Published July 19. 2014 1:51PM Updated July 20. 2014 12:25AM
Niantic — Eight men tested their stomachs’ capacity by trying to eat as many 1-pound sandwiches as possible in 20 minutes during the 14th annual Celebrate East Lyme festival on Saturday.
They were competing for $500 in Giuliano’s Bakery’s third annual monster sandwich-eating competition in which contestants eat “monster egg sandwiches” filled with two fried eggs, two pieces of cheese, four pieces of bacon, two pieces of ham, two pieces of sausage and a steak, all on a bulkie roll.
Celebrate East Lyme originated from OpSail 2000 and has continued to grow since then, said Dave Putnam, director of East Lyme’s Parks and Recreation Department. By Saturday evening, thousands had descended on Main Street to partake in charity events, purchase art and devour fried food.
By about the halfway point of the sandwich-eating competition, three of the eight men had dropped out. But Joe Menchetti of Chester, who won last year, kept a steady pace by monitoring a timer on his smartphone.
There were audible huffs, belches and sighs as the five struggled through the last minutes of the contest. Roughly 100 people had stopped to watch and cheer.
Menchetti, at four sandwiches, won the competition. He said he was ready to “have a cannoli.”
Eric McGlone of Salem said he joined the contest because he was hungry and just happened to be walking by.
“I guess I feel good,” he said. “I came in third.”
Much of the festivities revolved around food.
Hot dogs, gyros, chicken souvlaki, fried dough, pizza, organic burgers and fried clam strips were just a smattering of the food available.
“Hands down, the food and fireworks at night are a great time, it’s a great show,” said Jason Farrington of Boston, who has family and friends in southeastern Connecticut.
Visitors could also purchase goods such as sundresses, purses and scarves, dance to pop music at the Epilepsy Support Group Shoreline Shakers’ booth or pet Brianna, a silver-laced Wyandotte hen in the arms of a 4-H club staff member.
4-H club Feather and Hide was selling laying hens for $25 each, or the best negotiated price, said adviser Nancy Kalal.
Before Main Street filled with people Saturday afternoon, the festival had a quieter feel as families and friends built sandcastles ranging from a Johnson-powered motorboat, a “face” coming out of the sand, a gnome, a treasure map and a lizard.
Eleven-year-old Ian Loehmann of East Haven, who was visiting his grandmother in Niantic, had searched the Internet for images of the perfect sculpture earlier this summer and chose a motorboat that he based his on Saturday.
“Motorboats are the coolest of all boats because of their style and what they have inside,” Ian said.
Ian’s team hadn’t practiced ahead of time this year, the way they normally do, but the team won a “staff picks” award. The team tied with another team that built a lizard sandcastle. Each team won a $50 gift certificate for Parks and Recreation programs.
“Staff picks” are for the team or teams that didn’t earn as many points but had strong kid participation, said Carol Rossiter, program coordinator for Parks and Recreation.
The first-place winner was a group of 15 friends who were from Torrington and Clinton but have a family beach house in Niantic. It was their first year participating, and Angela Kackowski of Torrington said the group joined the competition to have some family time with their grown kids.
The group built a drip sandcastle with a moat made of seaweed and a seashell bridge and won six tickets to Six Flags.