The best food events, in my opinion, are the ones that focus on a limited number of foods and therefore force them to be their very best. A limited scope of ingredients can still prove an incredible range. For the most part, that was the outcome of City Paper’s Bacon and Bourbon Festival, showcasing pork as savory, sweet, salty, and saltier.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t obvious standouts that were far and away outshining their fellow businesses– The Pig’s fried pork cheek served with pumpkin mustard was easily the tastiest thing served. 1905’s pork belly was a very, very close second, and was served with a bourbon salt, yielding looks of wonder and amazement at how good a few bites of something so simple could truly be. As for sweet, GBD Doughnuts’s bacon maple donut was the perfect balance of sweet and savory, neither flavor profile overwhelming the other. And that’s what truly set these dishes apart from the rest– the simplest dishes were the ones that celebrated the protein of the night most elegantly by refusing to overpower them with complex flavors. It’s hard to remember that this wasn’t a competition.
The bourbon portion of the night can’t be neglected. As far as diversity in the variety of drinks, ryes and whiskeys alike were well represented. Catoctin Creek’s stunningly smooth roundstone rye held its own quite nicely. High West and Bulliet made strong showings with whiskeys that are typically showcased in mixed drinks but proved to be just as good, if not better, neat. However the bourbon selection was lacking in range due to the absence of higher-end, more sought after whiskeys; the ones that most drinkers know of, but haven’t been able to sample just yet. Some Angel’s Envy or even Pappy van Winkle would have been welcomed additions to the already decadent, gluttonous affair.
It’s difficult to gripe about events like this, simply because events like this exist. The showing of both bacon and bourbon was a strong showing for small, local restaurants and distilleries, giving them the opportunity to share a stage with their competitors. When the district invests in events such as this one simply by attending, it’s also investing in even better versions of the event for years to come.