Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bacon Quest: A dedicated food crawl adventure

Back in 2011, some pals and I had an adventurous lunch date where we visited 4 establishments with highly touted pork sandwiches and dubbed it "A Pork Sandwich Smackdown." It was amazingly awesome fun way to sample sandwiches we had all heard about, wanted to try, and then compare them. A themed food crawl. It's something we've talked about doing again but hadn't really committed to a theme or done any solid planning... but on a recent trip to Montreal, the Leggy Redhead re-ignited my desire for another food crawl. I contacted the MF'ing Coop (a friend who I haven't actually seen in person since the Pork Sandwich Smackdown) with a concept ideas and dates. He enthusiastically championed a bacon theme (inspired by this summer's take out window at Edible Canada Bistro on Granville island) and planning/research began for Bacon Quest. This was a fun and exciting process, researching bacon-focused menu items (that none of us had tried yet) and planning a greasy, crispy evening of gluttony. There were many options and menu items and venues were narrowed down based on research, word of mouth, location, and whether they were open and available on a Friday evening (it was a shame, because we all wanted to include the Pig on the Street food truck.

It was a extremely gloomy and stormy Friday evening when I left work in my decorated "Bacon Wagon"(note the homemade bacon flag on my sweet ride) to meet up with MF'ing Coop, who has now chosen to take on the pseudonym The Bad Jew for this blog, and a new friend with a penchant for the salty, crispy, goodness, O-M-G, A-M-G!

I picked them up in the West End at Le Belle Patate, where they had picked up a Bacon Poutine to go. We hurried to The Leggy Redhead's place, warmed the poutine in the oven, and kicked off the festivities with a drink and the craft activity of making Bacon Quest lanyards.

While our poutine was warming, we decided we couldn't wait and dove into another bacon product all ready to go in the kitchen.

 PC Black Label Bacon Marmalade Spread on some plain crackers.

 Lifebitesmm: First of all, this spread has an aroma that lets the diner know that they aren't skimping on the bacon. It's a powerful aroma but quite pleasing. The generous chunks of smoky bacon work well with the texture and slight sweetness of caramelized onions and basamic-citrus flavours. This was a crowd pleasure and worked really well on a cracker with a simple brie cheese. Then bacon flavour isn't overly strong- in fact, the bacon flavour seemed to hit the tastebuds after the sweeter caramelized onion flavour.

The Bad Jew: As an accompaniment to the bacon poutine, we needed a light appetizer style course of crackers spread with Presidents Choice Bacon Marmalade.  This was the sleeper of the evening.  The confection was a perfect blend between the smoky sweet bacon-y flavour and  the mellow citrus undertone.  Balsamic vinegar is also used to great effect.  It was perfection on the nose and smelled wonderful.  The favors are in harmony – the citrus is much less sharp than a standard marmalade and the bacon is subtle, but definitely there.  I have avoided marmalade all my life – but this PC Bacon marmalade has turned me.  Bacon – will your wonders never cease?

The Leggy Redhead: A little too sweet for me.  Less orange marmalade bits and it would be perfect.  Loved the bacony smell!

O-M-G, A-M-G: Where I come from, there are two things universally hated: marmalade and Maple Walnut ice cream (it's like pesticide for your ice cream loving mooch friends, non?). Bacon marmalade? Really??... I kid. This stuff was the bomb on goat Brie. Thank you, Leggy Redhead!!

La Belle Patate
Bacon Poutine, Medium $9.50
La Belle Patate on Urbanspoon

Lifebitesmm: I can't really comment on the venue because I didn't get a chance to go inside. Their website is crazy- they offer 30 different kinds of poutine and are a local food blogger favourite. This was my first time trying their poutine and damn....it was really delicious. I'm not really a poutine expert but this poutine had the real squeaky cheese curds the don't really melt that poutine experts look for. The fries were thick, tasted fresh, and maintained a decent crispiness despite the travel and re-heat, very soft and fluffy inside. They were generous with big chunks of bacon strips- I only wish they were a bit crispier, they were a big too soft and fatty for me- and the gravy was a great thickness and had a wonderful meaty, salty flavour. All in all, the best poutine I've ever had.

The Bad Jew: I had no idea there was a specialty poutine restaurant within hangover driving distance from my apartment – rejoice!!  They serve 26 different types of poutine including Mexicana, Donair and Meat Lover (beef, bacon and pepperoni) – and take note, a $19.50 all you can eat option.  But we’re on a mission of Bacon.  We kept the order simple with an order of Bacon poutine.

