Photos From Baconfest Chicago, 2011

Liz and I scored tickets a few weeks back to Baconfest Chicago 2011. She had originally emailed me about it near the start of the year, and I had signed up to be notified when tickets went on sale. Then I promptly forgot about the whole thing.

Lo and behold a month or so ago, I get an email with access to an advanced window to buy tickets. Which I got, but just barely (the whole event sold out in a matter of minutes).

Around 11AM on Saturday, we headed out the door to the UIC Forum. Registration began at 10:30 AM, with the doors opening at 12:30 PM. I wanted to get there a bit early, as I expected there’d be tons and tons of people waiting to get in.

Here’s a view of the doors. Note that there are only a handful of people, to the left of the doors, waiting in line.

Inside, we were greeted by a row of volunteers doing check-in. We each got a bracelet for admission, along with an envelope full of drink tickets and a free tote bag.

I was a bit confused by the assortment of tickets. I learned later that there was a specific ticket for each booth/drink.

Here’s a photo Liz took of me, sitting alone on a bench with a humongo line behind me. Let me explain.

While we were checking in, I spoke with a guy who looked like he knew what was going on. Beyond just having an official Baconfest “STAFF” shirt on, I overheard him say something to another worker like: We didn’t implement tracking, so we’re just going to have to trust our volunteers. Something to that effect. In any case, he sounded like he was more than just a regular volunteer – he sounded like one of the organizer higher-ups.

So I went over to him and asked if they were planning to let people in based on the line… or whether they would open all the doors right at 12:30. He said to me that they were going to just open all the doors, and let people in.

To me, this meant that it would be better to camp out by the door vs. going to the end of the long line. I had the inside scoop, after all.

So Liz and I camped out on a bench. And the line grew. And grew. And got pretty long.

After a while, Liz began wondering if we shouldn’t just go and wait in line. I was stubborn about it and wanted to make the gamble. I spotted another Baconfest staff member walking around with a walkie-talkie and I asked her: would they be letting people in based on the line, or would they open all the doors?

She told me: based on the line. Crap.

So… after having arrived pretty early, we trudged (begrudgingly) to the end of the line. Which by now was probably a good 150 – 200 people deep.

Here’s where we were in line. You can’t see it, but there are easily another 70 people in “front” of us, to my right. Yeouch.

Liz, showing off a bacon t-shirt she wore just for the occasion.

This is one of the first photos I took, on walking in to the event. It was a much larger room than I imagined, and I felt incredibly rushed. I wanted to get a photo or two… and then head to a booth before the crowds swept in behind us.

The first thing we tried was from Sable Kitchen and Bar: Applewood Smoked Bourbon bacon jam, crispy polenta cake, St. Andre cheese fondue. Very creamy and savory… and a wonderful preview of all the fantastic tastes to come.

Liz got a drink from the nearby Zacapa/Sable booth. Swine and Thine: Zacapa, bacon syrup, creme de cacao and chocolate bitters.

From Terzo Piano: Empanada with Dreymiller and Kray cinnamon bacon, dried Seedling strawberry, toasted almond, and salsa verde.

There were some really great competing flavors here, and I was really surprised by the sweetness in each bite. I could have spent the remainder of the event camped out by this booth, eating empanada after empanada… and been perfectly content.

A woman with a camera crew was going around talking with folks asking why they loved bacon. I shied away from being on camera, but Liz was game, and talked a bit about why she loved bacon. I’m pretty certain she was singled out due to her t-shirt.

Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to try out the offering from Stanley’s Kitchen and Tap: House-cured Duroc pork belly, quail egg, aged Wisconsin cheddar grits, with smokey bacon broth.

Also missed out on what these folks were preparing at one sixtyblue: pastrami cured pork belly Reubens with one sixtyblue sauerkraut.

I’m not 100% on this, but I believe this is from Small Bar: Braised bacon brioche with salted maple butter and crispy egg yolk.

A cook from The Southern, prepping some Mac and Cheese.

Specifically, some smoked bacon, blue cheese and roasted apple mac and cheese. Liz found this to be a little too rich and creamy for her tastes, and I found this to be perfectly rich and creamy for mine.

From local favorite Longman & Eagle: Bacon rillette lollipop with maple bacon cotton candy. The cotton candy was a great novelty, and a nice touch (it did taste quite bacon-y). But overall, I didn’t dig this as much as I was hoping to.

Near the SW corner of the ev
ent, I found myself at the Bakon Vodka booth. These were a ton of plastic cups, pre-lined with a smattering of bacon.

I was given a choice between a bacon martini or a chocolate bacon martini. I chose the chocolate.

Sadly, while I love martinis… this was just incredibly potent. I was only able to put down a few sips before setting the drink down for good. The bacon along the rim was a nice touch, but felt a little gross.

I turned around to find Liz had some kind of bacon ice cream sundae. I immediately made a bee-line for the nearby booth hosted by Sofitel. Oddly, I can’t seem to find a listing for them in the official map/brochure… but this was one booth that definitely got the crowd lined up to make their own Ziggy Piggy Bacon Sundae.

It started off with some soft-serve ice cream, garnished with a stick of bacon.

The both was the last in the row, so it featured a kind of reverse-L shape that had tons of condiments available for sprinkling.

Bacon walnuts and smoked sprinkles.

Baconut (I’m assuming this is bacon-infused coconut).

Folks customizing their bacon sundaes…

There were a few syrups available as well. My favorite was the butterscotch/baconscotch.

Bacon peach gummy bears.

Some bacon cookie dough.

Another shot of the assorted sprinkles. I was jumping in and out of line, trying to capture the booth and all that was available. After a few minutes, I went and got into line myself.

While there were a few tables situated between the booths, counter space was a big premium. The trash receptacles filled up pretty quickly.

