Bugs, brains and guts -- if you got them, they'll eat 'em. A local dining club, the Gastronauts, unites adventurous eaters. The group treks around the city for monthly excursions, sampling off-menu delicacies from around the world. It's like Fear Factor without the cash prize.
Past menu highlights have included live baby octopus, lamb eyeballs, guinea pig, bat snails, yak and brains prepared about a hundred different ways. (Those brussels sprouts your mom tried to shove down your throat as a kid look pretty good, eh).
Curtiss Calleo and Ben Pauker founded Gastronauts nearly four years ago. They longed for the exotic meals of their childhoods. Calleo lived in Germany, Italy and Austria until the age of 18. And Pauker, while born in New York City, spent most of his childhood in Brazil, Australia and Thailand. Not a lot of Chef Boyardee and boxed mac-n-cheese in those parts.
"I wasn't thrilled about eating hamburgers and Caesar salads back in the States," says Pauker. "This kind of eating was in our blood."
The group's focus is on the culinary exploration rather than bragging rights alone. Since its inception, its grown from four to some 300-plus members. Their excursions take them deep into all five borroughs.
"It's not that we're searching for restaurants in bizarre parts of town. There are certain unique ethnic foods that we are trying to get a hold of." says Pauker.
Right now they're on the hunt for a special tofu dish from Japan involving live eels. Alcohol gets poured on top of them, and they slither to safety inside the tofu.
Calleo and Pauker religiously scout locations ahead of time and plan meals with restaurant owners. They arrange for a pre-fixe menu, which always includes drinks along with their servings of offal. Calleo calls the task a "labor of love."
Anyone is welcome to test their gastronautical limits, with two major stipulations. While you don’t need to wipe your plate clean, you must at least try to try everything served. Also, you pay for your own dinner. Each meal costs about $30-$50.
What is the craziest thing you've ever eaten? Tell us below, in the comment section.