Expanding menu of Web sites satisfies hunger for food coverage

By Mark W. Smith
Sunday, December 12, 2010; A18

DETROIT - Chalk it up to beauty, shock or hunger pangs; there are few things that spread online as quickly as pictures of food.

From a friend's Facebook photo of a perfectly torched creme brulee to a shot of a classic Detroit Coney dog to the Luther - a cheeseburger between two Krispy Kreme donuts - images of culinary creations circle the Web faster than you can reach for an antacid.

"Food speaks to us," says Dave Benjamin, 40, of Troy, Mich., a contributor to the Hungry Dudes - a food blog that specializes in sharing photos of metro Detroit cuisine.

"When you think of apple pie, you might think back to when your grandmother made apple pie. And then it's not just the food, it's the experiences that surround that food."

In the lore of extreme Web food, there may be no bigger star than the turbaconducken.

That's a chicken, inside a duck, inside a turkey, wrapped in a layer of salty, smoky bacon.

The gut-busting creation hit the Web courtesy of Bacon Today, a food blog specializing in often extreme creations.

The site is the brainchild of Rocco Loosbrock, 38, of Moorpark, Calif., who began dabbling in Web-based food ventures when he created an online wine club.

He quickly found the world of wine, in which he still operates, to be stuffy, as customers tried to one-up each other with their informed parlance.

"With bacon, all that disappeared," he says. "It was all about: 'I like bacon.' 'Bacon tastes good.' 'What can we do with bacon?' "

Some of the other creations on Bacon Today, which has seen as many as 2.5 million visitors in a month, include bacon cinnamon rolls, bacon coffee and bacon cupcakes.

Loosbrock, who was laid off from the banking industry more than two years ago, uses the viral nature of his posts to fuel his ventures selling bacon merchandise, including a Bacon of the Month Club.

What is it about bacon that has propelled it to prominence on a Web awash with food photos?

"Every single kid remembers smelling bacon in the house," he says. "It's a smell that once you smell, you never forget."

When Alexa Andrzejewski returned to San Francisco from a trip to Japan, she wanted to find local examples of some of the exciting cuisine she had discovered overseas.

Try as she might to find a specific dish online, she couldn't.

So she created Foodspotting, a Web site and smartphone app that curates photos of food, plotting them on a map so people can discover new eateries and dishes.

In Foodspotting, Andrzejewski tapped into a behavior that was already becoming prevalent online - diners taking photos of their food before diving in.

"People take pictures of food because it expresses something about them, like the kind of person they are or how adventurous they are," Andrzejewski says.

The result of her inspiration is an exhaustive database of regional cuisine - deep-fried alligator in Louisiana and deep-dish pizza in Chicago - that allows anyone to search the best nearby menu items.

Foodspotting for the Apple iPhone has been downloaded nearly a half-million times since its March release, Andrzejewski says.

While it's ad-free now, Andrzejewski sees restaurants paying to post their daily specials or new menu items.

"It's a great way for restaurants to celebrate the dishes that they do well and use that to attract more customers," she says.

Growing up in his family's deli, Joe Hakim has a food pedigree.

Nineteen months ago, Hakim, 29, parlayed that knowledge into the creation of the Hungry Dudes.

What started as a part-time project between Hakim and his high school buddy Henry Balanon, 28, has grown into a burgeoning Web publication sought out by Detroit restaurants for coverage of their menus.

"Part of the fun of eating is sharing," Hakim says. "We want the people who look at our site and see the food to feel like they've shared the experience with us."

The Hungry Dudes will soon be offering services such as event planning and creating social media strategies for eateries, says Benjamin, a contributor.

For restaurants, calling the Hungry Dudes is a quick way to gain exposure by having their best meals professionally photographed and shared online. Photos - and increasingly video - are posted to thehungrydudes.com and Flickr after each photo shoot, placing them just a quick Web search away from potential diners.

Restaurants provide the food to the Hungry Dudes for free, which the Web site notes in accordance with FTC guidelines that require bloggers to reveal whether they have received gifts related to their posts.

There's a larger goal for the Hungry Dudes, Hakim says: to bring some of what Detroit does best - food - to a more prominent stage.

"It's easy to say negative things about Detroit," he says. "The thing that's always positive is the food."

- Detroit Free Press

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