As I was waiting in line, the chef was handing out some free cookie dough (we were waiting for the soft serve machine to kick into gear again). I gave my sample to Liz, who is a huge fan of cookie dough.

Mmmmmmm….. bacon garnishes.

A happy event-goer, adding some baconscotch to her sundae.

A closeup of my wife, encroaching in on my bacon sundae.

A booth selling bacon perfume, by Fargginay.

After a lot of door-knocking and talking with event organizers, Liz and I were able to make our way to the Mezzanine, which overlooked the entire event. I was keen on getting up here to get a few shots of the entire floor.

Liz, waiting with one of the UIC students who gave us access.

I loved being able to look down at all the various people, walking to and fro, and settling in at the various tables to eat their samples. I spotted more than one person taking photos of their food.

A few folks waiting in line, directly below us. Not sure exactly what they were waiting for – possibly the PBR booth.

A view of the floor. Given the info I saw on the website, the event organizers were expecting somewhere around 2,000 people.

From Girl and the Goat: Bacon and Rogue River smokey blue cheese “bread pudding.” This was really quite delicious, and made me wish for a cold winter afternoon to accompany it. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Girl and the Goat, and really need to set up a time to go eat there.

Wao Bao was in attendance, featuring a few of their Hot Asian Buns.

There were two types to choose from: the traditional BBQ Pork buns and a bacon and egg bun.

I got the bacon and egg bun, which was good… but not great. Call me a stickler, but any kind of steamed bun pretty much needs to be BBQ pork.

Applewood bacon from Dreymiller and Kray.

I’m not sure, but I think this was bacon cured with Goose Island’s Matilda.

From Primehouse, a creation entitled Bacon Daddy: whiskey caramel bacon candy.

Some tasty bacon biscotti from Nonna Santi’s Biscotti.

So nice, I had to photograph it twice!

I believe that the woman I spoke with at the booth was Jo-Marie Frigo, the grandaughter
of Nonna Santi. She told me a bit about the original recipe, and I asked to take a photo of her photo.

I had one of the most flavorful experiences with Quince: “Magic of Roses” tea gelee, daikon, bee pollen. The chef that served me went into great detail, which I didn’t record. There was a ton that went into this, and this was by far the most flavorful mixture I had at the event.

Really delicious. I definitely need to find my way over to a meal at Quince.

This is the empty countertop at iNG. It was empty because people were hovering, and snatching up all the drumsticks the instant they appeared.

From iNG: Bacon Dumpling with bacon date consommé and bacon “Drumstick.”

Lots of delicious layers to this. At the very bottom was a huge reservoir of caramel, which I promptly spilled all over my camera.

Totally worth it.

A guy at a nearby table had an awesome t-shirt, and he agreed to let me take a picture.

The Forest Grill booth, with a very large plate of potatoes.

From Forest Grill: Roasted bacon bratwurst sausage on carmelized onions.

Park Grill offered up two pretty awesome samples. In addition to their mini Berkshire Pork Maxwell Street burgers… they also had Bourbon Bacon ream Floats (made with maple bourbon ice cream and candied bacon jimmies).

I only had a few sips of mine when, after setting it down, Liz promptly took over.

A chef from Paddy Long’s, working from the source. Incidentally, Paddy Long’s is also home to the Paddy Long’s Bacon Bomb Challenge.

Throughout the entire event, there were scores of staffers hauling out trash. It was actually quite impressive how efficient they were.

From Boka: Braised bacon with bacon spatzel. Interesting textures, but I wasn’t quite taken with this.

From Hearty: Cinnamon Bacon Sangaree Sucker – bacon infused bourbon lollipop, cinnamon syrup, nutmeg, sage and cherrywood smoked bacon bits. This was incredibly good, and I actually wanted about 5 more plates of this.

From Spacca Napoli: Pastiera Rustica – Savory pasta and cheese pie with guanciale. Had this been a little warmer, this would have made for some seriously dangerous comfort food. Seemed like it would pair well with an afternoon powernap.

By the time we got to their booth, The Bedford was already broken down and done for the day. This didn’t stop them from improvising, however… as they had a pretty enormous 3-foot long sandwich made from bits and pieces from nearby booths. A girl was taking a picture of this, and was asking what the chefs would give her to eat the whole thing.

On the way out, there were a few caution signs on the floor. They were pretty seriously slippery, and I can only imagine this was due to some spilled bacon grease.

All in all, attending Baconfest was a singular experience. It was overwhelming to say the least, and much bigger than I imagined it to be.

I would guess that we maybe saw about 80% of the booths, and maybe sampled 45% of all the food offered. Maybe less. I’m torn because while it was a pretty fun event (and great blog fodder), I’m not sure if I actually got ate my money’s worth. I guess the experience is part of the price, but I can’t help but feel like my foodie friends would have gotten more out of the event.

Part of me was in awe of all that was going on, and part of me felt out of my depths (similar to when I tasted La Esmeralda at Intelligentsia).

Time will tell whether I’ll be attending next year’s event. One thing’s for sure – I’ve definitely met my bacon quota for the year. And then some.

Baconfest 2011 Tickets
Bacon Strips Adhesive Bandages
La Esmeralda: The Most Expensive Coffee In The World @ Intelligentsia

This Post Has 1 Comment

  1. Excuse my language, but this is f***ing awesome! I’m totally going to try to go to this next year, and I would never know about it if it weren’t for you! So glad I read this blog! Man alive that’s a lot of bacon! Besides the pretty cool cotton candy and various bacon foams, it would’ve been cool to have seen some more molecular gastronomy. That + bacon = interesting deliciousness. PS. Now I’m starving.

    Marty J. Christopher Reply

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