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Review Thu Apr 25 2013
It was halfway into my first Wobble Stopper, the official bloody mary of Baconfest 2013 (official maybe because it had a strip of bacon as a garnish in it?), when the proverbial Eddie Murphy Delirious "Ice Cream" (NSFW) moment happened -- a bacon lover, a faulty toothpick, the plummet of fried pork to UIC Pavilion floor death. Somehow I was the only witness to the party foul. He saw me watching, I saw the hesitation. We both looked down at the casualty, feeling his bacon pain. "You were debating that moment, weren't you?" He was, he admitted. In the five-second rule world, he would've been fine. "But all these people," he lamented.
Lesson Number 1: The bacon lover, as defined in the official published Bacon Manifesto, treasures bacon in all of its forms. Even on the floor.
With bloody mary in tow, I started my journey at Carnivale with their spicy bacon medianoche (a popular late night Cuban sandwich). The bacon was just right, the bread perfectly fresh baked the night before, the cole slaw pickeled with a touch of savory unfamiliar to cole slaws. My hangover from the previous night was already starting to feel better. I shoved another piece of bacon morsel in my mouth and headed to Northcenter's Browntrout for their bacon risotto. It was light and salty with a touch of citrus; a perfect, elegant bite at an otherwise grub fest.
I made my way down to The Cooking Chicks for their chocolate cherry bacon stout cupcake with bacon buttercream frosting. Yes. Yes indeed. I remembered that I had a whole pavilion of bacon ahead of me and settled on one bite.
Lesson #2: Chicago food festivals require strategy.
Spacca Napoli was serving a savory potato cake, but whenever I see them I want pizza, so I moved onto Wave for their chicken fried bacon atop mashed potatoes with a bacon maple caramel. Being a hotel restaurant, Wave doesn't really come to mind when talking about the Chicago food scene, but the chicken fried bacon and maple syrup was spot on. I was rerouted when I came upon a sea of six foot tallness hovering over one of Baconfest's partners, Hampshire-based Dreymiller and Krey Quality Meats, who were serving straight pork - my hangover wasn't that squashed to deal with the testosterone, meat loving scene that towered over me. If I remember correctly, this is the point in which I started breathing heavily. Was I having a bacon attack? Quick, where was the nearest dish of romaine, more Wobble Stopper, ahhh!
Moments later, I found myself standing in front of Lockwood, confused, clutching my bloody mary and facing a woman in four-inch heels. "Have you tried this?" She said, shoving a Solo cup in my face that a poached egg had just been cracked into.
Lesson #3: A great salesman is necessary.
"Do I break it?" I asked, confused with the presentation. "Is it soup?" She encouraged me to break it, and somehow ignoring a woman in four-inch heels seemed like a dangerous idea. I could tell the effects of nitrate were setting in. I broke the yolk with my spoon and deconstructed what chef Joseph Rose had carefully crafted, diving into a bacon dashi, bacon ragu, nori and poached egg goodness. It was beautiful. I wanted more on a Sunday morning, after one too many tequila drinks. I looked at the chef, my hangover mouthing "Thank you, sir, for all your bacon dashi goodness." I was happy, I was complete. I should have gone home then.
Lesson #4: Leave on a good note.
I decided it was time for another Wobble Stopper, delighted by the piece of celery (which was the only vegetable my meat-overloaded stomach would see that day). Hangover was getting better, while digestion wasn't.
Rejuvenated, I ventured on to round two -- Pigs in a Blanket from Bang Bang Pie Shop, a New Orleans-style Bread Pudding served with a side of bacon horchata from J. Lafayette Catering Co., and Feijoada-baconed black beans from La Sirena Clandestina. The satiation was setting in. I had to pass over Pleasant House Bakery's bacon and cheddar pies, the braised pork belly from Nana and the cripsy bacon tacos from Hub 51. This saddened me but I was already doing Lamaze exercises.
Past my point of comfort, I made my way to the Bristol/Balena, expecting some pork belly concoction, something awesome, something that reminded me why they rocked my world. I was faced with a Baconskin Krispie Treat. Rice Krispie Treats? Huh? Slightly disappointed in their selection, I gauged if maybe in the simplicity of krispie treat I was going to encounter said awesome. It wasn't, it was a krispie treat with a chocolate topping. I was slightly foodie heartbroken. Over satiated and heartbroken is not a good place to be. More Wobble Stopper.
Lesson #5: Krispie Treats are still krispy treats.
About to throw in the towel, I came across Farmhouse and their bacon and lamb strudel with a bacon-infused gin. If a pesco-vegetarian at Baconfest needed a place to call home, Farmhouse was it. Chef Eric Mansavage talked about the farm, his grandmother, how not one ingredient was ever left behind. I had forgotten about bacon.
Lesson #6: Any dish with a grandmother story behind it wins.
The lunch session was coming to a close and the winners were going to be announced but not before a poetry reading by the winner of the Bacon Poem contest. Yes, there was poetry at Baconfest.
Lockwood took home the Most Creative Use of Bacon and Three Aces took home the Golden Rasher Award for Most Creative Use of Bacon at the evening session for its "Wake n' Bacon" dish.
Tickets for Baconfest 2013 sold out in 41 minutes, with over 121 chefs, 12 beverage sponsors and more than a dozen partners catering to over 3,000 bacon lovers. Over $50,000 was raised for Chicago Food Depository.
Lesson #7: Peso-vegetarian or not, there is such a thing as too much bacon, but don't tell the bacon lovers that.
Photos courtesy of Opacity's Flickr photostream.