chamberlin recently ate his way through all the fries downtown York City has to offer.

"They have a crispy outside but a softer inside," he said of J.R.'s Fries in Central Market, adding that they don't overcompensate with salt — the flavor speaks for itself.

Chamberlin clinked his cup of fries with staff and guests helping him eat, in a symbolic "cheers."

Twenty-seven locations hosted Chamberlin  for National French Fry Day on Friday, July 13, in a food tour challenge the organization dubbed the First-Ever Downtown York Fantastic French Fry Frenzy.

Chamberlin said the downtown partnership has celebrated national food days before but never anything on this scale — visiting dozens of locations in 15 hours.

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Central Family Restaurant owner Karl Spangler, left, joins, from left, Downtown Inc board member Julian Tolbert, his wife Jolene, Downtown Inc Marketing and Communication Manager Andrew Staub and Downtown Inc CEO Silas Chamberlin, at the restaurant during Chamberlin's quest to eat french fries at 27 different downtown York restaurants on National French Fry Day Friday, July 13, 2018. Central Family was the first stop on the Fantastic French Fry Frenzy tour. Bill Kalina photo

Only a mortal man: It prompted jokes on just how much one man can do.

As his team was searching locations, 10 turned into 15, which turned into 20, until "we obviously realized, I can't eat a whole order of fries at every place," Chamberlin said. "It became, 'Can I share an order of fries at every place?'"

Like any other marathoner, he trained for the past month — slowly increasing his fry intake and staying hydrated "to keep his body in peak physical condition," according to a news release.

“God-willing, I’ll make it through every stop," he stated. "I can’t make any promises. After all, I’m only a mortal man."

Chamberlin even drew on his competitive eating past as inspiration.

He was once the champion of his high school, winning the 2001 Lunchroom Showdown at Northeastern by scarfing down four holiday dinners in one sitting, a news release states.

But alas, the next year he was defeated. So York City's fry challenge was his chance at a comeback.

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“This is an opportunity to prove that I can still be a champion eater,” Chamberlin stated before taking on the challenge, noting that if it went well, he might even take on pizza or desserts.

But it's all in good fun, he said, and a way to give recognition to businesses downtown.

To help him tackle the 27 orders of fries, local celebrities got in on the action.

Officials including York County President Commissioner Susan Byrnes and York City Council President Henry Nixon stopped by on the tour. 

And local artist Ophelia Chambliss, who paints York landscapes and has a studio space in Marketview Arts; Jose Santiago, director of the New American Welcome Center at the York YMCA; and York County Economic Alliance President and CEO Kevin Schreiber were just a few others who made appearances.

About 1:30 p.m. Friday, Chamberlin wasn't feeling too full yet, but the salt was starting to get to him, he said, so he was thankful that most places offered "big, tall glasses of ice water."

Nearly two hours into the challenge, Chamberlin and Co. had left stop No. 15, Picalonga Sabor Tropical, and still managed to finish an entire order of classic fries.

"We might be limping into the last couple of stops," he said, but he added that the excitement from the local chefs and Yorkers was keeping him energized.

By 5 p.m. he was still hoping to have room for the "beer at the end of the rainbow" at his final stop, Holy Hound Taproom, where he was to receive a trophy that will "live on" if he decides to make the fry tour a tradition, he said.

The great uniter: So what was it about the beloved American snack food that sparked a daylong fry-capade?

As far as food challenges go, Chamberlin said favorites such as burgers, wings and pizza are usually involved, but fries open up the experience to more people.

"I'm a vegetarian, so fries are something that a lot of different places serve and even places you wouldn't think of serve them," he said, mentioning Hamir's Indian Fusion as an example.

"And I love fries," he added — so as not to omit the obvious.

Chamberlin acknowledged there can be a lot of diversity in types of fries — potato wedges, steak fries, seasoned fries, sweet potato fries or even just variations in how they are prepared. 

He said the participants in the tour were inclined to go all out with interesting takes or special creations, but he encouraged them to keep it classic, "so we can survive," he joked, thinking about preparing his stomach for extravagance. 

Pat & Tony's, specializing in soul food, showcased its loaded crinkle fries with bacon (which Chamberlin's nonvegetarian guests helped him eat), cheese and spices.

And Puerto Rican restaurant Picalonga Sabor Tropical made three different piled-high orders with beef, shredded chicken and a combo of both — "someone could eat them as an entire meal," Chamberlin said.

Iron Horse York provided a nice vegetarian option, dressed with carrots, parsley, blue cheese, feta and buffalo sauce.

"The one thing that has stuck out for me is how generous the business community has been," Chamberlin said, citing the multiple orders and interesting twists he was given, which show their creativity and support.

Some locations also made exceptions for Chamberlin's excursion.

J.R.'s Fries, a mainstay of Central Market, was open to serve him an order, even though it's normally closed with the market on Fridays.

Downtown Inc CEO Silas Chamberlin samples fries at J.R.'s Fries at Central Market during Chamberlin's quest to eat french fries at 27 different downtown York restaurants on National French Fry Day Friday, July 13, 2018. J.R.'s was the fourth stop on the Fantastic French Fry Frenzy tour. Bill Kalina photo

"They're that go-to for fries," he said, noting that Yorkers come to the longtime fry provider for lots of different toppings.

The more than 12-year veteran has over 25 different combinations of fries, one of which is J.R.'s Loaded Fries, prepared with onions, chili and cheese.

And McDonald's, which was scheduled at 9:30 a.m., agreed to serve fries, even though they're not usually available during breakfast hours.

Despite trying so many different types of fries, Chamberlin did not choose favorites, he said. But he said he had been looking forward to places he had not tried yet, as well as unconventional locations such as the York Revolution baseball stadium, PeoplesBank Park.

He planned to eat fries with president and CEO Eric Menzer during the game Friday night.

Each location was a special experience because the owners or chefs joined them, and they're very proud of the food they have to offer, Chamberlin said.