Bacon. Bacon? Bacon! There is perhaps no phrase in the English language as simultaneously tantalizing and daunting as “unlimited bacon.” That proposition is precisely what presented itself at the inaugural edition of The Great Big Bacon Picnic last month at the Old Pfizer Factory in Williamsburg. The building is a gargantuan laboratory reminiscent of Dr. Evil’s Virtucon headquarters. These days the facility is churning out fare like artisanal pasta instead of pharmaceuticals, but on this weekend the intoxicants of choice were the similarly unlimited beers and bourbons brought in to quench the thirsty throngs indulging in an endless array of salty snacks from across the vast bacon spectrum.
There’s a famous grammatically correct sentence designed to highlight the inanity of the English language: Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. Replace “buffalo” with “bacon” and you might have an idea of the preposterous porcine possibility available at The Great Big Bacon Picnic. The debut of the festival was by all counts a great big bacon success. Bacon was literally everywhere – atop burgers, infused into desserts, in jam form on cocktails, and in its natural strip form in endlessly replenished piles at a glorious sunlit bacon bar. There was a lot of bacon, OK? Too much? Maybe. But too much of bacon is never enough.
The brunch session on Sunday seemed a somewhat sensible choice. Why not recuperate from a lengthy weekend of revelry by soaking up last night’s decadence in a delirious deluge of delicacies? The initial impulse was unfettered gluttony, but the meaty marathon proved a challenge for even the most ravenous of epicurean endurance enthusiasts. A slovenly sprint to start gave way to a more leisurely saunter across a bacon buffet of epic proportions. In a field of top chefs and culinary innovators, creativity was required to stand out from the pack and the most memorable dishes took the concept and ran with it to delicious and intriguing effect.
The winner by most tallies, official and otherwise, took the especially outside-the-box approach of nearly eschewing bacon entirely, opting instead to showcase tuna wrapped in a flavorful truffle sushi roll that drew rave reviews from both the judges and the crowds. Given the overwhelming flavor of bacon, half the creativity required to successfully integrate the ingredient lies in restraint. The best dishes using bacon subtly ranged from a bright springy bruschetta with a slightest hint of the meat to a surprisingly light gnocchi doused in an aromatic pesto.
And then there was the ebullient excess. A spongy Welsh rarebit featured thick crumbled bacon bits perched atop gooey cheese toasted to greasy perfection on thick crusty bread. Bread also featured heavily in the syrupy sponge of bacon french toast that enchanted in its sugary simplicity. Tried and true classics fared well also. A simple peppery slab of bacon offered a welcome spicy kick. Carefully replicated mini Oreos tasted just like the real thing with just a hint a smoky bacon flavoring. In retrospect, those would have paired well with the bacon milkshakes we imbibed later.
For VIP attendees, there was a private lounge area replete with goodies like mugs and tote bags, along with the elusive bacon vodka. The alcohol options for the general populace were excellent as well. Craft breweries ranging from micro to macro poured endless quarter pints of IPAs and summery ales. The distilleries too brought multiple options. Only practically legal in New York State for about a decade, distilling has taken off in the region. The city stalwart Kings County Distillery from the nearby Navy Yard poured a stout chocolate infused bourbon. Upstart Standard Spirit had a mesmerizing absinthe whiskey hybrid. From upstate, Catskill provisions provided a thinking man’s alternative to the saccharine mass market honey whiskeys.
But man cannot subsist on bacon, beer and bourbon alone. To that end, there was sweet music to soothe the soul. The bombastic marching band blasts of The High and Mighty Brass Band reverberated refreshingly across the festival grounds. A H.a.M. Band at a bacon fest!? Brilliant! The collective began the day adjacent to the picnic blanketed Astroturf in the lot and wound down the festivities with a parade past the long lines of vendors indoors, culminating in a crowd pleasing singularly sanguine rendition of Outkast’s “So Fresh, So Clean,” moving even the most overstuffed of attendees to the impromptu dance floor.
With the day winding down and our bellies ready to burst we found our way to the Wild Turkey bus, drawn in by KanJam and Cornhole. Not ones to come by a bus without getting on, we embarked and entered a cozy tasting session that proved a fitting cap to a thoroughly satisfying afternoon. Heavy smoky bourbons perched precariously atop the day’s feast and when we had to turn down the Old Fashioneds at the tasting’s end, we knew it was time to slink off into the midday sun, temporarily defeated by the mighty bacon beast.
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