If there is one thing you should know about me, it’s that I am a complicated human being just like all human beings and I won’t fit into your “one thing” pigeonhole—don’t dehumanize me!!
If there are two things you need to know about me, the second is that I like bacon.
I wouldn’t say that I like bacon in an obsessive or inappropriate way. But I could live on a diet of coffee and bacon for the rest of my life. You might say it would be a short life. I would say it would be a happy life.
But whatever. I think the pig is the perfect animal. More magical than the unicorn.
And there are a lot of people who agree with me. We get together once a year at a fest called Baconfest held at the UIC Forum. It’s called Baconfest because it is a fest for bacon and we wanted to just be done with naming the fest so we could get to the eating the bacon part.
I went with my brother-in-law, father-in-law, and a Chicago Detective whose name hints at the very real possibility that you’re going to get punched moments after you’re introduced to him.
Here’s how Baconfest works: about 60 restaurants from all over Chicagoland set up tables and offer their best dish that includes bacon as an ingredient. They have chefs that LOVE to answer questions about their creations. It’s practically an insult if you don’t ask them how their dish was prepared. The dishes range from real meat and potatoes stuff to more foo-foo fare. From bacon burgers to bacon crème brulee. Almost all of it is delicious because bacon. Attendees buy tickets to a lunch or dinner session and are allowed to eat as much as they want for about two hours. I recommend stopping at the “meat sweats” stage.
This year I took photos of everything I ate. When it was over I counted pics and was shocked and depressed to see that I only ate 22 things. Which meant that I didn’t even cover half the room.
Of those 22 things, I thought 5 were exceptional. I wanted to give Chi-town folks a heads up on some of the places that impressed me the most, and maybe remind myself that these places are in my hometown (well, except for two) and worth visiting.
Here are my top 5 eats from Baconfest 2014 with the descriptions the chefs provided in the program:
Bacon S’More from Bacaro. Smoky Graham Cracker, bone marrow fudge, chocolate bacon, savory bacon mousse, bacon sea salt.
Yes, there’s a little WTF?! moment when you read “bone marrow fudge,” but with the way this thing tasted, you wouldn’t care if they used leper’s eyeballs. Trust me.
Pork Belly Steamed Buns from Firefly Grill. There’s no description of what’s in this for two possible reasons: 1. They don’t want goddamned amateurs making this shit themselves, 2. It’s kind of the name already. I ate this baby late into the session and it woke me the hell up. Refreshing and delicious.
Lemongrass Glazed Bacon from Quince. Coconut, peanut, granola, mint, and cilantro. I hate coconut almost as much as I love bacon. And I swear to you I had no clue coconut was anywhere near this deliciousity until just now as I typed the description. This creation produced a love so strong that it overpowered my hate, my prejudice against nuts of coco, shifted my perception, and allowed me to consider this dish as the third best out of 22. Could it be that I’ve been wrong all these years . . .
Bacon Ssam from The Barrelhouse Flat. Bacon braised in nuac mao and fish sauce, pulled and glazed in the braising liquid, wrapped in bibb lettuce, garnished with cilantro, mint, pickled banana peppers, toasted peanuts and chile paste. Nuac Mao must mean F@<KING DELICIOUS. And it’s fine that they’re being unimaginative and somewhat mysterious with “the braising liquid.” If this were McDonalds, I’d be somewhat nervous knowing that my food was treated to a dip in the “braising liquid.” But these are not purveyors of pink slime.
Ssam is probably what the first person who ate this screamed, trying to yell “son of a bitch” and “goddamn!” and just smashing the words together in a bacon-induced moment of ‘WHO GIVES A F@<K THIS MOUTH LOVE IS INTERGALACTIC!”
Who would have thought to wrap bacon in lettuce and then command them both to melt from your mouth to your soul? The Barrelhouse Flat. That’s who.
Pig Powder Dry Rubbed Candied Bacon from Chicago Q. Brined bacon rubbed with our house-made pig powder dry rub and smoked over apple and cherry wood: candied bacon with a kick! Like everything in this world, simple is better. There’s power in simplicity. Beauty in simplicity. Honesty is simple. Simplicity is profound. It changes you. It’s only when all the bullshit is stripped away and you’re left with a raw, undeniable truth that you finally gain knowledge. In those moments, there is only acceptance. You can’t look away. You can’t dispute it. It. Just. Is.
This is a transformative piece of meat. I bit into this and suddenly I understood that I am just an electron in an atom in God’s eyelash. I was thrust back through time and my body screamed “THIS IS REAL. THIS IS TRUE. THIS IS PURE.” I glimpsed Phil Collins from his early years when he had some hair. I have no idea what that means. But at some point, I was propelled through existence back to the UIC Forum, to my own frail body, to Baconfest and all the aromas. I was nourished with pig meat and understanding. Body and soul were singing. Harmony was within reach. Then, my plate was clean. And I wanted to punch a stranger. I was receding from enlightenment. Though I’ll never forget Phil Collins.
On a final note, I realized that my experience could only be truly served if I created an emblematic hand gesture. And so BACONFIST was born: