Arbiter of Bacon
Happy Labor Day. I’ve got nothing new to say on the matter that I haven’t said before. Hopefully you get to take the day off work and use the time to reflect on the past few months of summer, which are rapidly coming to a close.
I’m off to Pennsylvania, again. There’s apparently a Wegmans just off the highway in Wilkes-Barre that will make a glorious place to pick up my children. The first half of the drive will be lovely, peaceful and quiet. The second half will bring the past few days of childless living to a crashing halt.
Luckily I got to enjoy the hell out of my time without the kids. And that included serving as one of the three judges for the Bacon Cook-Off at the first annual Bacon Fest. If you came down to Hudson yesterday to participate in this event, you probably relearned a hard lesson: the early bird gets the bacon.
The first time you do anything is hard. There were only a handful of vendors because restaurants weren’t sure people would show up to this thing. But oh how wrong they were. People showed up by the trainful. Literally.
Blame a little newspaper called The New York Post. They ran a story on the event the day prior, and drew what organizers were saying was thousands more people than they expected.
Good news is that next year there will be both more vendors and more food. It was also good for the vendors who did decide to participate in this first year of the festival and were rewarded with sales exceeding their expectations.
Bad news is that lots of people came to Bacon Fest and didn’t get any bacon.
Luckily, most vendors saved three portions of their dishes for the judges. A few decided to scrap the competition and feed the hungry masses. But Steve Barnes, Byron Nilsson and myself still ate our way through a lot of bacon. A few dishes stood out. Only one was particularly awful.
Here’s the rundown of the notable ones.
Bacon wrapped rib topped with bacon bbq sauce – That was one tasty rib. Not only did the bacon take on a deep dark lacquered color, the bacon’s fat was well rendered, and the pork pulled cleanly off the bone. Its sauce added a nice level of heat, which helped to cut through the richness of the morsel. It was among my two favorite savory dishes.
Bacon wrapped Hawaiian-style hot dog – This was surprisingly good. Sometimes bacon doesn’t adhere well to hot dog, but in this dish the two were as one. There may have been just a smidge too much pineapple sauce, but it was well balanced out with onion and a spicy drizzle that reminded me of pickapeppa. With a balance of flavors, and a mouth-filling sense of deliciousness, this won the savory category.
The chocolate bourbon bacon cupcake with bacon cream cheese frosting topped with bacon – Wow. This had just a little bit too much bacon, but still, wow. It won the sweet category despite being wrapped in bacon. That bacon wrapping just didn’t quite stay crisp, and texturally, it was a little challenging. But putting bacon fat in the cream cheese frosting was hard core. So were the spiced bacon bits on top. As a cupcake, this beat out any of the ones we had in the cupcake challenge. And as a sweet bacon dish, it just blew the doors off everything else.
Maple and bacon gelato – This was delicious. The gelato base was rich and dense, and it left the palate cleanly. It was sweet without being cloying, and the bits of candied bacon that were lurking within went surprisingly well with the gelato. If only there had been more bacon. It was a little bit sparse, and this was Bacon Fest after all.
I’m going to try and forget about the bacon milkshake. Imagine if you will, taking crispy bacon and putting it in a blender. Millions of little sandy bits of bacon get dispersed in a sweet and foamy substrate. There was no getting over the texture. It was like drinking a cup full of cold, sweet, salty, meaty sand. And those little bits just kept on giving. Kind of like when you get sand in your mouth at the beach. It wasn’t very pleasant.
For those who are curious about the other dishes, I could pick nits all day. I had high hopes for Slidin’ Dirty, but their bacon and butternut squash egg rolls needed some focus. The bacon rice crispy treats suffered from some weird artificial aftertaste, likely driven by the choice of marshmallow, and in Sweet Sue’s bacon goat cheese truffle the bacon got drowned out by the other competing flavors.
The bacon rollup, which was really just a variation on the famous Bacon Explosion, was a lot of bacon but was dragged down by inferior sausage. These things may be impressive on paper in how much bacon and pork they involve. But in practice they don’t live up to the hype.
Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing what the Bacon Fest organizers do for a second act.
I think it would be wise in the future to encourage vendors to reduce the size and price of the dishes they sell to the public, so attendees can have a better chance to try a wide range of items over the course of the afternoon. And you know, bring more food. But they are keenly aware of that last point.
Plus I’m thrilled to walk away with the knowledge that Pippy’s Hot Dog Truck not only exists, but is excellent and occasionally sells a Banh Mi hot dog. Also Lazy Crazy Acres Creamery is now on my radar, and it should be on yours too.
Oh. I almost forgot. The organizers of Bacon Fest gave me a lovely parting gift which included two kinds of bacon soap and one kind of bacon candle. If you made it down to Hudson and left hungry because you were bummed by the lines or because they ran out of food let me know, and you’ll be entered into a random drawing to win the gift box. But the contest is open to everyone. So if you thought Bacon Fest was great, tell me about it. Or if you didn’t go, but wish you were able to try one of the foods above, tell me which one. tickles your fancy. Comments need to be made below and before midnight on Wednesday.