Baltimore music promoter Evan Weinstein says he was looking for a creative way to break into the food-festival scene when he came up with the idea for the America Loves Bacon Festival.
He’s hoping that making a favorite breakfast food the star of the first-ever touring bacon festival will be a concept that sizzles.
The spring edition of the bacon tour kicked off Feb. 28 in Chandler, Ariz., and includes more than 10 stops. Pittsburgh’s inaugural America Loves Bacon Festival will take place May 16 at the McKean Street East Parking Lot at Station Square.
The event promises a day filled with dozens of delectable bacon delights — from bacon-flavored festival treats like funnel cakes, popcorn and peanut brittle, to bacon doughnuts, jerk bacon on a stick, sweet Thai chili bacon, bacon cheddar hot dogs, General Tso bacon nuggets and more.
The festival’s sampling menu prepared by executive chef Patrick Morrow of Baltimore includes more than 30 dishes, each of which utilizes bacon sourced from local purveyors when possible. The menu is divided into four sections: The Butcher’s Block, Grill It Up, Hog on a Stick and Swiney Sweets.
The festival will feature live entertainment by local bands; food demos; local vendors, including food trucks and restaurants; full-service bars featuring bacon-theme cocktails; and family-friendly activities. Featured music groups in Pittsburgh will include Lovebettie, Tropidelic, Good Brother Earl, The Hawkeyes, North of Mason-Dixon and the Woods Family Band.
“This isn’t just a bacon food festival; this is a bacon lifestyle festival,” Weinstein says. “We’re excited to bring American cities a festival with fun for the whole family.”
One of the festival events, a bacon-eating contest, has been a big hit in other East Coast cities, says Philadelphia-born celebrity chef Brian Duffy, who is one of the stars of the Spike TV series “Bar Rescue.”
“In Columbia, South Carolina, a 55-year-old woman ate a pound of bacon in 45 seconds. She crushed the competition,” Duffy says. “I have a crazy feeling that the Pittsburgh competition is going to be completely insane.”
The chef says that later in the afternoon, after festivalgoers have had their fill of bacon, he will give demonstrations of his recipe for Cacio e Pepe, a pasta entree that teams fettuccine and shrimp with slab bacon, grated cheeses, chipotle peppers and bacon-poached egg.
Besides his work on “Bar Rescue,” where he tours the country rehabbing failing bars and restaurants, the chef has a restaurant consulting business. His upcoming projects include redoing Irish pubs in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Tijuana, Mexico.
Weinstein says initial response to the America Loves Bacon Festival has been good, with attendance averaging up to 4,000 in the early cities on the tour. In Pittsburgh, he’s expecting a crowd of as many as 5,000 bacon-lovers.
In selecting the food items to be featured at the festival, the promoter says chefs went through a painstaking process — and not all bacon-theme recipes have been a hit.
“We had a test run of a bacon meat stick — sort of like a Slim Jim — and there were some mistakes in the recipe process. The casing wasn’t cooking evenly, and it was like sucking meat out of a balloon,” he says.
Fortunately, plenty of other delicious bacon-centric options will be available, promoters say, and they hope Pittsburgh will be an annual stop on the American Loves Bacon Festival tour.
Cacio e Pepe
Courtesy of Chef Brian Duffy
1½ pounds fresh-cut fettucine
½ pound thick-cut slab of bacon
2 tablespoons whole butter
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons red onion, cut julienne style
2 cloves garlic, minced or zested
1 teaspoon crushed chipotle peppers, to taste
½ pound large, uncooked shrimp, peeled, deveined and tail removed, sliced in half
½ cup pasta water, reserved
½ cup grated Pecorino-Romano cheese, divided, more for serving
2 tablespoons grated Grana Padano cheese, divided
3 tablespoons chives, chopped
1 lemon, zested as garnish
For the Bacon-Poached Eggs:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons cooked bacon, minced
4 large eggs
Add the pasta and cook it until it is al dente, for approximately 2 minutes.
Remove the pasta from the water and hold for 1 minute.
Place the whole, uncooked bacon slab in the pasta water and cook it for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the bacon from the water, drain and cut it into ½-inch lardons.
Heat a large frypan.
In the pan, add the bacon and cook it for 2 minutes. Then add the butter, black pepper, red onion, garlic, chipotle peppers and shrimp, and cook for 2 minutes.
Add the ½ cup of reserved pasta water to the pan and bring it to a boil. Stir in ¼ cup of the Pecorino-Romano cheese and 1 tablespoon of the Grana Padano cheese until it is incorporated into the water. Add more water, if needed, and add the rest of the Pecorino-Romano and Grana Padano cheeses to create a creamy sauce.
Place the pasta in a bowl and toss it with the sauce. Add the chives and mix well.
Serve the pasta and sauce on a plate, top it with the bacon and poached egg. Grate more cheese over the pasta, add the lemon zest and serve.
To prepare the Bacon-Poached Eggs: In large pasta cooker, bring ½ gallon of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of sea salt.
Prepare a ramekin with plastic wrap and brush it with olive oil, a grind of salt and pepper and the minced bacon. Crack an egg in the ramekin, fold the sides of plastic wrap to create a package, and tie it with butchers twine. Poach for 2½ to 3½ minutes. Remove the egg from the water and keep it warm.
Repeat for the other 3 eggs.