(Photos by Cindy Kunst)
It turns out it’s not just dogs that come running at the first whiff of bacon in the air. Just over 2,000 Ashvilleans flocked to Highland Brewery Saturday for the artery-clogging but delicious second annual BaconFest Asheville.
Hosted and organized by the rock radio station 105.9 the Mountain as a fundraiser for Blue Ridge Food Ventures, the station’s event director Nikki Mitchell explains, “It was definitely the brainchild of 105.9 the Mountain just to celebrate bacon, really. It’s the end of summer, the beginning of fall, it’s this seasonless time, and bacon goes with any season. We’d heard of BaconFests in other cities, but we wanted to celebrate Asheville cuisine and Asheville restaurants, and this part of the [year] just felt like a really good time for that here.”
Despite the stifling heat, the drunk and the hungry cued themselves in lines that snaked for great distances through the meadow beside the brewery. The Artimus Pyle Band — a Lynard Skynard tribute band that features the original drummer from the classic rock legends — cranked their way through the recognizable hits, but much of the crowd’s attention seemed focused on the food, of which there was an ample supply.
There were the usual suspects for these kind of events: the Southern, King James Public House and the Barleycorn were there, of course, slinging their best takes on bacon. There was also a large contingency of barbecue vendors as well, including classic ‘cue spots like Dickie’s Barbecue Pit, but Korean House restaurant also made a showing with their bulgogi beef, a sweet and savory Korean-style barbecue.
Attendees could vote for their favorite dishes on the BaconFest 2014 iPhone app. The categories for competition were Best Bacon, Best Sweet Bacon, Best Barbecue and Most Outrageous.
In the end, not surprisingly, Bouchon took the prize for Most Outrageous, with an absolutely delicious Cajun classic, chaudin, also known as ponce. Stuffing sausage and veggies into a pig stomach, sewing it shut and using the stomach as an all-natural steamer might not sound as appetizing as this New Orleans tradition actually is.
This Southern delicacy featuring a rich roux, spicy sausage and a slight gaminess, promises good things for Chef Tres Hundertmark’s forthcoming Lafayette — the newest expansion of the Bouchon empire, which will serve up classic Cajun cuisine.
Another Broken Egg took home the top prize in the category of Best Sweet. The Biltmore Park-based restaurant offered what Mitchell described as, “a strip of bacon that had a chocolate drizzle and a white chocolate accent.”
Precision Palate, an Asheville-based catering company, took the prize for Best Barbecue, serving up a delicious whole-hog chopped pork. Traditional as hell, it was tender and succulent enough to force me to use the word “succulent.”
And finally, Katuah Market claimed the coveted prize for Best Bacon. “They had all these different types of bacon — duck bacon, pork bacon — all with different flavored glazes,” explains Mitchell.
Judging from the smashing success of this year’s BaconFest, it might be wise to buy your tickets early next year. Last year the festival was only open to around 800 people, but this year, “we sold out in two weeks and we doubled the [event's] capacity,” says Mitchell.
“We were pushing about 2,300 as far as attendance goes,” she continues. “Last year the ticket sales were 800 and we had 200 staff, so we tried to double the size, and Highland did a really great job of providing more space for the vendors and it didn’t feel crowded at all. We look forward to making it a Labor Day tradition.”
I really hope they do.