Bacon: Pittsburgh has its own ways of enjoying the favorite salty treat
Few words have as much power over some people as “bacon.” Say it out loud, and you can quickly gauge the lovers from, well, everyone else.
For fanatics of the salty treat, Pittsburgh offers some rather eclectic indulgences. We thought we’d look at some the city’s best bacon treats. But be warned: You might want to make sure there’s some on hand before reading any further.
The basket case
One of the most famous items at Shadyside’s Harris Grill isn’t on the menu. But regulars know it’s always there for the asking.
Harris’ bacon basket ($3) features four slices of the applewood-smoked treat served in a bar-style plastic-mesh basket lined with wax paper.
From 6:30 p.m. to midnight on Bacon Night — Tuesdays — the baskets are free (and all-you-can-eat) for those at the bar. The folks at the tables can get them delivered for $1 each.
On average, Harris Grill goes through about 90 pounds of bacon every Tuesday, general manager Scott Ressler says. Some basket devotees even bring in their own condiments, like the one guy who brings in honey for dipping.
“They’ll go all-in,” Ressler says of the biggest bacon-loving customers. “l have people seeing how many they can eat in one sitting. … There are definitely people who take it to a different level.”
Harris Grill is at 5747 Ellsworth Ave. Details: 412-362-5273 or harrisgrill.com
The Common touch
It’s been said before, and it will be said again — there’s not much that’s commonplace about The Commoner in the new Hotel Monaco, Downtown. Even an unpretentious dish like the traditional Irish Breakfast ($16) seems to be executed with care and consideration, down to the last morsel: fried egg, blood sausage, Irish bacon, baked beans, potato, charred tomato and mushrooms.
It’s earthy and ample fortification for whatever weather should be blowing through the heather (or whatever Irish cliche you prefer).
“The Irish boiling bacon … or ‘rashers,’ is not what most people think of when you say ‘bacon’,” explains chef Dennis Marron.
But this isn’t your normal bacon. It’s thicker and heavier than the thin, crispy things we tend to think about. It’s also frequently called “back bacon,” for reasons that should be obvious.
For something more bacon-y as we commonly understand it, Marron suggests the Bacon Beni ($13). It features a housemade English muffin, pork belly, crispy bacon, poached eggs and onion soubise.
The Commoner is at 458 Strawberry Way. Details: 412-230-4800 or thecommonerpgh.com
Being a boar
Wild-boar bacon is sounding a hefty snort at the Industry Public House in Lawrenceville.
“We wanted to give people something really different, so we decided to try wild-boar bacon,” says Rob Russell, manager of the pub in the middle of the Butler Street business district.
He and his staff not only provide something different, but they provide it in new ways. For diners who want a no-fooling serving of the bacon, which comes in thick slices with a rich, meaty taste, there’s the Pig Iron appetizer ($8), six slices of either plain or candied bacon.
The boar wanders to other pages of the menu, too. It’s part of the Management Burgher ($13) and on the Electric Cheese sandwich ($9).
Russell says boar bacon is a popular ingredient on the sandwiches but also has become one of the most popular appetizers.
Industry is at 4305 Butler St. Details: 412-683-1100 or industrypgh.com
Penny for your thoughts
Anthony Hruska, executive chef at Ten Penny restaurant, is a fan of bacon.
“It has all the qualities I love: It’s smoky, it’s salty, it’s sweet, it’s crispy,” Hruska says.
His customers appear to agree. Applewood-smoked bacon is the signature note in Crispy Brussels Sprouts ($9), a shareable side dish that’s a perennial favorite at Ten Penny.
Braised Brussels sprouts are roasted with brown sugar and peppercorns till they turn a dark, shiny mahogany brown, then they’re tossed with a Jack Daniels’ balsamic glaze, bits of tangy blue cheese and pieces of crunchy bacon.
“It’s a classic combination: bacon, blue cheese and something sweet,” Hruska says.
It’s also the most popular item on the menu and has been since the restaurant opened in December 2013, he adds. On a weekend evening, it’s not unusual for one out of every five diners to order it.
Like bacon itself, Crispy Brussels Sprouts is a forever item. “We can’t take it off the menu,” Hruska says.
