Last month, I had my first taste of Hell Night at East Coast Grill in the Inman Square section of Cambridge. For those who've never been, it's a daredevil's dinner party thrown by restaurant owner Chris Schlesinger. He and his staff bait ballsy—some might say foolish—clientele with chile-packed dishes like pork ribs doused with the restaurant's famous Inner Beauty Hot Sauce and Pasta from Hell. The latter is so ridiculously spicy that the menu advises (teases?) customers not to order the dish, and those who do are required to sign a waiver. It's no joke; the night I was there, a guy who ate it got carted off in an ambulance.
A lot of people treat Hell Night as a dare: customer vs. kitchen, to see who's got more heat-tolerance—or just more chutzpah. I was less interested in challenging myself than simply observing all the action with a few tastes here and there, which is why I was excited to join some of my fellow America's Test Kitchen staffers for a hellish evening, so to speak.
We didn't go for the pasta—nobody was looking for outright pain—but we couldn't pass up one of the other Hell Night traditions, the Russian Roulette Pork Meatballs with Angry Tomato Sauce and Trinidad Scorpion Chiles. The deal is that each person at the table must order one meatball ($2.50 each), and one of the meatballs is a fireball. You can see where it goes from here: Everyone takes a bite, then looks around to see who got hit. (To give a sense of heat, all dishes on the Hell Night menu are rated on a scale of 1-15 bombs—Schlesinger's proprietary Scoville scale. The Pasta from Hell is 15. The hot meatball is 9.)
In this case, it was my coworker, Tai (back left, wearing a pink sweater and, for the moment, a smile). She's no wimp when it comes to spicy food; in fact, she was the one who rallied the group for dinner. But after a few minutes, she was hurting, and eventually said she could feel pain in her ear. The ice cream we had for dessert didn't help her much; even that was spiked with chiles. She may or may not have called out sick the next day.
East Coast Grill
About the author: Liz Bomze lives in Brookline, MA, and works as the Associate Features Editor for Cook's Illustrated Magazine. In her free time, she freelances regularly for the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, the Improper Bostonian, and Martha's Vineyard Magazine; practices bread-baking and canning; takes photos; reads; and watches baseball. Top 5 foods: fresh noodles, gravlax, sour cherry pie, burrata, ma po tofu.