American columnist Doug Larson once said “Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if everything smelled as good as bacon.” No longer just an accompaniment to eggs and toast, the protein is showing up in various incarnations, from braised pork belly to English-style rashers, to bacon jam (even bacon-flavoured mayonnaise and bacon salt is becoming a staple). Below is a look at how three chef teams are bringing home the bacon.
Stephen Pynn, Toronto
At the Toronto-based Bannock restaurant, Stephen Pynn, chef de cuisine, whips up a spicy bacon jam that serves as the foundation for his grilled cheese with house bacon and crisp apple ($15). To make the jam, he combines bacon, chorizo, onions, garlic, maple syrup, coffee and Szechuan peppercorns, then adds house-made brioche, provolone, brie and crisp apple before putting the sandwich together and slicing it ($15). “The coffee intensifies the bacon flavour and gives more depth to the jam. The chorizo [adds] a little texture and spice, and the peppercorns [add] subtle flavour and tongue-numbing quality,” he explains. “Overall, the flavour is smoky, sweet and savoury, and mildly spiced — delicious. The sandwich is a classic, and we haven’t gone too far from what people think a grilled cheese should be,” adds Pynn.
Jeff Zipp, Vancouver
At The Mill Marine Bistro in Vancouver, patio-goers can order multiple variations of the Caesar. Its Albertan Caesar ($10) features whisky as a base and imparts savoury flavours similar to a steak; it feeds the appetite with a thick slice of bacon as a garnish. “We start with a steak-spice-rimmed pint glass and add vodka, Jack Daniels and barbecue sauce to our signature house mix of Caesar spices and Mott’s Clamato. The bacon garnish is the best part. It has great colour and flavour on its own and tastes even better after marinating in the juices of the Caesar,” explains Jeff Zipp, assistant GM. “People get really excited about the idea of mixing bacon with alcohol,” he adds. “It’s like a marriage of two really indulgent things you get to have at the same time.”
Richard Mulley, Toronto
In another twist, take the classic bacon sandwich and add a British/Irish influence, and you’ve got the Full Monty sandwich, made at Toronto’s Rashers restaurant. “Typically North American bacon is taken from the belly of the pig, and peameal style bacon is taken from the back of the pig, and the British/Irish-style of bacon, we call ‘the Rasher,’ is a combination of both, and it’s smoked in a similar way as strip [bacon] is in North America,” says Richard Mulley, co-owner. The Full Monty ($7.04) is topped with a fried egg, served with thick home-sliced rasher bacon, juicy fried tomatoes and seasoned mushrooms with a choice of homemade brown sauce or ketchup, all on a white hamburger bun. “A lot of the taste comes from the fat,” explains Mulley. “So, you get the fat part of the strip bacon, you get that flavour profile there, but it has that meatier, round bit that you would find on peameal bacon, so it’s the best of both worlds.”
Comfort food has staying power. Montreal-based Schwartz’s deli has been serving its signature smoked-meat sandwiches since 1928, when Reuben Schwartz, a Jewish immigrant from Romania, founded the sit-down deli concept on Saint-Laurent Boulevard. Since then, Schwartz’s has become a can’t-miss spot for tourists and lunchers, and it recently earned celebrity cred when Celine Dion became part-owner, and its products began selling in grocery stores.
So, what’s the secret to attracting droves of diners? Frank Silva, long-time GM, explains the food’s simple appeal, by recalling a recent charity event where the team was serving sandwiches. “There were shrimp and oysters around the area, but everyone was lining up [at our booth] for a piece of smoked meat,” he laughs. “It’s a very simple meal, and it just tastes wonderful. And, it’s been around for so long, and it hasn’t changed. We offer exactly the same thing we had in 1928.” Starting with brisket from Amga foods, the meat is marinated in a secret blend of spices for 10 days. The result is a classic smoked-meat sandwich ($6.65) with the choice of lean, medium or fat meat, piled high on rye bread with yellow mustard and served with sides such as pickles ($1.95), coleslaw ($2.75) and fresh, homemade french fries ($2.95).
The restaurant is run by a brigade of 50 employees who take turns serving up to 1,000 customers a day in a 60-seat location. It’s the steady volume that’s allowed Silva to keep his prices low as well as cutting out the middleman by buying directly from suppliers. “It’s been a tough year in Montreal, because of the bad press we’ve had with strikes and politics, and it’s been pretty negative for a lot of businesses in Montreal,” he says. “But, not Schwartz’s — we’re up.”