The madness, the blasphemy, has to stop. It's been on low flame for some time now, but it all came to a sizzling head while I was standing in the checkout line: bacon flavored lip balm ... right next to the tin of bacon gumballs. Bacon, it seems, has become the breakfast-food equivalent of 1980s hair metal bands: a gaudy, bastardized version of something beautiful and true.
It started innocently enough, with the trendsetters incorporating bacon into their menus -- like Murray's $17.95 plate of bacon-wrapped jumbo shrimp, or the smoky-sweet Bacon Manhattan at Town Talk Diner. Then good old-fashioned American business innovation kicked into gear and practical essentials, like Baconnaise -- the medley of bacon and mayonnaise -- were born.
But oh, how quickly it got out of hand. The Triple Rock Social Club, looking to move more PBR, came up with an all-you-can eat Free Bacon Wednesdays. Peculiar mixtures started popping up around town, and nowadays bacon is giving Scott Seekins a run for his money in the "Where am I gonna see that oddball today?" department. The Bulldog N.E. has bacon scallion wontons. The cupcake caterer Miel y Leche has a banana, peanut butter and marshmallow butter cream cupcake topped with bacon, called "the Elvis." And blogs are filled with wondrous ways to utilize this versatile meat: Did you know that if you stick bacon slices on boobs you can make a bacon bra? It's gotten so out of hand that local food writer Stephanie March recently called bacon "the new Paris Hilton" -- and that's about as ghastly as it gets for a case of overexposure.
To paraphrase that one guy, it's time for change. It's time for us to reverse course, and get back to old-fashion breakfast bacon basics.
I do have to respectfully disagree with March; while it has been gratuitously hyped, bacon does actually have substance. It is authentic. Bacon has been responsible for turning more vegetarians into raging carnivores than any other factor on the planet. A veggie-leaning friend recently had major throat surgery and after she could (sort of) talk and was allowed solid foods, what did she request? Bacon. "Everyone loves bacon. The only thing better than bacon is more bacon," declares Band Box Diner griddle master Brad Ptacek.
If anything, all this exposure has gotten me thinking about the meat, and just how, exactly, it gets to my plate. Sure, it's the belly of a hog, sliced and cured. But if it's cured, why do I refrigerate it? Why can't I just wrap it in some paper and carry it around in my back pocket to pop in the microwave when the urge hits me, like Laura Ingalls Wilder did?
I consulted "The Bacon Cookbook" by James Villas, and it seems that these days the cure is for flavoring and keeping the meat's red hue rather than for actual preservation. Without curing, it would just taste like pork chops. Even the "healthy" stuff that is labeled "uncured" -- while perhaps not meeting the USDA definition -- most likely has been put into some sort of curing brine of sea salt and celery juice. Then it is either left as-is or smoked for additional flavoring. "People do it different ways, but you have to add something to the meat to get that distinctive bacon taste," says pork producer Tim Fischer of Fischer Family Farms in Waseca, Minn.
That distinctive taste is a breakfast standard, and there are plenty of places serving it up. (Try finding a local breakfast joint that doesn't have bacon on the menu. I can come up with only one: the veggie-friendly Seward Cafe.) It's time to put down the bacon mints and other perversions of nature, and bring home the real bacon.