If you want to talk bacon, Andy Karandzieff's your guy.
As co-owner of legendary St. Louis eatery Crown Candy Kitchen, Karandzieff uses up to 200 pounds of bacon in a typical day. The bacon (Oscar Mayer only) is ordered by the case and "kettle fried" in vegetable oil, 10 pounds at a time, a process so crucial that Karandzieff recently took on a couple of young employees (call them "bacon apprentices") to make sure the ready-to-go bacon supply never runs low.
All these pounds of crispy pork go into Crown Candy's ridiculously bacon-heavy BLT, a 14-piece (or more) monster that the restaurant serves to as many as 125 customers a day.
The Travel Channel's Adam Richman singled out the BLT as a contender for "Best Sandwich in America," a brackets-style competition pitting regional favorites against one another. In the episode airing at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Crown Candy's "Heart-Stopping BLT," as it's billed, competes with two sandwiches from Chicago.
The BLT might never have come to Richman's attention if not for two unrelated events.
The first occurred in Crown Candy's kitchen, when employees began loading more and more bacon onto a sandwich that was intended to be a filling but not absurdly abundant BLT.
"I can't control my employees," Karandzieff says. "They just piled it on." The restaurant soon developed a reputation for the sandwich, which is served in traditional style on Wonder Bread toast (although rye and sourdough are also available), with lettuce, tomato and Miracle Whip.
The second event occurred in late 2008, when Richman visited Crown Candy for his "Man vs. Food" series. It was an experience the host will probably never forget; he took the "malt challenge," attempting to drink five of the restaurant's signature huge malts in 30 minutes, and finished 4 1/2 before getting sick. (Had he won, he would have received a T-shirt, and his name would have gone on the wall.)
Richman's strategic error, Karandzieff believes, was getting too fancy with the flavors. "He had coffee and eggnog," Karandzieff recalls. "He'd have done better to stick with something simpler."
When Richman staggered off to his hotel, Karandzieff sent along a BLT. Richman eventually began to feel better, "and he told me the BLT may have saved his life."
Richman remembered that curative sandwich. Earlier this year, Karandzieff got a call from producers saying Richman wanted to return, this time for a new series about sandwiches.
"They said they wanted to do our BLT," Karandzieff says. "I hesitated for a second. I stepped back and thought, we're already really busy. Do we really need this? Then I thought, heck yes we do."
A crew arrived in March and crowded into Crown Candy's kitchen. "There were eight or nine of us, plus three cooks, and me and Adam. It was pretty warm in there. But they were really good at staying out of the way."
The crew also shot out front, where the original soda fountain is still in constant use, and interviewed customers, including one multigeneration family in which even a vegetarian member succumbed to bacon.
"They filmed so much, I'll be really interested to see how they whittle it down," Karandzieff says.
His opinion of Richman was unchanged. "I thought he was a really nice guy before, and he was just the same, just great. He has a passion for food that really shines through."
Harry Karandzieff, Andy's grandfather, opened Crown Candy Kitchen at 1401 St. Louis Avenue in 1913. Andy and his brothers Tommy and Mike took it over from their father, George, in 1991. "We'll be here 100 years next year," Andy Karandzieff says. "I've been here 35. My mother still comes in four or five days a week."
With crowds out the door almost every day, especially in ice cream season, Crown Candy won't pause to celebrate another moment in the spotlight. Karandzieff is looking forward to watching the show but won't throw a party or anything.
"I've got to work that night," he says.
Crown Candy Kitchen is open 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. More: http://crowncandykitchen.net/; 314-621-9650.
What "Adam Richman's Best Sandwich in America" • When 8 p.m. Wednesday • Where Travel Channel