This was one of the highlights of the night.  The gravy was a rich brown, great texture and  perfectly salty.  There was a good amount of bacon amongst the fries and curds.  Even though we ordered  take out, it was still delicious (I was worried about the fries getting too soggy).  Best part was that the curds were intact and squeaky! Not the gooey mess you normally encounter in Vancouver.  This was done the right way and now I see why purists insist on proper curds.  I would say that the bacon was over shadowed by the poutine – but this was not the bacon`s fault.  The poutine was a force to be reckoned with.  Bravo!

The Leggy Redhead: Better Poutine than I recently ate in Montreal. Fries...perfect crispness.  Squeaky cheese curds. Rich, salty gravy. And the bacon just topped it off with more perfection.  So good!

O-M-G, A-M-G: I placed the order enroute over the phone, sight unseen, under strict orders from TBJ. LBP felt very casual, but the variety and service were both great. It did occur to me, though, that perhaps I'd set my sights a little high for this venture. I was the rookie, after all. Excellent proportion of ingredients. The gravy was perfectly salty to balance the fries and curd (mellow flavours and soft textures). Perfect amount of chunky chopped bacon. Satisfaction in every bite.

We grabbed two shakers of bacon salt from the Leggy Redhead's kitchen (in case things weren't bacon-y enough) and hit the road to our next stop.

La Casa Gelato
Maple Bacon Gelato, Two Scoops $6.50
La Casa Gelato on Urbanspoon

Lifebitesmm: This place is just around the corner from the Leggy Redhead's place so we had to hit it up to try out their Maple Bacon Gelato. This place is famous for their massive flavour selection...they have 518 flavours available and 218 available for scooping every day in their Venables location. They've got pretty much any biflavour imaginable: strawberry jalapeno (my favourite), durian, balsamic vinegar......and Maple Bacon. I had high hopes for this sweet/salty dessert and my hopes were dashed. The bacon chunks were quite generous, but I found them quite chewy and fatty, when I would've preferred something closer to a jerky texture. The maple flavouring was really artifical. Not a pleasant combo. Although, we added a scoop of PC Black Label Bacon Marmalade and some bacon salt and it really did wonders in transforming this dessert into something close to tasty.

The Bad Jew: Crestfallen.  Conceptually sound but poor execution.  Oh, Bacon, even with all your powers you couldn’t make this one work.  Initial skepticism arose when no visible signs of bacon were in evidence before the first spoonful.  Careful exploring did uncover real bacon – in decent sized chunks no less – but the bacon seemed a bit low quality and fatty at times.  More disappointing was the maple flavour – it came across as artificial and almost sickly sweet.  The same maple flavour as those maple cream sandwich cookies your grandmother used to serve you.  An emergency application of Bacon Marmalade to the rescue along with some hickory flavoured bacon salt!  That improved things – we soldiered on.  But we still didn’t finish the dish – and we were all okay with that.  Which says a lot – THE FIRST RULE OF BACON QUEST – LEAVE NO BACON!  Thank goodness they gave me a taste of grapefruit sorbet to follow. It made an excellent palate cleanser.  

The Leggy Redhead: Not a fan of Casa Gelato in general, find their flavours too artificial, this was a classic example. Tastes "flavoured," rather than using real, quality ingredients. I wish it was heavier, creamier, and more rich.  But kudos..it did have real bacon pieces in it.

O-M-G, A-M-G: despite fielding a lot of criticism from my colleagues, I didn't mind this. Generous chunks of real, salty, 'loose' (as my dad would call it) bacon. The ice cream itself lacked maple-ness, and would significantly benefit from a bit more sweetness and maple flavour (as someone passionately opposed to the very existence of Maple Walnut ice cream, that's saying a lot. Of what? I don't know...)

The next stop was at Tap and Barrel, a pub on the waterfront seawall in the Olympic Village for more Bacon focused grub. 
Bacon Chips with chunky catsup $6
PB & J Burger with chipotle peanut butter and bacon jelly $15

Tap & Barrel on Urbanspoon

Lifebitesmm: We ordered drinks (fantastic beer and wine list!) and our pre-decided bacon menu items right away. I really liked this set up, two floors (massive patios on both levels), cool decor (2nd floor "library" area), and amazing views with multiple light shows coming from BC Place across the water, and Science World to the east. Bacon Chips rocked my socks off. They really deliver on what they promise, chips made from large slices of meaty bacon. They were Uber crispy without greasiness. The PB & J Burger was another hit for me. Not a huge surprise since I LOVE all things peanut butter. It was nicely presented with well-seasoned crispy fries and a deep fried dill pickle on top. The salty, slightly smoky, rich peanut butter was a beautiful compliment to the beef burger and overall, there was great "flavour meshing" in this burger. The bacon flavour in the bacon jelly was definitely not a stand out, so while we all seemed to really enjoy this burger, there were rumblings amongst our crew that it wasn't a true bacon-focused item. I actually threw a bacon chip inside my burger and it took everything to a whole elevated baconized experience. TBJ wanted to order the Roasted Pork Belly Pizza with soft cooked eggs, caramelized onion, and smoked mozzarella $16. At first, I said we shouldn't do it and that we should stick to the itinerary for the night and pre-arranged menu items only. But then, I loosened up and said, "go for it!" Unfortunately, this pizza was a HUGE disappointment. Super bland, completely muted and boring, no salty goodness, and texture-wise soggy in the middle. 

