Eater Chicago contributor Daniel Zemans filed this report.
[Photos: Daniel Zemans]
Every year, people confidently declare the bacon fad is over or dying. And every year, Baconfest Chicago gets bigger. More chefs participate, many of whom reached out to the organizers to ask for an invitation, and more bacon-loving eaters from Chicago and beyond buy tickets.
The first Baconfest, in the fall of 2009, saw 75 attendees show up at The Publican where 10 chefs doled out bacon-centric food. This weekend, in the event's sixth incarnation, 164 restaurants and 4,500 attendees were divided among three sessions at the UIC Forum, with one on Friday night, one on Saturday afternoon, and a third on Saturday night.
The crowd was enthusiastic, with lines for general admission forming even before the VIPs got to take advantage of their hour head start on the feasting. Hundreds of people had on bacon-themed gear ranging from socks with flying pigs to homemade knitted pig head hats.
And of course, there was the food. Each restaurant is asked to bring 1,000 portions each, which is typically more than enough given how many choices there are. 160 out of 166 scheduled restaurants (two had to bail at the last minute) accepted longtime event sponsor Neuske's Bacon's offer of up to 50 pounds of bacon, with a choice of three different kinds offered in slice and slab form. All told, Neuske's delivered more than 7,800 pounds of bacon.
There is a competitive element to Baconfest, though the degree to which chefs are invested in winning the Golden Rasher for "Most Creative Use of Bacon" unquestionably varies. That said, the extent to which chefs embrace the spirit of the event and find multiple ways to squeeze bacon into a bite of food is always impressive.
Here were the finalists and winners of the Golden Rasher this year:
Winner: Michael Jordan's Steakhouse — caramelized bacon with clams casino broth, Calabrian chiles and bacon fat bread crumbs
The Radler — "Bacon Forest Cake" (bacon chocolate sponge cake, bacon cherry jam, chocolate mousse, bacon syrup)
Vincent — bacon Yorkshire pudding
Bottlefork — ground bacon burger with vermilion blue cheese and special sauce, paired with a bacon daiquiri
Osteria Via Stato — bacon risotto
Bristol / Balena — Bacon cereal with maple milk and house made mini-marshmallows
Winner: Lillie's Q — "Bacon Float" (bacon soda, bacon syrup, bacon ice cream, and candied bacon)
Bacaro — smoky graham cracker, bone marrow fudge, chocolate bacon, savory bacon mouse, bacon sea salt
Big Jones — Rutabaga bisque with candied apples, pumpernickel and bacon croutons
Chicago Q — "Pig Powder Dry Rubbed Candied Bacon"
Paddy Long's — Beer and bacon sausage
Winner: Farmhouse — "Pigs in Mud" (chocolate bacon custard topped with bacon chocolate "soil" and homemade strawberry gummy pigs
Zapatista — "Cerdito a la Fogata" ("Bonfire Pork" bacon, caramelized plantains, pineapple, and marshmallow)
Bakin' & Eggs — cheese and jalapeno bacon grits with a bacon cheddar biscuit
Luxbar — smoked bacon "Mortadella" and picalilli
Red Door — bulgogi-glazed pork meatballs with bacon kimchi broth
There were also Golden Rashers given out to the restaurants the official Baconfest photographers thought had the best "Front of House" presentations. On Friday night, the award went to Mity Nice Grill; Benny's Chop House took home the honor on Saturday afternoon; and there was a tie Saturday night between Bang Bang Pie Shop and Francesca's Restaurants.
In addition to more food, attendees had far more beverage choices than in the past. Stumptown Coffee filled a longstanding void at Baconfest, pouring traditional iced coffee on Saturday afternoon and nitrogenated coffee at each of the night sessions.
Booze has never been in short supply at Baconfest, but this year attendees had far more options than ever to choose where to spend each of their seven drink tickets. New participants included Scofflaw, Berkshire Room, Koval Distillery, Old Forester, Tito's Handmade Vodka, Revolution Brewing Company, Greenbush Brewing Co., and Lagunitas Brewing Co.
But the biggest buzz was about the variety of cocktails from new Baconfest sponsor Wirtz Beverage. The standout there was Sepia's "Good N Plenty," which featured Caorunn Gin, lemon, cucumber juice, and Herbsaint Absinthe Legendre.
Finally, it's only fair that any report on this day of over-the-top gluttony mention Baconfest's ongoing support of the Chicago Greater Food Depository. Ticket sales were up 50 percent this year thanks to the additional session and the donation to the food depository went up the same amount, to $75,000. There was also a food drive and a raffle, both of which benefitted the food depository as well.
So what's next for Baconfest? Expect a similar set-up next year, though the organizers are going to look into moving the Friday night session Sunday afternoon since ticket buyers have repeatedly made clear they prefer afternoon hours. They're also planning more bacon dine-arounds this year and additional bacon-related activities like the "Bacon Month Kickoff Cocktail Party" earlier this month. Clearly they're not particularly worried that Chicago's appetite for bacon is going to wane any time soon.
· All Baconfest Coverage [-ECHI-]