Depending on what hot-versus-not report you read, some trendcasters will tell you America’s bacon craze is collapsing. Replaced by culinary celebs such as Brussels sprouts and heirloom carrots—veggies are the plated power players du moment—the once-popular pig has lost its luster. Or has it?
In my recent travels I’ve seen fewer bacon chips, bacon bits, and bacon jams adorning dishes, but I refuse to believe that the salty protein is on the out-and-out. Ever since its rise to gastro-glory in Portland, bacon has reached a staple-status that transcends trends. It has become the Levi’s 501 jeans of the food world.
Sipping on a bacon-infused beer from Oregon-based Rogue Ales at one of their downtown watering holes, I broach the topic of bacon with the barkeep. “It’s not even a trend here; it never was,” he says. He goes on to add, “Portland is such a food-centric town, [bacon] just comes with the territory.”
Rogue’s fastest-selling beer of all time is the Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale, a partnership with Portland’s most iconic doughnut shop, Voodoo Doughnut. This doughnut shop was credited by Eater Portland with kicking off the “nationwide bacon craze.” It’s that good.
Voodoo was my first food stop when I visited the city six years ago, and I’ve returned many times since. The sweet spot became my Portland “food first,” due to my penchant for pig—especially when paired with maple. I’m not alone; the shop serving bacon maple doughnuts is so popular it has stadium-like corrals to wrangle hungry patrons into a lineup outside.
Newcomer Blue Star Donuts couldn’t ignore Portland’s crush on bacon, either. I took a bite out of its melt-in-your mouth real-maple bacon-topped treat and was immediately thankful there’s a six-hour drive between my home city of Vancouver, B.C., and Bacontown (otherwise I’d eat 20 a day).
Portland has every other type of bacon-themed sweet you can imagine (and then some). There’s maple jack bacon brittle ice cream at What’s the Scoop? (I ate this for breakfast—don’t tell my mom); a bacon-topped macaron at Pix Patisserie; a boozy bacon milkshake at The Original Dinerant; and an upscale chocolate bar—so upscale it’s US$9—at Xocolatl, blending bacon caramel with 72 percent cocoa from Ecuador. And this is only dessert. There is, of course, breakfast, lunch, and dinner bacon, too.
Viewfinder Tip: Order bacon to go at many shops around Portland, including Olympia Provisions and Laurelhurst Market.
Bacon in other forms
While Portland may get playful with the whole hog—there’s even a bacon-themed food truck, Bacon PDX—this is only because the town’s leading kitchens already have mastered the simple strip.
Going way beyond ordering a stack of pre-cut bacon from a supplier and sizzling it to perfection on the stove top, in the modern-day birthplace of bacon, chefs go deeper. They know the farmers personally. They order the bacon fresh. Some even know the names of the pigs.
Take Laurelhurst Market, a restaurant and butcher shop that serves four different kinds bacon. Each of the varieties is made in house. Buy it cured or smoked from the butcher shop, or eat it over Brussels sprouts with orange marmalade in the restaurant.
The chefs and salumists at Olympia Provisions (formerly Olympic Provisions)—a frontrunner in Portland’s meat movement—apply a similar philosophy to craft charcuterie. In addition to using a natural approach borrowed from the owner’s Greek roots, chefs here smoke their bacon over applewood and serve it at restaurants and over the counter. For the record, Olympia’s BLT is the best I’ve tasted anywhere.
Finally, to breakfast. This is the meal that put bacon on the culinary map, the meal this city knocks out of the park. While it’s hard to find a bad bacon brunch in town, my favorite is served at Tasty n Sons. Over six-minute eggs with Manchego cheese and bacon lardons (cured in house, of course), I’m reminded that my favorite part of the pig has surpassed fad status. Culinary trends will come and go, but in Portland, bacon is to food what jeans are to fashion: a timeless staple.
How do you like your bacon?