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Catching onto cuisine: Keller a food critic

When I was 25 years old the only foods I could opine about authoritatively were ramen noodles and anything with Chef Boyardee on the can.

Jets tight end Dustin Keller, meanwhile, is trying lengua (look it up), sweetbreads (not a pastry) and foie gras (you might not want to know) for a monthly online food column for the New York Times.

The series cleverly is called "I Eight One," in reference to Keller's jersey No. 81.

"I'm a really big foodie, always trying different types of food -- any and everything," Keller said. "Especially being in New York, where there's a plethora of different restaurants you can try out, we came up with the idea and decided to run with it. I get to eat delicious food and write about it."

Keller majored in organizational leadership and supervision at Purdue, but it appears as though he has discovered a passion that will carry beyond his football career.

He partnered with uncle, Dale Mulvey, to purchase six McAlister's Deli restaurants in the Carolinas.

Keller approaches his side job as a food critic with sincerity. He shows up at the restaurant anonymously and takes it all in as an average customer.

Writing a column that expresses a strong opinion for a sophisticated publication can be daunting.

"I take it pretty seriously," Keller said. "But I'm having fun with it more than anything. I definitely have to give my best because a lot of people are looking at it. Everything has to be precise.

"I need to sell my opinion to the audience. I think that means I have to be passionate about."

Keller admitted the writing process has given him an appreciation for how sports writers do their jobs.

"I definitely have more respect for them," Keller said. "I get a lot of time to think about my articles and break it all down. I know you guys got deadlines. That's a lot of pressure there."

I might have a new favorite player.

He doesn't do much cooking himself, although he said he's interested in studying the culinary arts. The Jets' in-house chef drops off meals for Keller to prepare at home because he's trying to learn how to cook healthier.

Keller hopes "I Eight One" grows into something bigger, maybe a television show. He also is open to the idea of reviewing restaurants outside of New York, maybe when the Jets go on the road during the season.

My recommendations for a tour of the AFC East: Duff's in suburban Buffalo, Texas de Brazil on Miami Beach, Panza in Boston's North End and Virgil's Real Barbecue in Manhattan. Add your suggestions in the comments section below.

"I'm up for anything," Keller said. "I've tried a lot of different types of food in the city. Anybody that has any recommendations, let me know so I can go check it out."