The eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters: Read, Chew, Discuss, www.egul let.org, loosely based on the Usenet forum concept originally, has evolved into perhaps the ultimate Web site for anyone with any interest in food or drink. eGullet is a nonprofit clearinghouse for any kind of culinary information, including a very strong and very complete forum section, plus content as varied as the newspaperlike Daily Gullet, weekly Q&As with noteworthy culinarians, the ongoing diary of a cooking-school student, chronicles of a start-up restaurant, recipes, food history, reports on any city in the world, coverage of all of the nation's food media pretty much any topic that comes to mind. The writing and reportage is first class, and the content superlative. There's an open eGullet forum for all things Texas www.forums.egullet.org/index.php?showforum28 and one can easily look for Austin posts. The local chapter of eGullet participants announces its food-related, semimonthly get-togethers here (such as a pairing of port with food at member Foodie 52's house), and eGullet-friendly authors like Bourdain convene with interested eGulleteers over dinner when they are in town signing cookbooks.
Chowhound www.chowhound.com, is a forum-based message board that Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, called "the anti-Zagat's, for people who like food a little spicier." Chowhound takes a slightly funnier approach to the food scene: Recent entries included a long string of "funniest stories about foods and drinks spilled in restaurants" and an extended series that asked the question "Are chowpups" kids with adventurous appetites "born or made?" Chowhound prides itself as being for the boldest of eaters and not for the foodie ("Foodies eat where they're told to eat"). Where it really shines is in the regional, domestic, and international message boards: You can find the best places to eat, anywhere in the world (including Austin and the rest of Texas). For the local angles, go to the "Southwest" message board, then "Texas," and look for Austin entries. Both eGullet and Chowhound require you to join (free) before you post, but you can lurk at will on both without doing so.
The Austin Sushi Group, www.austinsushi.com/home.shtml, run by Jason Levitt and Ulf Kastner, is one of the more polished local food Web sites. It's a superb resource for sushi restaurant news, openings and closings, ratings of all of the sushi restaurants, links to all manner of sushi knowledge, a user forum for feedback, local sushi happy hour deals, sushi catering companies, vegetarian sushi, sushi product links (there are some outstanding sushi clocks available), and more. Levitt and Kastner are good about keeping all the information up to date (which can be a problem with some of the local Web sites). If you are sushi-bent, this is the site for you.
The UT Barbecue Club, studentorgs.utexas.edu/barbecue, is a good starting place for local barbecue fans. Run by Dinyar Mistry and Michael Hoffman, the club focuses on the Central Texas barbecue scene. They hold monthly meetings at local restaurants and post ratings obtained from club tasting missions, as well as personal reviews from members. In addition, they take occasional day trips for barbecue to nearby towns and discuss all things barbecued. You might remember these folks from their fight with the UT administration over the similarity of their club seal to the official UT seal. It's officially for university students, but the more the merrier.
The Bat City Guide to Late Night Dining in Austin, www.batcity. com/latenight, founded by Wade Schwartzkopf, is now run by Joe Maloukis. He covers several categories: open 24 hours, open past 10pm daily, other late-night options, and late-night food delivery spots. Maloukis posts his e-mail address, requests suggestions for places he doesn't have listed, and promises to be better about updating regularly.
The Foodways Group of Austin, www.main.org/foodways, is a local group whose interests center on food-related cultural anthropology and culinary history: "The term foodways refers to the culinary practices of a people and land, historical and popular." Their site serves mainly as a bulletin board to announce their monthly meetings: "Meetings may include a cultural lecture, a sample of food related to the lecture, sometimes a food preparation demo, exhibit, etc." Posted on their Web site right now are gatherings in November with Macedonia native Dejan Kostovski of Kebab Palace, as well as Leonor of Tamaleo doing a program on Christmas in Oaxaca and Mesoamerican civilization. Nonmembers can attend any event.
Rob Balon's commercial site, www.diningoutwithrobbalon.com, is a resource for local restaurant news, celebrity sightings, and reviews of restaurants. Balon does restaurant and local food bits on KLBJ-AM on Friday and Saturday mornings, restaurant reviews on the local FOX affiliate for the morning and noon newscasts, and the excellent Food Friday radio show on KLBJ-AM, 9-10am, the last Friday of every month. On his site, you can sign up to join Balon's Gonzo Gourmet Club, Austin's first interactive dining and gourmet club, which meets monthly on a Sunday at a restaurant of Balon's choosing. There are no dues or fees just sign up on the Web and pay a set fee (and there are door prizes given away).
The Vegetarian Network of Austin, www.vegnetaustin.org, is probably the most social of the local vegetarian sites. They get together for monthly potlucks and also have regular restaurant forays to vegetarian and vegetarian-friendly locations (organized by Dan Gillote).
The Austin Vegetarian Meetup Group, www.vegetarian.meetup.com/42/members/1548711, has a fairly active bulletin board for folks wanting to commune with other vegetarians, and they "welcome curious meat eaters." There are several postings from new Austin arrivals wanting to meet like-minded diners, and a redhead from UT who was looking to "meet some animal lovers."
Michael Bluejay's site, www.michaelbluejay.com/veg/restlist.html, features reviews of Austin's vegetarian and vegetarian-friendly restaurants: descriptions of menus and minireviews, plus listings of nonveg restaurants at which one can eat vegetarian (primarily Asian and Mexican), and links to other vegetarian resources, such as grocery stores and housing.
Ben Combee's Vegout! Austin, www.vegoutaustin.com, has restaurant info for vegans and vegetarians, including a downloadable list of veggie items at chain fast-food joints, and a "Stay Away" list: "The Salt Lick: I paid $11 for potato salad and white bread?!! Jim's: all night diner chain with corporate sponsors in their menu and a pathetic grilled cheese sandwich as their sole veggie entrée."
The Austin Zealots (Zymurgic Enthusiasts of Austin Loosely Organized Through Suds), www.austinzealots.com, are devotees of brewing and drinking great beer, but these folks will drink anything. They hold monthly meetings at the Gingerman (third Saturday at 6:30pm), tastings of their own homebrews (brewing styles change monthly), happy hour get-togethers, and other activities such as tequila, bourbon, and Scotch samplings. Mostly, they seem to be looking for any excuse to get together to drink.
PLOWED, www.single-malt.com, the Single Malt Society site, has ratings, discussion boards, descriptions of the Scotch-brewing areas and their styles, and info on all of the different branches of the group and the annual convention. Michael Parker (Austin's single-malt Scotch grand guru) is the local rep, and he hosts an annual tasting of more than 50 bottles. Austin's "Merry Maltsters" is also led by the ubiquitous Parker, of Opal Divine's, www.opaldivines.com. On their Web site, you can click Single Malts, and sign up for Parker's absolutely amazing periodic tastings, which often feature rare and unusual Scotch whiskys not normally seen. They sell out quickly, so don't dawdle. After tasting, you can go to the PLOWED site and blog your tasting notes to the world.
South Austin Pub Crawl Reviews, www.clicheideas.com/pubcrawl.htm, is devoted to exploring cocktail and beer venues south of the river in fun social groups, making sure that the money they spend stays in South Austin.
BeerAdvocate, www.beeradvocate.com, is a resource worth checking out. Once you log in, click "Beer Fly," then "City Guide," then "Austin." There you'll find ratings for local brewpub offerings, plus regional artisanal beers like Saint Arnold, and even the state's big boys like Shiner and Lone Star.