As the quarter dwindles and finals approach, it’s hard not to think about the upcoming holiday season. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or whatever floats your spiritual boat, gift giving is typically involved. Luckily, our wish list no longer includes Hot Wheels or a look-alike American Girl doll, so we can turn to more adult-like gift options for our yuletide fixation. If you are like me, bacon is surely on your list, both to give and to get.
Baconfest Chicago, the biggest pork celebration in the country, takes place next April 20th at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Many of the city’s best chefs congregate and cook up their best bacon dishes for the hundreds of pork belly enthusiasts that stampede through the gates for the Lunch and Dinner sessions. Tickets have not yet been released, but if you sign up for the mailing list on their website, you’ll be able to get a hold of your VIP ticket as soon as they are released.
To tempt Chicago bacon lovers, the event founders Andre Pluess, Seth Zurer and Michael Griggs schedule four Satellite Dinners prior to the main event. The concept here is that restaurants that participate in Baconfest host a dinner with a wonderfully creative, cholesterol-filled menu that the chef designs him or herself. The dinners promote the main event, and help keep Baconfest Chicago in people’s minds until April. The first was just held at Hearty Boys restaurant in Lakeview right off the Sheridan Red Line L stop on November 27.
The atmosphere was fun and light, even though the attendees filling the dining room probably had a median age of 40. While Zurer and Hearty’s head chef, Dan Smith, spoke to the crowd pre-meal, the involuntary salivation by attendees was almost palpable.
Not too surprisingly, three thick strips of bacon were the first pieces of food of the night. Each piece was crusted around the edges – the first was bacon-crusted, the second applewood-smoked and the third porcini-crusted. While the applewood-smoked piece was more delicately flavored, bacon-crusted bacon inevitably stole the show. Following the amuse-bouche, we dabbled in a gorgeous fried scotch quail egg along with a decadent smoked gouda cheese stick that was stuffed with candied bacon.
The bacon ravioli marked the mid-point of our indulgence. The house-made ravioli dough (made with bacon fat) was filled with delectable Dunbart cheddar cheese and bacon sausage. After devouring the main courses, the dessert secured Hearty Boys’ place in bacondom. Bacon banana pudding was filled with bacon fat vanilla wafers, brown sugar caramelized bananas and layered at the bottom lay rich chocolate ganache, served on a plate sprinkled with bacon cashew brittle.
There are three more Satellite Dinners: Maison Brasserie near Millennium Park on Monday, December 3 and the following Monday, December 10 at Red Door. If you want to wait until finals are over, call in advance to reserve your spot at the Three Aces, the restaurant that won the award for most creative dish at Baconfest 2012 at the Dinner Session.