OPINIONFood

Restaurants find new and more creative ways to get bacon on menus

State of the Plate: RB Menu Trends Columnist Nancy Kruse dishes on America's favorite protein, and the creative methods chefs are using to make it available to customers.
bacon menu
The Smoked Maple Bacon Old Fashioned from Lazy Dog. / Photo courtesy of Lazy Dog.

State of the Plate

Americans are crazy about bacon.  Its irresistible combination of salty sweetness, seductive aroma and appealing texture is pure culinary catnip that lures about 275 million of us to consume it, according to Statista. In fact, Datassential researchers report that it's consumers’ favorite meat.

What makes this data more remarkable is the fact that bacon rarely appears on the center of the plate. Rather, it is an ampersand protein: bacon & eggs, bacon & Brussels, bacon lettuce & tomato. Bacon’s ready compatibility with a range of ingredients and in a range of applications make it the best utility player on the menu.

Bacon by the numbers. Its status as a sure-fire patron pleaser encourages menu marketers to really pile it on. Wayback Burgers’ menu notes that no one has ever said “hold the bacon,” a truism that doubtless inspired the chain’s Double Bacon Burger that boasts four slices. Papa John’s ran a BaconMania promotion that included Triple Bacon Pizza, while The Baconator, a fixture on Wendy’s menu since 2007, comes with six pieces of applewood-smoked bacon and recently spawned an equally bacon-centric breakfast version.

Smokey Bones weighs in and tips the sandwich scales with the hefty 1 LB BLT, though patrons with less hearty appetites can opt for the 1/3 LB BLT. Both are served on thick-cut bread with garlic herb mayo.

A different kind of accounting goes into Toasted Yolk’s Millionaire Bacon Chicken Beignets, a Mardi-Gras promotion served with spicy, candied bacon and bourbon-hot honey dipping sauce. Hash Kitchen substantially ups the ante with Billionaire’s Bacon made with thick slab bacon, yuzu glaze, brown-sugar chili rub and a crowning touch of 24K gold flakes.

Bacon is jammin’. The recent uptick in the appearance of bacon jam on menus suggests that it may unseat hot honey as the condiment du jour.

In January, Buffalo’s Cafe launched a Chicken Sandwich with Bacon Jam on a Parmesan-crusted bun, a promotion that was followed in March by the Bacon Jam Burger with a fried egg and Cheddar cheese. Also this spring, MOOYAH announced a Hot Bacon Jam Burger available only online for loyal customers “in the know.” Underscoring its appeal, the chain added it to the Burger Hall of Dang line-up of fan favorites.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Grill & Wings’ website says that the brand works hard to create a laid-back beach vibe, and from the menu perspective this includes both a Bacon Jam BLT served with garlic aioli on griddled garlic toast and a Bacon Jam Beer Cheeseburger with crispy fried onion pieces.

On the casual-dining side, Carson Kitchen takes it up a notch with the bubbling hot Bacon Jam appetizer, which is topped with Havarti cheese and served in a rustic cast iron pan with a toasted baguette for dipping. Bacon Social House does the dip as well; in this case, it’s a Bacon Onion Dip appetizer with bacon onion jam and crème fraîche.  

Speaking of condiments, Carson Kitchen serves bacon-and-leek butter with the Grilled Oysters, while California based Slater’s 50/50, whose logo promises a winning trifecta of Burgers, Bacon, Beer, features bacon ketchup as a house condiment. As an aside, bacon looms especially large in the latter concept: It takes its name from the fact that burger patties here are 50% bacon.

Carson Kitchen Bacon Jam

The Bacon Jam Appetizer with Harvati cheese and a toasted baguette from Carson Kitchen. / Photo courtesy of Carson Kitchen.

Bacon bites and flights. In Auburn, Ala., The Hound Bacon and Bourbon, a well-named and well-respected independent, menus a Bacon Flight that comprises a daily selection sourced from local producers. The operation further reinforces its southern bona fides with a side dish of bacon-braised collards. At nearby Acre, the snack menu features Chicken Fried Bacon with sawmill gravy, Vermont maple syrup and BBQ pecans.

Snooze An A.M. Eatery competes in the hot daytime-cafe segment with the Snooze Signature Bacon Flight with maple and black-pepper bacon and bacon rubbed with brown sugar, cayenne and chili flakes, all drizzled with sriracha-maple syrup.

Bacon Social House goes full-on bacon with two flights, the OMFG and the Pro, along with Baller Bacon that is “thick-cut, sweet and spicy and unforgettable.” Seriously big-time ballers go for the Double Baller Bacon that delivers “twice the ultimate bacon experience.”

On the sweeter side, there are Pig Candy Bacon Bites with a candy glaze at sibling brands Ruby Slipper and Ruby Sunshine, and Bacon Candy at Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar, which turns up the sweet heat with brown sugar and crushed red pepper chili flakes.

High on the hog. Diners can rise and shine with the Breakfast Bacon Mac & Cheese that comes with three eggs at Breakfast Republic. The signature Bacon Hash at Bacon Social House is made with roasted sweet potatoes, Hatch green chiles, caramelized onion, tomato aioli and a poached egg.

Slater’s 50/50 owns its bacon cred with appetizers like shareable Bacon Mac & Cheese Balls with a side of Tapatio ranch dip and entrées like Spaghetti + Bacon Meatballs and The Slater’s 50/50 Hot Dog. The latter is bacon stuffed, bacon wrapped and, yes, finished with bacon ketchup.

Diners can really get their bacon fix at Bacon Nation in Las Vegas, a 24/7 operation that boasts a bacon-centric menu from start to finish. The signature honey-cured, thick-cut bacon stars in dishes like the Boarrito and creative Reverse BLT. The latter literally turns the classic inside out by putting hand-woven bacon on the outside atop the bread.

Bacon libations. For diners who like their bacon in liquid form, many operators exploit its affinity for brunch, as with Carson Kitchen’s That’s My Jam, a Bloody Mary variation with bacon jam vodka. Similarly, Hash Kitchen’s Original Bloody Mary starts with bacon-infused vodka.

Not all drinkable bacon is in Bloody Marys. Lazy Dog features a Smoked Maple Bacon Old Fashioned made with sophisticated house-made bacon-washed whiskey, cedar smoke and maple syrup; the cocktail is served with the chain’s bacon candy.

Not all quaffables are of the alcoholic persuasion. Milktooth, the popular “fine diner” in Indianapolis, tempts brunchers with a Bacon Caramel Latte. And while bacon milkshakes come in and out of fashion, they’re a staple at Five Guys, where bacon continues to lead the list of milkshake add-ins.

Bacon futures. Consumers’ love of pork bellies has remained undimmed for decades, and the outlook is clearly positive. Last fall, an RB story counseled readers “Want Your LTO to Work? Include Apples, Bacon or Steak” and noted that Technomic data shows that bacon gets high marks from consumers for its draw and its craveability. In other words, chefs can give free rein to their creativity, because when it comes to bacon, nothing succeeds like excess.

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