Saturday afternoon was the fourth annual Pittsburgh Bacon Bash, at the Harris Grill in Shadyside, the brainchild of Event organizer Jason Mosley (a.k.a: Mr. Baconpants), a man whose life ambition seems to be to do for bacon in Pittsburgh what Johnny Appleseed once did for apples in the American colonies..
Canton, Ohio-based Sugardale Foods, purveyor of the vast quantities of bacon consumed on the glorious day, was a sponsor of the event. There were three noble souls from Sugardale standing in front of the entrance to the Harris Grill, denying themselves even the shade of the table umbrellas to give out samples of some nice bacon dip and other delights. I would be remiss in not mentioning their upcoming bacon recipe contest—not a “bake-off” but a “bac-ON.” Here is the link—why not, with $3, 000 riding on it?
Before I go any further, I should also mention Three Rivers Underground Brewers, who had a lovely selection of microbrews there for the sampling. I tried the “Maple ESB,” mainly because I had never assembled the concept of maple-flavored beer in my mind before. It tasted like fizzy maple syrup, but I can at least say I tried it. The guy I talked to from there said he thought that the maple flavor might go well with the bacon. Fair enough, but if I’m eating something salty, give me something nice and hoppy—so he did. They host a Cystic Fibrosis benefit every year—this year’s will be in October.
I heard that I missed out on some good food from when the fest first got rolling. (Hey, I got there as soon as I could!) Out of what I did sample, there were some interesting chicken wings, fried in bacon salt, which made them extra-salty in the way that other wings can be painfully spicy, but I found that they were a taste that I was able to acquire, even though they required more than the usual amount of alcoholic lubrication.
Too much else, however, seemed to lack imagination. There was some bacon-wrapped tofu, for example. Having spent a few years living on tofu when I was low on capital, I know how not to prepare and serve it. You have to cut it up really small, so it absorbs whatever seasoning you’re working with; either that, or you just mash it in like potatoes in corned beef hash—otherwise, you’re just tasting big blobs of nothing. The bacon wraps were like that—big, tasteless blocks of cold tofu with one strip of bacon wrapped around them, bacon which, by the way, is necessarily too soft to be nice and crunchy.
There was some garlic bread which much in the same vein—nice little restaurant-size garlic bread loaves, probably made from scratch, with—you guessed it—strips of bacon wrapped around them. The bread was good—especially after the bacon fell off of it.
I had several pieces of the bacon sushi, partially because I can always have several pieces of sushi; however, in this instance, I had a bit of a so-what feeling. They were basically California rolls, with rice and seaweed, then bacon in the place of the seafood. They tasted like seaweed, rice, and bacon. While I wouldn’t say no to the bacon sushi were I to see it again, I doubt the sushi joint up the street is at battle stations over it, either.
BLT’s, of course, which were just fine with me—I had several of those miniature confections. Also pretzels with tasty bacon-based spread, perhaps courtesy of Sugardale again.
Bacon vodka, created based on the concept of a “meat and potatoes” pairing, is one result of bacon mania, an American fanaticism with bacon in general. It can be made by soaking bacon in a bottle of vodka for roughly two weeks and then straining out the bacon. In April 2009, Seattle-based Black Rock Spirits released a commercial version of bacon-infused vodka, which is known as “Bakon Vodka,” a result of two years of vodka research. Black Rock’s vodka is a potato-based spirit, created using a single heating process of column distillation in an effort to keep the alcohol from “bruising.’ Bakon Vodka is currently available only in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Iowa, Montana and New York. Although initially a limited production, Black Rock Spirits will expand availability based on demand.
I guess if you’re going to make bacon vodka, you may as well go all out.
The thought didn’t cross my mind to try a Bakon Mary (a Bloody Mary with you-know-what)—I wonder if I’ll ever get another chance. There was a raffle, during which various prizes were dispensed, the grand prize being, of course, a bottle of Bakon vodka.
On to the main event—the bacon-eating contest! I thought of scenes from two movies: Cool Hand Luke and Stand by Me. I think this contest had more in common with Cool Hand Luke, in that dehydration can be a key factor the way it is when choking down hard-boiled eggs, much like the Saltine-cracker-eating contests from my fraternity-pledge days. The competition was fierce, nearly to the death. One participant proudly, brazenly wore a Star of David, which seemed to glow like Hester Prynne’s Scarlet Letter as he enveloped himself in porcine decadence. Of note also is the contest’s one dark horse (see photo) who didn’t look like she was old enough to go into the bar, but gave the winner, known to the throng as “AJ,” quite the battle. (I again thought of the kid in the blueberry-pie-eating contest in Stand by Me, but only briefly.)
Time for dessert. There were maple-frosted cupcakes with a chunk of bacon dropped on top, like a paint bomb thrown from a speeding low rider, and the piece de resistance (or perhaps the coup de grace), chocolate-covered bacon. They could have made it nice and crunchy for once—it could have succeeded, like some twisted fun-house mirror reflection of a Kit Kat—but, instead, they used the same floppy and droopy stuff that may have been left over from the tofu. My wife and I weren’t able to finish ours, and the couple with whom we were sharing a table passed on seconds. More than anything else, it reminded me of high school biology class, slicing through the worm’s epidermis to expose the gooshy stuff contained within.
A good time in the long run, however. Next year, I’ll try to get there early. Maybe someone in the Harris Grill kitchen has heard of fettuccine carbonera?