Long before the dining room doors were unlocked, the line to enter Star City BaconFest had begun to fill the main lobby of the Lincoln Marriott Cornhusker Hotel. The buzz of anticipation continued to grow along with the number of people waiting to get their share of hog. Finally, when the doors opened at 4:30 p.m., the crowd raced toward the array of experimental bacon treats.
Now on its fifth consecutive year, BaconFest, hosted by Nebraska Pork Producers, continued its mission of supplying scholarships to local culinary students with the proceeds earned from the event. From 4:30-7 p.m. on April 7, the Cornhusker Hotel’s focus was on bacon, and bacon only.
Of the 26 vendors serving at BaconFest, not every one of them was revolutionary with their take on bacon, but each brought its own individual twist to the table.
For its entry, Green Flash Brewhouse & Eatery opted for bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers, stuffed with cream cheese. These bite-sized poppers were impressive, packaging spicy, salty and creamy all in a single bite. As far as bacon-related snacks go, these are pretty tame, as they can be found at just about any sports get-together. But their simplicity doesn’t detract from flavor.
The Cornhusker also had its own vendor entered for BaconFest, aside from just hosting the event. Its entry was a mini sweet potato pancake, with a strip of lightly crisped bacon cooked onto one of the sides. It wasn’t trying to be anything special — just aiming to be the next step in the evolution of breakfast, because who really has the time to eat their pancakes and bacon separately?
Now, if half a strip of bacon on a pancake is to be considered simply adequate, then just go ahead and skip over this paragraph. McKinney’s Irish Pub’s entry should have barely qualified for the event seemingly because its item did not embrace the idea of BaconFest, where bacon should be a key ingredient in the recipe. A literal pinch of bacon bits in a scoop of bland spinach dip was as creative as McKinney’s could get, all on top of a gracious three tortilla chips.
While not specifically dependent on bacon for its flavor, Brewsky’s Sports Bar decided to enter a smoked pulled pork sandwich, decked out to the max. Inside the the buttery bun with the pulled pork was some refreshing apple-vinaigrette coleslaw, all of it slathered in a dark red raspberry sauce. This flavor combo did not disappoint and unsurprisingly, the Brewsky’s staff dealt with a relentless wave of bacon fanatics for the majority of the event, more than most of the other vendors.
Perhaps the most creative name entered, Buzzard Billy’s “Armadillo Eggs” also drew a steady flow of traffic on Sunday. These eggs were half a sphere of white chicken meat, wrapped in crispy bacon. The inside of the chicken had a magma core of pepperjack cheese to make sure every bite was a flavor overload.
Bacon on dessert items has recently seen a rise in popularity, and BaconFest represented this trend.
Hurts Donut shop unfortunately took the obvious route and topped a plain vanilla-frosted doughnut with some barely cooked bacon. This straightforward approach has its place, but overly chewy bacon on a frosting canvas on top of dough is not the way to win BaconFest.
Ashland Country Club, the winners of last year’s BaconFest with their bacon and jalapeno cupcake, entered this year with a cupcake sweeter on the taste buds. Bourbon and brown sugar with bacon was what it settled on. The club expected this combination of flavors to clash less and be more pleasant on taste buds.
This year’s first-place prize went to Brewsky’s, which probably didn’t come as a surprise considering all the complex flavors of their pulled pork sandwich. At events like BaconFest, usually the first vendor out of supplies is the most favored, and that rang true on Sunday.
For people to consider BaconFest a success, they might say it needed to have 100 different iterations of bacon-esque dishes. Or maybe they might require that a live pig go through the entire process from slaughter to bacon strips throughout the event. Others could consider BaconFest a success when it supplies tomorrow’s chefs with helpful scholarships.
Regardless of what makes BaconFest a success, it proved that no matter how absurd your food obsession might be, there are probably at least 500 other Nebraskans who are willing to wait for the chance to get some bacon.