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Why Bacon Still Has a Grip on Restaurants Everywhere

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Why Bacon Still Has a Grip on Restaurants Everywhere

“Specialty bacon dishes will always be a staple of good restaurant menus,” says chef Hari Nayak, who opened New York City Indian restaurant SONA in March 2021. Because of its popularity, bacon was an obvious choice for his brunch menu. Slices of thick-cut bacon get drenched in maple syrup and a blend of chiles and aromatic spices like roasted cumin, coriander, and fennel before being smoked in a high-heat charcoal oven. “It’s the best combination of sweet and spice,” Nayak says. About 30 portions of bacon go out each brunch service, typically as add-ons to breakfast sandwiches and eggs.

Some of the more gimmicky bacon items out there, however, have lost their luster. At Hypnotic Donuts in Dallas, owner Joshua Griffin regularly cooked about 45 pounds of bacon per week for doughnut toppings about six years ago. “Now we cook about 30 pounds,” he says. At Blue Dot Donuts in New Orleans, it’s the same story. Chef-owner Zachary Menicucci-Foster makes about a quarter of the sweet-savory bacon doughnuts he did 11 years ago, when they first landed on the menu. Part of that, he guesses, is due to bacon’s lower profile. In the 2010s, bacon “was more in the public eye,” he says.

By the late 2010s, ordering any novelty bacon dish felt kind of embarrassing—like accidentally wearing your Teenage Dirtbag tee on a coffee run or unironically writing “loves a Cronut” in your Hinge profile. Did people still eat bacon post-mania? Of course. But did they want to be seen scarfing a maple bacon sundae from Denny’s? Probably not. That’s in part because, when big brands jump on any trend, it can begin to feel icky and lose its “cool” status. Meat evangelism was also becoming culturally taboo, juxtaposed with increasingly urgent climate change.

Outrageous bacon creations are no longer blowing up on social media or inspiring entire news websites for pork enthusiasts, either (see: Bacon Today). Their demise offers proof that bacon has (mostly) grown out of its screamy teen phase. Though the sale of gimmicky bacon might have slowed over the years—at least outside of flashy, time-warp towns like Vegas—pared back dishes using quality cuts and interesting preparations have continued to thrive around the country, where bacon sales are stronger than ever.

At Elizabeth’s Restaurant in New Orleans, 90% of customers order a side of crunchy Praline Bacon with their meals. The bacon, coated in a caramelized dusting of pecans and sugar, has only become more popular since it hit the menu in 2000. “Just last Sunday, we sold 440 orders,” says chef-owner Bryon Peck. He concedes that Elizabeth’s might have benefited from “the maple bacon moment,” but doesn’t think his long-running dish is a fad. This kind of bacon “is part of America,” says Peck.

In 2014, Chicago beer garden Kaiser Tiger was renowned for its Whole Bomb—a five-pound spicy beef and pork meatloaf stuffed with pepper bacon, wrapped in a bacon weave, and slow-smoked for four hours. “It’s still popular as a sandwich but is rarely ordered whole anymore,” says owner Patrick Berger. Interest in the Bomb might have fizzled out, but the Bacon Board—featuring four different cuts of artisanal bacon, along with condiments and pickles—is by far the top appetizer now. “People love the fact that it’s just simple bacon goodness,” says Berger.

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