Sam and Bradley Chmelar, hulking twin terrors of the Ennis eating world, were ready to dominate the National Polka Festival's team kolache eating contest, and with college pal Larry Clem -- a veteran of the Don Juan breakfast taco challenge down in Austin -- there'd be no stopping them.
With Saturday afternoon, though, came a change of plans. Sign-ups were low at Ennis' first kolache eating challenge -- not a single team stepped up to challenge the Chmelars -- so if they wanted to eat, they'd have to do it solo. As for the format of the contest, organizers at the SPJST Lodge hit the boys with another surprise: instead of a quantity challenge with a time limit, it'd be a six-kolache sprint. With their family and friends lining the sweltering tent, there'd be no two ways about it: whatever the rules, they were going to eat.
This was Ennis' 44th year hosting the polkafest (more about this year's festival on Unfair Park), where partiers get in touch with their Czech heritage, real or not, shuttling between local lodges for klobase and barbecue, Czechvar and Zatec and three days of polka. Having never held an eating contest before at the festival, downtown Ennis was going all-in this year: kolache contests for boys, girls, women and men -- plus the team kolache-eating and a wing eating contest that didn't draw enough contestants. Billed as the "National Kolache Eating Championship," it still couldn't come close to touching either Joey Chestnut's mark of 56 sausage kolaches, or Pat Bertoletti's record of 44 fruit-filled.
The girls' contest kicked off the races with the simplest of all formats: First to eat one kolache wins. Or, as the judge explained for us in the crowd, "The rules are: you have to eat the kolache." As the audience screamed and flailed, the girls sat politely, one in a traditional Czech kroje, taking little bites until Amanda Johnston announced she was done.
Three boys faced off in another lackluster race, this time to two kolaches (congratulations to Kevin from Ennis on winning that round), but when six women took the table for round three, the intensity finally ratcheted up. A blonde woman in a University of North Texas T-shirt blushed into her pastry as her friends in big sunglasses screamed encouragement from a few feet away, but she was no match for Bianca, the Ennis native at her right. After her first bite nearly took down an entire kolache, she powered through the middle pastries in a hurry, stuffed in the last one and threw her head back to help it down for the win.
That left just the men's contest: nine guys, including the Chmelars and Clem, racing to put away a fruit-filled sixer from the Kolache Depot Bakery. They might've been a team that morning, but now it was every eater for himself.
The polka band began playing to cue the contest's start, and the eating was fierce from the very first note. At the table's far left, Bradley Chmelar forced kolaches into his mouth two at a time, huge crumbs alternately burrowing in his beard and flying out across the crowd. A kroje'd server furiously paced the table to refill the eaters' water cups, none of which were nastier than that of big Sam Chmelar.
With his long hair feathering out from under the fitted Blue Jays hat sitting backwards on his head, Chmelar sped through his kolaches, dunking each of them into his water before tackling them in one or two bites. It didn't take long before Chmelar's plate was clean, and with his arms up in a victory wave, he threw his mouth open wide to the crowd to show there was nothing left to chew.
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While his brother Bradley slowly finished the last of the kolaches stuck in his mouth, Chmelar's mom Vicki pushed through the crowd to catch the champ's eye and tell him, sounding truly excited and at least a little sincere, "I've never been prouder in my life."
Check out our slide show for more photos from the contest and the polka festival, here in our slideshow -- and Andrea's look at the rest of the fest over at Unfair Park.