Food & Drink

Eat bugs at a Dallas ‘Pestaurant’ this weekend (we did)

DFW.com/Star-Telegram reporter Robert Philpot gets ready to down a salt-and-vinegar cricket. Yes, he went through with it. Wonder why his eyes are closed?
DFW.com/Star-Telegram reporter Robert Philpot gets ready to down a salt-and-vinegar cricket. Yes, he went through with it. Wonder why his eyes are closed? DFW.com

Taste of Dallas, which takes place Friday through Sunday at Fair Park, bills itself with a Woodstockian paraphrase: “3 Days of Food, Art, Music & More.” More than 200 exhibitor booths are scheduled, including such notables as Gas Monkey Bar N’ Grill, Hard Eight BBQ and Fletcher’s Corny Dogs.

We are here today to talk about the booth where you can eat bugs.

The one run not by a restaurant, but a pest-control company.

The one that provided us a preview Thursday, where, yes, I ate bugs, as you can see in the video below, where I am also having a spectacularly bad hair day.

If you took a pass on the video, here’s the deal: Presto-X, owned by national pest-control brand Rentokil, will have a “Pestaurant” at Booth 404 on Saturday with its creepy-crawlie goodies. For every bug eaten, the company will donate $1 to the North Texas Food Bank. There will also be bug-eating contests at 1, 3 and 5 p.m. Saturday at Booth 404.

“ ‘Pestaurant’ is a concept that we’ve developed over the last couple of years,’ says Mark Lehman, regional sales manager for Presto-X. “Obviously we’re in the business of protecting people’s homes and businesses, so sometimes we get the question of ‘What do you guys do with these bugs and crickets?’ ”

Chances are they don’t always dry them and season them with potato-chip-style flavors such as BBQ and salt-and-vinegar, but Presto-X saw an opportunity for some community involvement and education.

“Insects are really a source for stable food in third-world countries,” Lehman says. “They’re high in protein and abundance. Easy access. That’s the reality that most of the general public is not aware of, so we’re doing it to create awareness and kind of have fun with our business.”

If you have watched Bizarre Foods, Fear Factor, Survivor, The Amazing Race or any TV series featuring Anthony Bourdain during the past few years, you have probably seen someone eating insects at one point or another. But the bugs we talked about at this preview were presented in fairly unintimidating fashion — relatively speaking. (Because, as Adam on Northern Exposure said, “Presentation is everything!”)

“I think [reality TV] is the visual that a lot of people have,” Lehman says. “The first time I heard the word ‘pestaurant,’ I had a visual of live worms or live insects. But when you look at it, it’s not that intimidating. [Live insects] would be a lot more intimidating than eating this stuff.

A buffet of flavored crickets and mealworms were presented in the kind of cups some fast-food restaurants provide for condiments, although we did also think of them as “It’s time for your medication, Mr. McMurphy” cups. We didn’t sample everything (and by “we,” I mean me and my colleague Preston Jones, who shot photos and video but somehow avoided photographic evidence of his consuming anything), but we did give a few a try.

Advice: If you’re going to visit the booth this weekend, go for the crickets. Specifically the salt-and-vinegar crickets. The crunchy texture was a little reminiscent of Corn Nuts but not as hard, and the salt-and-vinegar helps you take your mind off what you’re eating. It also helps that the bugs are dried. Plain roasted crickets — well, those didn’t have a lot of flavor.

It really helps that the mealworms are dried, so you don’t get the sensation of dangling something squirmy into your mouth. The Mexican spice mealworm did have a respectable amount of heat, and the mealworm had a dusky ... um, finish ... that reminded me a little of some liver dishes.

But the crickets were better. There were also some lollipops with crickets, mealworms and ants embedded inside, but we didn’t have time to find out how many licks it took to get to the center. We were told that the lollipops are popular with children, and we suspect that anyone who has drank the worm in a bottle of mezcal wouldn’t flinch at the lollipops.

Of course, when people in third-world countries are eating insects for sustenance, they’re not exactly heading to the spice rack to make them go down more easily.

“The extent of preparation is probably water,” says Lehman, who adds that he was pleasantly surprised when he first sampled the bugs himself. “I think a lot of people are when they come by the booth. I’m a salt-and-vinegar guy, too. So I probably lean toward the crickets. But really, it’s just salty and crunchy.”

This is the first time the company has done this in Dallas, but it has had bug-eating booths in Boston and in California markets. Lehman says that people are cautiously receptive. Well, some people.

“It’s kind of like sticking the toe in the cold water,” he says. “While a lot of people are pleasantly surprised at the taste, a lot of people are interested but not willing to take the leap. ‘Sounds good — I’m all game if you eat it, but me, not so much.’ We get a lot of that.”

A recipe book is planned for the Presto-X website, and there are even suggestions for beer and wine pairings. And yes, there are even some people in the U.S. who throw bug-eating parties — and there’s even a board game to help get you started.

Lehman told me that I was the first local reporter to do this. But I wasn’t the last. NBC 5’s Marc Fein also took the leap Friday morning, on NBC 5 Today, He also dug the salt-and-vinegar crickets and ate more bugs than I did. And he had a better hair day. And I wish I’d come up with the “tastes like spider” line.

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