In the Line of Fire

By Jane Black | Boston Magazine |

True story: A party of six shows up at East Coast Grill’s Hell Night, the restaurant’s thrice-yearly challenge to those who think they can take the heat. One of the guys orders the “Pasta from Hell,” a plate of penne doused in a blistering habanero sauce. George Greenidge Sr. remembers this. He knows everyone who’s ordered this dish, because in his role as Dr. Pepper—spiritual adviser and host of Hell Night—Greenidge must approve anyone who dares request it. First he tries to talk them out of it. Next he makes them sign a release (“I, the undersigned, have been verbally warned that this . . . is possibly the hottest dish to have ever been created in the free world”). Finally he assures them that an “antidote,” like milk or a Creamsicle, is available if (and when) it gets ugly.

On this night, however, the guy is putting away forkful after forkful without so much as a flinch. “Like he’s eating mashed potatoes,” Greenidge says, his eyes still wide with amazement. Walking toward the table for a closer look, Greenidge sees what is keeping this guy going: “With each bite, his girlfriend lifts her shirt and says, ‘Got milk?’”—at once a one-woman cheering squad and (not-so-subtle) offer of relief.

This is the kind of thing that happens—in Cambridge, yet!—on Hell Night. But then, this is what Hell Night is all about, thanks, in large part, to Dr. Pepper.

Officially retired from his 38-year run as a phys ed teacher at Cambridge Rindge & Latin (where his students included Billy Costa, Lenny Clarke, and Patrick Ewing), Greenidge still works as a sausage vendor at Fenway—the only stand that offers more than a dozen hot sauces. (Over the years, Greenidge has learned to love East Coast’s signature Inner Beauty hot sauce so much he even mixes it with tuna or smears a bit on PB&J.)

His favorite job, though, is devilish emcee for Hell Night. Each night begins the same way. He arrives with numerous changes of costume and props including a black cape “that’s great to open wide and wrap people right inside,” pepper-decorated oven mitts, several masks, and a giant pepper-shaped hat that he carries everywhere (“just in case”). Once settled, he calls out to the bartenders, “How’s the weather?!” To which they answer, “Dark and stormy!” before serving him a tall glass of ginger beer and rum on ice.

After that, anything could happen. Which is just how Dr. Pepper likes it.

>>East Coast Grill, 1271 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-491-6568. Hell Night returns 1/21–1/23. Reservations required.

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