Ten Penny is at 960 Penn Ave. Details: 412-318-8000 or tenpennypgh.com
A Cure for what ails us
Justin Severino, the chef at Cure in Lawrenceville, speaks meat like a native language. Pig, in particular.
His salumi platter ($40) — formerly called “This is why you’re here” — is butchered in-house. Feel free to pick out the bacon from this lineup: duck speck, culatello, coppa secca, black-strap ham, lomo, fiocco, braseola, mortadella, fernet and oil cured olive, salami negroni, Spanish chorizo, morcilla achorizada, finocchiona, ciccioli, chicken rilettes, rabbit terrine, pate campagnola, coppa di testa, lardo and nduja.
Duck speck is baconlike enough for our purposes — hearty, salty, with a cap of fat, and worth every delicious, indulgent bite. Of course, it’s duck, but hey, if you can swallow the concept of turkey bacon, you can accept the idea of duck speck. It’s just a small part of a big dish anyway, the kind that’s meant for the whole table to share.
Cure is at 5336 Butler St. Details: 412-252-2595 or curepittsburgh.com
People are in love with all things bacon for a good reason, Burgatory executive chef Brad Kohut says.
“It’s the tastiest and most savory food ever,” he says. “It’s further proof that God wants us to be happy. If you don’t like bacon, we can’t be friends.”
The Burgatory restaurants in the Pittsburgh area all have Kohut’s one-of-a-kind Apple Pancakes and Bacon Hard Shake ($8.50), also available in a nonalcoholic version ($6) as the Classic Apple Pancakes and Bacon Shake.
The caramelized Gala apples, pancakes, bacon and ice cream combination sometimes pleasantly surprises first-time tasters on how well the ingredients go together. It’s made with house-spun vanilla bean ice cream, to which the caramelized apples, diced bacon and pancakes are added. It’s finished with a splash of milk or the Gala apple and caramel vodka.
The bacon is definitely noticeable throughout the shake, adding a crunchy, smoky and salty flavor.
“People are always a little reluctant to try it at first and typically ask the server, ‘Is it actually good?!’ ” Burgatory marketing director Meredith Hanley says. “And we assure them that, ‘Yes, it certainly is!’
“We don’t think there is ever a wrong time to eat bacon. Great at breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s such a versatile ingredient and tasty in both savory and sweet dishes.”
Details and locations: burgatorybar.com
Jam on it
At Butcher on Butler in Lawrenceville, there’s always eight to 12 flavors of bacon, like horseradish, jalapeno and Hungarian paprika jowl. But it’s something whipped up by Katie Rado, who owns the shop with husband Michael, that’s become a bit of a cult item with customers: Katie’s Bacon Jam ($5 for 8 ounces)
The hot-selling spreadable treat has a slight texture and a sweet, savory flavor. It comes in three varieties: brown sugar, coffee and habanero.
Customers Kayla Gilkey and Dustin Rothbart of Shaler are fans, saying they often spread the bacon jam on everything from crackers and toast to bagels with salmon. Other customers have been known to use it to stuff chicken breasts or pair it with cucumber slices.
Because of its popularity and how it’s made, Katie’s Bacon Jam isn’t always available; you might want to stock up when you can.
Butcher on Butler is at 5145 Butler St. Details: 412-781-2157 or butcheronbutler.com
Funny Thing Is …
There’s a lighter side to bacon fever, as evidenced at Grandpa Joe’s Candy Shop in the Strip District. Sure, they’ve got Sizzling Bacon Candy ($3.25) and Bacon Gumballs ($3.95), but those are for beginners.
How about some Bacon Frosting ($5.95) for that birthday bash, or Bacon Balm ($3.95) to put that salty taste on your lips? After a big dinner, you might need a few Bacon Toothpicks ($2.95). For us clumsies, Bacon Strip Bandages ($5.95) should come in handy.
If the room needs to be freshened, let the Mr. Bacon Air Freshener ($2.95) fill it with a delicious scent. Or maybe it’s you who needs to smell better; there’s always Bacon Soap ($6.25). And for those who need to smell it all the time, don the Bacon-Scented Mustache ($4.99).
Oh, and be sure to pay for it all from your Bacon Wallet ($15).
Grandpa Joe’s is at 2124 Penn Ave. Details: 412-499-3700 or grandpajoescandyshop.com