It is a big moment in the Baconfest production cycle – the moment when we release the menu for our annual celebration of America’s favorite cured meat.
It is a fun moment for us, not only for the opportunity it provides to stoke anticipation in advance of the tenth annual Baconfest Chicago (April 6 and 7 at the UIC Forum), not only because it allows distant bacon lovers to experience a tiny glimmer of the pleasures of Baconfest vicariously, though those are all good reasons. Our menu release is also a big moment for the insight it can provide into the minds of Chicago’s brightest culinary lights, the chefs of the Baconfest restaurant roster. It allows us to dip our toes into everyone’s favorite winter game (aside from Giant Slalom) – predicting the culinary trends that will dominate the rest of the year.
Every new year brings a spate of culinary trend predictions - the general public is eager for experts to make sense of the world’s chaos, to neatly categorize what’s going on into easily discernible buckets, to lay bare the hidden forces that organize their world.
And so, using the Baconfest menu as our big data, I give you the following semi-tongue-in-cheek predictions about new trends in the baco-culinary world.
Baconfest Menu Trends for 2018
1. Cheddar - In these topsy turvy times, bacon chefs (like the general public) seek comfort in the sharp bite of solid familiar cheddar cheese, a counterpoint for the savory depth of cured pork. Tap House Grill is putting Merkt’s cheddar in their bacon and deep frying the whole deal in a beer batter. CP West Loop is working jalapeño – cheddar into their Johnny Cakes with Bacon Jam, and topping it all with bacon-infused bourbon maple syrup and bourbon whipped cream; Wow Bao puts cheddar in their Chinese Breakfast Bao. Delish!
2. Grits / Polenta – What is it about cornmeal and bacon? The savory grain pairs beautifully with mouthwatering pork and our chefs this year are exploring lots of different ways to pair them – from Bar Takito’s cheesy Three Sisters Polenta with candied pork belly, to Nonna Santi’s Polenta Bacon Biscotti, not to mention Bang Bang Pie’s Bacon-Fat Grits with pimento cheese and chives and the Signature Room’s pairing of cheddar cheese grits with spicy maple glazed bacon – THAT’S TWO TRENDS IN ONE. Look out for tasty mush in 2018!
3. Fried Balls – chefs are molding stuff into balls and dropping them in hot oil. And at Baconfest, they’re working bacon in too! Baconfest newcomer Hearth and Crust will present Arancini Affumicati – delicious rice-balls with bacon and cheese. Orso’s is stepping up their rice-ball game with Bacon Risotto Fritters, stuffed with bacon and provolone. Monti’s is skipping the rice and deep frying their Breaded Bacon Meatballs then dousing them with warm rocky pepper cheddar sauce – ANOTHER TWOFER!
4. Dumplings, Both Filled and Solid – we got tamales, we got pierogies, we got raviolis, we got dough wrapped around bacon, we got bacon dough wrapped around nothing. Try bacon tamales from The Delta with mornay sauce or from The Duck Inn with duck confit and Iberico Bacon XO Sauce. Check Flo and Santos Polish Piggie Pierogi – the dumpling itself wrapped in bacon. Or Heritage Restaurant and Caviar Bar’s Russian-accented Bacon-Roasted Sunchoke and Cottage Cheese Pelmeni in a rich bacon dashi.
However powerful the trends may be, our menu also serves as powerful evidence that creativity obeys no fashion – there are singularly unique items on the menu this year (as there are every year) that defy all categorization. Consider the Piggymisu, Farmhouse chef Eric Mansavage’s porky interpretation of the classic Italian dessert. Or Miss Ricky’s sweet and savory Maple Chili Bacon Cruller – stuffed with onion chili butter cream glazed with maple chili bacon floss. Or The Roaming Hog’s Pork Belly Clay Pot – a Vietnamese-inspired clay pot marinated pork belly, black garlic caramel sauce, puffed rice, pickled Thai chili sambal sauce, fresh herbs, sesame seeds. There ain’t nothing like these dishes anywhere else. They stand on their own.
But hey. Don’t take my word for it – we’re making the data available to you right now so you can peruse the menu, in all its bacony mouthwatering glory, and draw your own conclusions. And once you’ve done that, head on over to the ticketing page and grab your tickets so you can experience both kinds of dish in person, at Baconfest, with your mouth.
P.S. You can also win VIP tickets by competing in the Baconfest Chicago Bacon Poetry Competition – details here.