The Bad JewSo excited about this stop.  Beautiful new gastro pub in the Athlete Village on the south side of False Creek.  Amazing views of the renovated BC Place Stadium across the water.  But screw the view – this place had two bacon dishes we were set to try.  First off the Bacon Chips.  Hello - chips & bacon – both salty and crunchy goodness.  Why have I never had this before?  The Bacon Chips were crispy 2 inch long strips of bacon.  Thick slices done to just about burnt, but not quite.  Usually I don’t like my bacon this crispy.  But it was perfect for the concept – anything less crispy would have not been chippy enough.  There was a wonderful house made curry ketchup that accompanied the Bacon Chips –delicious and toned down the hard crisp flavour of the chips.  Top marks for inventiveness and concept – but I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to have these again – I’d just order a side of bacon.
The next item – Peanut Butter and Bacon Jam Hamburger sounds crazy, right?  Don’t knock it until you try it.  Peanut butter on burgers sounds odd but tastes great.  Add in bacon jam – now you’re talking.  There was loads of peanut butter flavour – the bacon flavour in the jam was overwhelmed.  I think it added to the mouthfeel of the burger by counter-balancing the stickiness of the peanut butter.  Simple solution to this – order the item with a few strips of bacon (there really should be an such an option on the menu).  Mmmmm, Bacon. Big shout out for the side of chipotle mayo that came with the burger for the fries!  Very flavourful and had a noticeable heat which I found mild but would suspect be considered hot by others.  Basically, it formed a warm blanket for my tongue on a coldish wet night.  Nice work.  Now beat it – you’re not Bacon. After a furious debate as to whether pork belly qualifies as bacon, we debased ourselves and ordered a third item at this stop – the Pork Belly Pizza with caramelized onions and a fried egg atop.  We really shouldn’t have lowered our standards.  The pizza was overly bready and frankly bland (which I’m sure the egg had something to do with).  I didn’t get much pork flavour.  It looked beautiful, but was boring.  Not worth eating a second piece.  Should we be surprised?  No.  Because it’s not Bacon.

The Leggy Redhead: PB & J Burger- I was scared to try this burger...Peanut Butter & jam on a burger seemed too weird. But a pleasant surprise and delicious burger. MMM. Velvety and soft peanut butter. Pickles and peanut butter definitely over-power the bacon jelly. You don't really get much bacon with this burger. Would be perfect if you added a side of bacon!  Pork Belly Pizza- A great-looking (and smelling) pizza that was shockingly bland. All flavours that should've been there were all muted and melded in a bland wasteland. Couldn't even taste the caramelized onion.  Puzzling! Bacon Chips? -- Lovely!  Not something I would want everyday, but really tasty treat to share.  Great curry ketchup pairing!

O-M-G, A-M-G: Bacon chips: my initial reaction to these delicious hits of porky goodness was that I wanted them to be a bit more chewy - as MM aptly pointed out - just like I like my bacon: medium done. But in all fairness, these are as advertised - crispy  chips. I loved the dipping sauce - even if it was just dressed up ketchup (I don't actually know what it was, but it was likely in the relish family). This is truth in advertising, bacon loving people. PB &J Burger- OMG - I was SO excited to have two of my favourite things combined in the unlikeliest of vessels. While the PB more than delivered, our focus here was on the bacon, but, sadly the kitchen's was not:(it was a great burger, but just not a bacon-centric burger.  Bonus points for the deep fried pickle on top). Pork belly pizza: I got nothing... Sadly disappointing.
Lucky's exterior when I picked up the fritter in the am
The next Bacon item for consumption was a snack (as if we needed it) that I had picked up in the am. We ate in in my car (did I mention we're classy?)

Lucky's Doughnuts
Bacon Apple Fritter,  $3.50
Lucky's Doughnuts on Urbanspoon

Bacon Apple Fritter in the am
Lifebitesmm: Vancouver has definitely been swept up in the artisan doughnut craze. Doughnuts are hot and fresh right now. I would say Cartem's got the ball rolling, and Lucky's (located inside 49th Parallel on Main) is the newest kid on the block, getting a lot of love from locals and on the blog-o-sphere. The space itself is awesome, open and spacious, with friendly, prompt service and a drool-worthy doughnut case with delicious sounding (and looking) options like pistachio orange honey, salted caramel, mango, lemon bismark and....Bacon Apple Fritter. Loved it. This is a firmer, more cake-like doughnut with generous amount of small bits of bacon. The exterior was a touch chewy and had a slight crunch. The apple and bacon flavours worked well together, but for me were slightly too subtle. I would've loved a slightly bigger flavour and more dynamic sweet/salty hit. A delicious doughnut.

