Bacon. Bourbon. Bliss.
by: Collin Clark
Two lines wound their way into Memminger Auditorium, and we chose the one that seemed to lead towards the smell of bacon and away from the cold. As it happened, our chosen line deposited us between the booths of King Street’s Kitchen 208 and Mount Pleasant’s Southerly Restaurant. From Kitchen 208, John Robertson was serving a dish reminiscent of the restaurant’s Cobblestone sandwich - a bacon waffle topped with local tomatoes, arugula, slightly deviled egg, and a garnish of candied bacon. Chad Billings of Southerly took a heavier approach with a bacon lollipop - savory pork belly with kimchi and radish over grits.
What would we have found had we chosen the other line? To the right, Chef Dan Doyle of Poogan’s Porch presented a bourbon-smoked pig broth with hominy, pickled sweet potato, and a seared sea scallop. Cru Cafe's “Cotton Candy Surprise” was opposite Poogan’s - the surprise was, of course, bacon. Event attendees might find themselves longing for a bacon finish to their cotton candy at the next county fair.
Luckily, both lines led to the same auditorium, and while Memminger's new event space is always in good form, bacon happened to be in the air on this particular evening. Truly, even the air was non-kosher. Looking up towards the black ceiling in the cavernous space, we could see the lights catching the wispy remnants of seared pork fat.
Bacon was certainly half of the theme, and there was plenty to sample. Ted's Butcher Block was on hand with Chef Brian Parkhurst serving sliders. Featuring a mix of pork and beef, these patties were fatty and delicious. A smoky piece of bacon and a dollop of special sauce served as condiments. John Ondo of Lana offered guests a gnocchi dish with braised pork belly and field peas in a smoked ham broth, and Cole Poolaw from Barsa played on breakfast-for-dinner with a buckwheat pancake, scrambled local farm eggs, and crispy ibérico, all drizzled with a very light sorghum syrup.
Salt delivered both sweet and savory with a maple-bacon glazed foie gras doughnut. Not satisfied with the fattiness of pork belly alone, Chef Laird Boles hollowed out a mini doughnut and filled it with a foie gras mousse. Next door, Justin Morris and the folks at the Bistro at 125 Calhoun delivered good old-fashioned Southern charm with braised pork belly over grits with a side of collards. Despite the bacon theme, dessert options were not lacking. Michael Karkut and Derek Lathan of Mount Pleasant’s Graze were scooping bacon ice cream with bourbon caramel sauce, and Southerly was slinging chocolate truffles rolled in bacon sugar.
What about the bourbon, you ask? VIP ticket holders were treated to a selection of rare and coveted bourbons such as those offered by Van Winkle family and Woodford Reserve. While food pairings comprised the outer circle of booths, the center of the room was home to a sea of spirits. Tuthilltown Spirits was sampling a selection of four Hudson’s bourbons and showcasing a very simple cocktail comprised of little more than bourbon and pressed apple cider. Nelson’s Green Brier was represented by Belle Meade Small Batch Bourbon - with just four barrels per batch, it surely lives up to its title. Additional distilleries such as Bulleit, Masterson’s, and Old Forester joined quite a few local players such as Virgil Kaine and High Wire as well. Striped Pig was on hand, and while they had no bourbon to offer, they were pouring a very delicious Moonshine Mule. Other local names from around the state included Firefly, Dark Corner, and Six & Twenty.
Are you not a fan of bourbon? Does a Moonshine Mule not appeal? Palmetto Brewing tapped two special kegs for the event. The first was a small batch version of their Espresso Porter, barrel aged and tasting especially of coffee. Also available was the Non Kosher Brau, a particularly smoky so-called stunt beer concocted from one of their year-round brews and - you guessed it - bacon.
Rachel Kate provided the soundtrack for the first half, taking the stage with her own brand of bluesy power-folk. Postmodern Jukebox took the stage for the second half, covering several well-known and mostly infamous pop songs from well-known and completely infamous pop singers. (For those of you suffering from an abundance of sleep and an unfortunate case of coulrophobia, be sure to check out their cover of Royals on YouTube.)
Entertainment continued off the stage. Prize cannons showered the crowd with confetti every so often, and cigar cabanas offered a smoky alternative to all the barrel aged spirits and pork fat produce. For the truly adventurous, there was even a mechanical bull available. Eat This chose to forgo the mechanical bull in light of all the bacon that had been consumed.
Bacon and Bourbon’s inaugural run was a sure success. The crowd loved it, and organizers did a fine job of putting together a lineup that could do justice to both headline flavors. Be on the lookout for the next Bacon and Bourbon.