Virtual Vittles

You can’t eat Texas food on the Internet, but you can learn about it, order it through e-mail, and access hundreds of recipes and restaurant reviews. Dig in.

I FLATTER MYSELF THAT I KNOW A BIT about Texas food. I think about it all the time, I’ve been writing about it for more than twenty years, and I have judged everything from chili cookoffs to a cookie chill-off (it was refrigerated desserts — don’t ask). But during the past year, I discovered to my chagrin that a whole new area had opened up about which I was totally clueless: food on the Internet. So on the prettiest, crispest days of fall, when my friends were out scuffing through the autumn leaves or gnawing on barbecued ribs at charming country fairs, I went surfing for cyberribs. My quest was twofold: to find Texas foods and to ferret out reviews of Texas restaurants.

Many sedentary hours, one backache, and a bottle of Visine later, I can attest that there is Texas food in the virtual world and in spite of my grousing, I enjoyed the hunt. I do, however, have a few caveats to pass on. First, a lot of the homepages aren’t regularly updated, an annoying but common problem on the Net. Second, like Texas food itself, the quality of the pages varies. A few are quite professional, but others represent some person’s hobby or some company’s sideline. Actually, if you think of these pages as nachos rather than full dinners, you’re more likely to enjoy them.

Food

Texas food pages can be broken down into how to cook it, where to buy it, and why we love it. The first set of sites consists of recipes, the second has mail-order information, and the third, the “weirdest and wackiest”, takes as its sole purpose the celebration of a favorite Texas food. By the way, when I say “Texas food” I mean a food that is primarily identified with Texas, such as barbecue or chili, whether or not it is exclusive to the Lone Star State. A lot of these homepages originate in Texas, but not all; some of the most entertaining are produced out of state by homesick ex-Texans and Texas wannabes.

Burrito Page . My favorite food page, bar none. You can have burritos sent cross-country if you’re stuck in a burritoless wasteland, or read “landmark texts of burritology,” including “Cylindrical God,” a 1993 San Francisco Weekly article on “the world’s most perfect foodstuff.” Best of all, you can do an individual “Burrito-Analysis.” Click on icons for your favorite fillings and get a personality sketch: “Your pairing of a meat-free burrito and all those fatty toppings indicates a dangerous ability to live with illusions.”

Smokin’ the Internet . The barbecue page briefly covers the basics, including a schedule of cookoffs, mail-order products, book reviews, and recipes like Bubba Rubba Ribs and Grand Marnier chicken. But wait: It comes out of Kansas City! (Get a rope.) My fellow Texans, a definitive Texas barbecue page could smoke this one in short order. Any volunteers?

Bob Nemo’s Mole Page . The place to find a killer recipe for green pumpkinseed mole and to learn competing theories about the origin of mole (I like the one where the wind blows the spices into the cookpot).

The (Now More Festive) Tequila Home Page. In the tequila page’s recent poll, 23 percent of respondents voted that “tequila is a god” while 28 percent said, “I’d rather drink lizard urine.” A grab bag of drink recipes and arcane information, the site includes a link to a page whose ranking of top brands is right on the money. Don’t miss the amusing hallucination inducer graphic.

Pointers to Hot Recipes . This neat reference page, produced by the aptly named FireGirl, will direct you to recipes for apricot salsa and other searing selections from Thailand, India, Mexico, Cajun country, and more.

Restaurants

Getting decent restaurant reviews in cyberspace is dicey. If you read an Internet newsgroup (check the alt., rec., and city name areas of your newsgroup directory), you’ll have to plow through comments from everybody and his dog, though in all fairness you can get good tips. As for reviews on the Web, prepare to be frustrated: Often the remarks are months or even years old, and critical selection criteria are not apparent. But the databases can be useful if you’re planning a trip to a city and want a quick overview of what to expect.

Houston Restaurant Database . Open forums are only as good as their contributors, but this extensive one (more than four hundred entries) maintained by the physics department chapter of the Graduate Students Association at Rice University is better than most. All types of restaurants and price ranges are included. The remarks on the House of Pies, for example, were priceless. “Listen, sweetheart”, one person wrote, “if you want to avoid grease, go someplace else. The french dip is the best thing on the menu . . . Other than that, watch out for the ketchup. I’ve seen it walk.”

Epicurious. Two major food magazines, Bon Appétit and Gourmet, appear on this well-known Web site, which contains ten sprightly (but undated) reviews of intelligently chosen Houston restaurants written by Alison Cook, a former senior editor for Texas Monthly and food editor for the Houston Press .

Sally's Place . Thislittle corner of the Web contains 25 literate, well-selected, and up-to-date Houston listings written by freelance food mavens Teresa Byrne-Dodge and Cassandra Manley. Click on Dining, then Restaurant Listings.

Finally, I’m going to shamelessly flack for Texas Monthly —our own Web site. Click on “ What’s Cooking ” to access current restaurant listings and recipes we’ve published over the years, including those from the State Fare section.

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