If there’s one meat that carnivores can rally around, it’s a slab of hearty, fatty pork bacon. This was confirmed during the Bacon and Barrels Festival recently held in San Diego, just one year after the event debuted in Los Olivos, CA. Pork served as a willing muse for the chefs that set up shop on the scenic Embarcadero along San Diego Bay, with the salty, smoky meat serving as a garnish, complement or main course in every way imaginable.
The brainchild of expert event planner Holly Holliday, the festival has quickly amassed a cult following on West Coast, bringing bacon lovers and culinary enthusiast together with young chefs that use bacon in bold and innovative ways.
To kick off the bacon-anza, Top Chef alum, Los Angeles restaurateur and festival headliner Brooke Williamson hosted a VIP bacon-themed dinner at the moody Gaslamp District eatery Bassmnt, adding pork belly and bacon to each of her four dishes. “Bacon is such a rich, fatty ingredient and I wanted to focus on balance and not overwhelm people with the ingredients while highlighting the bacon,” said Williamson, who ventured down to San Diego just one week after opening her latest restaurant, Playa Provisions in Playa Del Rey, CA, adding “It can overpower but if it’s done sparingly, it can make a dish pop.”
Deviled crispy chicken skin with lobster and bacon during the Bacon and Barrels VIP dinner. Photo credit Jeremy Ball.
At a dinner fit for bacon-loving royalty, Williamson treated the guests to an array of dishes that showed why she’s one-to-watch on the California culinary scene. A new take on the classic surf and turf, crisped chicken skin, bacon and lobster were topped with a creamy egg, and then drizzled with a pickled habanero hot sauce for the first course. A burrata salad with fresh greens and pleasantly acidic bacon vinaigrette was the perfect precursor to a rich corn and salted cod chowder with slow braised bacon for the entrée, especially when paired with Qupé’s clean wines and beers from Stone Brewing.
From l to r: Ethan Lindquist of Qupé, Holly Holliday, Brooke Williamson and representative from Stone Brewing. Photo credit Jeremy Ball.
The day of the festival could have been dubbed “game day” because the intensity of bacon fandom easily rivals that of sports fandom. Row after row of white canopied tables lined the park, as Southern California eateries performed magic with bacon and pork belly. For a new take on the breakfast food, Salt & Cleaver turned bacon into meaty, spicy sausages. Looking for a late-night snack? Marina Kitchen served up crunchy pepper-bacon caramel corn. In the mood for a juicy burger? Slater’s 50/50 half bacon, half ground beef burgers will do the trick.
Crowd at the 2014 Bacon and Barrels Festival in San Diego. Photo Credit Jeremy Ball.
But the fan favorite (at least based on the line, which was triple that of the closest competitor the entire day) was West Coast Tavern, which served up a pork belly and waffle dish with smoked bourbon syrup and thick bacon butter. The dish was so popular that it may soon be a menu item at their San Diego restaurant.
West Coast Tavern’s Pork Belly and Waffles with smoked bourbon syrup and bacon butter. Photo credit Shontel Horne.
Not to be outdone by the crackling and quirky food offerings, the barrels half of the Bacon and Barrels Festival proved to be just as impressive. From smooth tequila from Mezcal Society and wines from the Larner and Carucci wineries, to beers from Iron Fist Brewery and premium whisky, the beverage exhibitors represented the best in West Coast wine and spirits brands. For those looking to go bacon or go bust, even down to the drinks, Bloody Mary’s and Manhattans infused with bacon were plentiful thanks to Bakon vodka, bacon-flavored bourbon and a local lounge called barleymash.
If one takes nothing away from a bacon festival (aside from a dire need to run on a treadmill immediately afterwards) it’s this: There exists no problem that a sizzling slice of bacon can’t fix.