Baconfest is the Super Bowl of bacon in Chicago, gearing up for its next annual event on April 17 and 18 at the UIC Forum, but before the meat melee gets started, you might want to pre-game by warming up your stomach on some of Chicago's best bacon dishes. After all, April has unofficially been declared Bacon Month in Chicago courtesy of Baconfest.
avec (615 W. Randolph St.)
Bacon-wrapped dates are nothing novel in and of themselves. More often than not, they're standard cocktail reception fodder. Check those pre-conceived notions at the door when you enter avec, though, because the bacon-wrapped dates at this Mediterranean wine bar are worth every bit of the cult following they demand. Served sizzling in diminutive ceramic pots, these succulent morsels are actually Medjool dates stuffed with chorizo, wrapped with thick slices of bacon, and baked in tomato sauce. The heady chorizo plays wonderfully in contrast to the sweet and caramel-y dates, while the savorous slabs of bacon are the veritable cherry atop the sundae. Good luck trying to confine yourself to one order.
Mindy's Hot Chocolate (1747 N. Damen Ave.)
The only way you can improve something so classically iconic as a good old-fashioned chocolate chip cookie is by adding bacon. Such is the case at Bucktown's pastry and dessert wonderland, Mindy's HotChocolate. Courtesy of award-winning and nationally revered pastry chef Mindy Segal, who just released a cookie cookbook as a matter of fact, these sweet-meets-salty beauties feature flecks of locally sourced bacon, mixed into the chocolate-laced cookie dough and baked to obsession-inducing perfection.
Revolution Brewing (2323 N. Milwaukee Ave.)
Popcorn is addictive enough as is, let alone when there's toothsome nobs of bacon strewn throughout. Revolution Brewing has perfected the beer snack template with their bacon fat popcorn, an indulgent mound of popcorn draped with crispy bits of bacon and a generous dusting of shaved Parmesan. It's a dream pairing with any of Revolution's beers and the quintessential bar snack in Chicago.
Black Dog Gelato (859 N. Damen Ave.)
As the weather gets warmer, we're starting to scream for ice cream once again. More specifically, our loudest screams of desire are reserved for the whiskey bacon gelato bars at Black Dog Gelato. A signature confection at this innovative gem of a scoop shop, the gelato bars are made with whiskey gelato dipped into milk chocolate and rolled in crispy bacon pieces.
Trenchermen (2039 W. North Ave.)
The best way to up the ante on bacon is by stuffing it with more bacon. Porcine dreams come true at Trenchermen, where Chef Patrick Sheerin fills cured and smoked Berkshire pork belly with a ground bacon sausage made from Berkshire pork shoulders and bacon trimmings. The whole thing is poached until tender and juicy, then sliced and seared in a cast-iron pan. That's all salacious enough, but it gets even better when the brunch fixture is heaped atop a brioche bun with a fried egg and cheddar cheese.
Photos: avec, Mindy's HotChocolate, Revolution Brewing, Black Dog Gelato, Trenchermen