Thousands of bacon lovers attended the 4th annual Baconfest Chicago on Saturday at the UIC Forum. This year, the event was split into two sessions—lunch and dinner—with more than 100 restaurants and chefs serving their delicious bacon-inspired creations. Guests pigged out on dishes from local chefs including Chris Pandel (The Bristol/Balena), Sarah Grueneberg and Aaron Diener (Cafe Spiaggia), Nathan Sears (Vie) and Paul Virant (Perennial Virant).
The packed house of eaters wandered from booth to booth sampling the plethora of bacon bites. The crowds seemed endless but the lines and wait for food were never long. There was plenty of variety to be had, with chefs offering anything and everything imaginable. Bacon doughnut holes from 2 Sparrows and Townhouse as well as bacon waffles from Elly’s Pancake House infused pig with other breakfast items for a sweet and savory treat.
Pork belly was in no short supply either as pork belly porchetta (Davanti Enoteca), sous vide pork belly (IPO) and braised pork belly with spring peas (Vie) were just a few of the selections. Gemini Bistro took its dish to the max with a porchetta ravioli, pancetta chip and a perfectly balancing warm bacon vinaigrette concoction, Saigon Sisters’ bacon pho brought an exciting twist to a Vietnamese favorite, and Table Fifty-Two and Rockit Bar & Grill both stewed up some mouth-watering chili.
Top Chef alumni were also on hand to show their pork prowess. In addition to Grueneberg’s wild cherry smoked bacon and cheddar gnudi, Heather Terhune (Sable Kitchen & Bar) delivered smoked bacon pretzels with cheddar-bacon jam dip that was good enough to drink and should be a staple at every tailgate, and Stephanie Izard’s (Girl & the Goat) bacon soup enticed and intrigued with its flavor and use of smoke and corn flakes.
Bacon even found its way into several desserts, with bacon cream puffs (Tiny Lounge), mini bacon cannoli (Rosebud Steakhouse) and to-die-for whiskey bacon pops from Black Dog Gelato. These delectable pops were gelato dipped in chocolate with a coating of bacon bits—a heavenly combination that delighted the senses and confirmed that chocolate and bacon can coexist. If all that wasn’t enough, Atwood Cafe took things to Willy Wonka-esque levels with bacon pop rocks and pixie dust. It was truly candy for adults.
Bakon Vodka provided the themed cocktails alongside other liquor sponsors such as Goose Island, Reyka Vodka (with the The Fifty/50, Greenbush Brewing and Candid Wines. Guests could also buy an assortment of bacon goods from several vendors at the festival. As the dinner session wrapped up and people started slipping into bacon-induced comas, the Golden Rasher award was handed out to two restaurants. Three Aces took home the top prize for Most Creative Use of Bacon with a “shake ‘n bake bacon steak” and vanilla-bacon-bourbon milkshake, while 676 Restaurant & Bar won for Best Front of House with its dazzling table display.
While the event was about indulging in cured pork, Baconfest also donated $50,000 from its proceeds to the Greater Chicago Food Depository along with all non-perishable food donated by attendees. The Food Depository distributes the food through a network of 650 pantries, soup kitchens and shelters to 678,000 people in Cook County every year. So even if there was much self-loathing going on by the end of the festival, guests could still feel good about helping a worthy cause.
Eater Chicago intern Jeffy Mai contributed this article.