Bacon Apple Fritter by night....
The Bad Jew: Good lord!  An apple fritter topped with big chunks of bacon all covered in a sweet clear glaze!  I’ve got a donut boner! Best item of the night. The bacon was done just right, an awesome crispiness with big chucks of real bacon providing plenty of chew factor.  The glaze was outstanding – sticky but not gooey.  Flavorful and sweet but not too sugary. More please.  We ate this in the car before the last stop and I was worried with the windows fogging up from our groans of delight that passersby would think we were all making out.  Move it along people – it’s merely us eating a donut (ha ha – if they only knew).

The Leggy Redhead: Nice quality in their tiny bacon chunks, would've loved a slightly softer texture, competes with the Bacon Sticky Bun from Cadeaux Bakery, all around salty/sweet flavour perfection (Shout out: Also LOVES Lucky's Coconut Cream Pie doughnut)

O-M-G, A-M-G: This was surprisingly light - not too doughy or cloying. And with the perfect amount of salty sweetness (I love maple syrup on my bacon). A delicious interlude.

The last stop on Bacon Quest was the Rumpus Room on Main Street for some drinks and 
Sh-BANG! Tempura battered bacon and avocado served with house aioli and hot sauce $9

Rumpus Room on Urbanspoon

Lifebitesmm: I've been wanting to try the Rumpus Room since it opened. This cozy place has been getting a good rep for it's retro comfort food-focused menu, board games at every table, quirky and kitchsy decor (pink flamingos, velvet paintings, beat-up sunken couches, vintage water skis and tennis rackets). Walking in on a Friday at 10:30, the place was packed. But an amazingly friendly and instantly like-able server made sure that we didn't leave and encouraged us to wait inside for 15 minutes assuring us that he'd get us a table. He really was attentive and kept checking in with us to make sure we were okay until a table did open up. Make no mistake, this is a hipster den, but the staff are all super-friendly, energetic, and enthusiastic. We played a rousing game of Head Bandz and put in our order for drinks and Sh-Bang!  This dish had some bites that were gluttonous perfection- crispy bacon with a thin crispy fried tempura crunch. Others were a bit over-battered and not so great. Deep fried avocado was not impressive. The creamy avocado wrapped in tempura was an interesting texture, but the flavour was quite bland. I did really enjoy one of the dips which tasted like a sriracha bbq sauce.

The Bad Jew: So two guilty pleasures were smashed together by the Rumpus Room – tempura and bacon.  While I love the taste of each individually, the two combined turned out to be grease overload.  The salty meat grease of bacon does not pair well with the light bready grease of tempura.  The sha-bang was super crunchy while drowning.  And the avocado that comes with this dish was similarly battered and deep fried – not a good way to prepare such a delicate, dense and oily fruit.  I did like the spicy bbq sauce that came with the dish – it provided a nice burn.  A terrible ending to a great night.  Please stop doing this to Bacon – have some respect.

The Leggy Redhead: To be honest, sounded better than it tasted.  Could have been bacon over-load at that point (last thing we tried), but not wow' d.  Loved the eclectic establishment though.  I'll be back!

O-M-G, A-M-G: Sh-bang! (deep fried bacon and avocado with hot BBQ sauce & mayo) at the Terrarium. I mean the Rumpus Room: Most of the pieces were lightly battered and delicious; some a little heavy handed. I'm surprised how much I enjoyed the bacon dipped in mayo - YUM - more fat, please!! The avocado was gratuitous (can you say flavourless without the overbearing BBQ sauce?), but the bacon would fulfill any bacon lover's need... 

***This was a fun evening of greasy gluttony with amazing, enthusiastic, food-loving friends . But I will openly admit, as someone who doesn't eat a lot of high-fat, greasy meats on a daily basis, this evening took a toll on my body. As we neared mid-night, the effects of all the bacon were starting to hit me. Fatigue. Greasy mouth-feel. Sluggish. Meat sweats. But I was determined to finish the Bacon Quest. The Sh-BANG! definitely put me over the edge since I would say it was the most over-the-top eat of the night. The next day, I definitely had a bacon hangover and it wasn't pretty. Would I do it again? Definitely- but I'd throw in some sort of veggie chaser after every dish to balance out the all of the bacon. 

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