by Rock ‘n Roll Ghost
Don’t believe the new age fat guy wisdom of “Bacon makes everything better.” It doesn’t. Baconfest Chicago is proof that, yes Virginia, there is a thing as too much bacon. Yours truly sampled 20 dishes at Baconfest this past Saturday evening and didn’t feel all that great about myself afterwards. I didn’t exactly smell too good, either
I get the appeal of Baconfest. Lord knows I do. I was excited to attend (a big thank you to Seth at Baconfest for getting me in) and it was not a bad time at all. It’s just too much bacon, man. And lord help the poor soul that ate anything close to the food at all 55 stations. Or God bless you. I don’t know if that would be commendable or appalling. I nearly threw up thinking about it.
This year Baconfest Chicago had two services: lunch and dinner. I attended the dinner service. I would have loved to have tried Big Jones‘ Paul Fehribach‘s bacon fat biscuit with crispy bacon, pea gravy and piccalilli and Old Town Social‘s Jared Van Camp‘s smoked guanciale & ramp “Casatiello” with tallegio, but they were there earlier in the day. And, had I been there I would have missed one of the most spectacular one bit delights I’ve ever had the pleasure of placing on my tongue.
I’m saving that for later. For now, my least favorite of the 20 dishes was, sadly, Girl & the Goat‘s Stephanie Izard‘s bacon soup. I’m not even sure it was really bacon soup (the sign at the booth said something about salmon soup with bacon “flakes”?)…the program says bacon soup. I don’t know. It was just not good at all. The broth of the soup was borderline repugnant and I only took a second sip to make sure I hadn’t lost my mind. I am of the mind that Izard can do no wrong. But just like that kid that Jim Morrison pissed on in Kansas City when he asked him for his autograph (not true, btw), my idol has let me down. Okay, that’s hyperbole. But it is truly the first time out of probably 50 dishes I’ve had of hers that I didn’t like.
Others that get the thumbs down and a stink face with a nose pinch on the backside? Sable Kitchen & Bar’s Heather Terhune’s Nueske’s appledwood-smoken bacon pretzels with cheddar-bacon jam dip. Finally a dish that sucks more than the shitty ass personality Terhune displayed on Top Chef Texas. A truly insipid dish that Guy Fieri wouldn’t even lower himself to praising. If I wasn’t sold on skipping Sable Kitchen & Bar before, I’m twice sold now.
Francesca’s Forno‘s Kevin Ives‘ applewood smoked bacon & rapini stromboli with cipollini onion jam was a doughy, chewy slice of unremarkable shit. I’d rather eat a pretzel bought from a street vendor slathered in orange “cheese” than this any day of the week. Congrats on that, guy.
And if those were the worst of the bunch, there were plenty that were either unremarkable or only somewhat off putting (Vie’s Nathan Sears served up “braised” pork belly with whitefish brandade, spring peas, pickled green garlic and cracklings – the peas and brandade were spectacular, but the pork belly was so mushy it should appear at a Senior’s home as a weekly dinner staple).
There was some good to be found, however. Butcher & the Burger‘s Allen Sternweiler made organic dates stuffed with LaPryor Farms Duroc/Hamshire house-made bacon sausage wrapped in Benton’s Bacon that brightened my mood; Cantina Laredo‘s Angel Blasco‘s tequila bacon tacos with jicama mango slaw were deceptively simple, but a delicious three-bite treat; Branch 27‘s Katherine August‘s cool spring pea soup with applewood bacon straw took me by surprise – a light soup with enough bacon to make its case for being at the fest, but not so much so that it was in your face; and Three Aces‘ Matt Troost, whose team easily won “most eager” and “most excited to be there” awards (were they real awards), did the unthinkable and made a solidly good bacon dessert in their vanilla-bacon-bourbon milkshake – nice job fellas. I’m someone that overwhelmingly finds the simple act of putting bacon with sweets to be a waste of everyone’s time, energy and money. But the occasional maple bacon donut or this salty, liquor-y milkshake prove that all is not lost.
Near the top of the evening’s best finds Zapatista‘s Cesar Reyes‘ pork carnitas, jalapeno en escabeche relish, with a bacon banana chip on a corn tortilla. Okay, it’s a pork taco. It fucking rocked my nut, so fuck it. Also fantastic was Trenchermen‘s brother duo of Michael Sheerin and Patrick Sheerin. The Sheerin brother’s restaurant is close to opening and this dish makes me want to go wait in line for the first dinner. Bacon kimchi mortadella, pickle aioli and bacon tater tots. I hate tater tots. Not kidding. I loathe these little fried bits of potato. But damn it if the Sheerin brothers didn’t make me want to order an entire basket of these little fuckers. Yeah, yeah…the bacon kimchi mortadella was good, too. But damn those tater tots!!
But nothing, I mean nothing could beat the first thing I ate that evening. Cafe Spiaggia‘s Sarah Grueneberg & Aaron Diener‘s dish of Nueski’s wild cherry smoked bacon and Hooks 7 year cheddar Gnudi with Spring ramps. Just a little blast of pasta heaven, I’m telling you. Smoky, tangy, pillowy soft pasta with a luscious interior. I had to restrain myself from going up again and again to get more (for the record I was polite and never went to any station more than once). I went back to tell Grueneberg how much I loved the dish. I felt like an idiot doing it, but I was mesmerized by what her and her team did and needed to tell someone. Fuck doing it on Twitter or Facebook. Sometimes human connection and making sure to praise someone for their hard work to their face is just a necessity.
The Cafe Spiaggia dish will be available as a special for a limited time, so if you have the means, I highly recommend it. Go now. Go. Go on. Okay, so maybe you’re not going right now even if you should. Maybe you like to try your hand creating it taste un…uh…tasted? You may be in luck. I say “may” because there’s a possibility that Rock ‘n Roll Ghost will have the recipe for Cafe Spiaggia‘s dish of Nueski’s wild cherry smoked bacon and Hooks 7 year cheddar Gnudi with Spring ramps to share with you soon. No guarantees, so don’t hold me to it. Either way, I cannot praise the dish enough. It was truly sensational.
Remember – enjoy your bacon in moderation people. We’re not becoming a nation of blimps for no reason. Holding bacon up as some sort of deity is pretty fucked up and we need to rein that shit in. Gluttony for gluttony’s sake does no one any good. I know you’re not listening to a word I’ve written – you’re too pre-occupied with that package of bacon and roasted pork loin you just made to bother.