Monday, April 25, 2011
Yes, you read correctly - every year (or at least now 3 years running), there is a festival in Chicago "entirely devoted to America's favorite cured meat" in all of its various forms and glory: Baconfest! (exclamation point added by the author, not part of the actual event title, although it probably should be). Somehow, the inaugural Baconfest and its recurrence in 2010 eluded my usually-savvy local food radar, but once I caught wind of it (it smelled sweet and greasy) this time around, I jumped at the opportunity to score a pair of tickets for us, the entirety of which disappeared in only 30 minutes on the day that they were released.
As Mrs. Hackknife and I quickly discovered when we arrived at the UIC Forum on the big day, there are apparently many people that are waaaaaay more into bacon than we are (for example, you don't realize how many bacon-themed t-shirts actually exist until you've been to an event like this - my personal favorite was one that said "PETA - People for the Eating of Tasty Animals" on the front and "There's room for all of God's creatures.......right next to my mashed potatoes" on the back). The line of nearly 1,000 crazed carnivores snaking outside the building eventually made its way indoors to find 50-something local restaurants, bars, butcher shops, and bakeries (yes, bakeries) passing out their best bacon-influenced dishes, a foodie bacchanalia the likes of which made even me (no shrinking violet in such matters) descend into a melange of disgust and guilt a couple of times. We started the afternoon's meat orgy at Miramar Bistro with a small, yet potent plate of caramelized pork belly (which is basically uncured bacon) with wilted escarole and maple pineapple chutney, soon to be followed by a rather-large sandwich portion of Kick Ass BLT (Benton's bacon on bacon-braised Texas toast with aioli, tomatoes, and iceberg lettuce) from the good folks at the 694 Wine and Spirits table. Feeling giddy and emboldened (and with hands mostly full of trash - we determined early on that there weren't enough garbage cans around), we wandered over to Girl & The Goat's table, where we were presented with a little cup of spicy bacon and tomato soup by no less a luminary than past Top Chef champ Stephanie Izard herself (when passing me the soup while I was still chowing down on my BLT, I pleaded to her that I was eating as fast as I could). David Burke's Primehouse had whiskey caramel bacon candies (what they called "bacon daddies"), which I didn't care for, but Mrs. Hackknife quite enjoyed. There were bacon-infused Bloody Marys from Bar Fifty/50 (very spicy), bacon "cannoli" filled with maple and bacon marscapone from Atwood Cafe (damn, that s%#t was good!), bacon and foie gras moon pie from Big Jones (tasty and probably the most egregious use of rich ingredients in the history of mankind), bacon banh mi from the Bristol, spinach and bacon ravioli with parmesan and brown butter sauce from La Madia, spicy bacon grits and cornbread from Heaven on Seven, and on and on. Piece served bacon pizza with its house-made Big Black Mariah porter beer. Spacca Napoli handed out seemingly-large plates of pasta and cheese pie with guanciale (when I expressed dismay at the robust portion size, Jonathan Goldsmith commented something to the effect of "well, we're Jewish here"). I actually attempted to eat a whole mini-hot dog bundle (smoked bacon wrapped-Monterey Jack stuffed homemade hot dog w/pickled jalapenos, salsa fresca, and lime aioli) from Old Town Social AND a mini-bacon cheeseburger with a bourbon bacon milkshake from Park Grill (sublime) within a few minutes of each other. Sable Kitchen's applewood smoked bourbon bacon jam on a crispy polenta cake with St. Andre cheese fondue was amazing, Nonna Santi's bacon biscotti, not so much. The bacon and cheese empanadas from Terzo Piano were terrific. By this time, I was pretty sure I was going to need some sort of medical attention, yet I tried to soldier on as best as I could. Wow Bao had bacon, egg, and cheese baos (little stuffed buns). Our friends at Meatyballs Mobile (visited on the street earlier this year) convinced me to try the Coq & Balls (ground chicken and Nueske's bacon meatballs in red wine sauce) even when I probably shouldn't have. The Ziggy Piggy bacon sundae bar that Cafe des Architectes was offering made me recoil like a vampire from sunlight. Many tables began running out of food, which was just as well, because other than hipsters walking around nursing cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, everyone appeared to be worn down in a daze of overindulgence. The urge to quietly weep started to fall over me as I considered the list of incredible restaurants whose wares we hadn't yet sampled (the Bedford, Boka, iNG, Inovasi, Magnolia Cafe, Piccolo Sogno, Province, Vie....) and, due to my lack of portion control, would not be able to. Then, recognizing one possible sliver of space left in my digestive tract, I gamely tried a piece of bacon chocolate cake (that's what you see in the photo at the top of the posting, a cake slab with a slice of bacon protruding), enjoying the smoky-sweet morsel now, knowing for certain that I would be paying later. After that, I was pretty sure I didn't want eat bacon ever again; however, going back over the menu list while writing this entry, I get giddy in anticipation of Baconfest 2012. Will you be there?