What's a great way to warm up on a cold, blustery New York day? Take some shots of bourbon with a side of bacon! That's what I did on Saturday at the first annual Beer, Bourbon and BBQ Festival at La Venue.
Granted, I know not much about bourbon, whiskey and the like, so I can't comment too much on that, but I do know a thing or two about food, especially barbecue and bacon. There were plenty of vendors in attendance for this festival, yet I think it was geared more towards the drinking than the eating. There was definitely more alcohol than anything else, which normally isn't a problem for me, but I got pretty sick this past week so I was on antibiotics and couldn't drink much, but my friend Hal was there to sample most of the alcohol on hand. Good pal.You can check out his site for some reviews as well.
In terms of the food, there were some standouts that I really enjoyed, then there were others that were just OK. I was handed a piece of bacon upon entering, so that was a good way to set the tone for the event. My favorites were Georgia's Eastside BBQ, Gerb's Pumpkin Seeds, Todd's Dirt, Hill Country, Southern Hospitality, The Meat Hook, and Loveless Cafe's Famous Piggy Popcorn. Yum. There was one mega disappointment on my end: I couldn't get to Dinosaur Bar-B-Que. The line was insane and I have no patience. BBQ Fail. I'm sure it was good though, because we went back twice and the line didn't die down.
Nashville's own Loveless Cafe made my popcorn dreams come true: they mixed it with bacon. Actually, it's more than that. It's caramel-candied popcorn that is popped in pure bacon grease (!!!!), then covered in caramel sauce and studded with bits of their own hickory-smoked country cured bacon. I went back for seconds, and I'm not even kidding when I say I would have taken home a truckload of that stuff. I would eat it off of a shoe. It had that amazing salty/sweet combination that kept me (and many others) going back for more. I loved it. LOVED THE LOVELESS.
Next on my faves list was The Meat Hook's bacon sausage from Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It tasted like breakfast, rolled up into a sausage…if that makes sense. It had that smoky and sweet bacon taste, but mixed with sausage. I don't know how to describe it other than "it was delicious." And in retrospect, that's really all you need to know. This is also coming from a place that makes bacon cheeseburger sausage, so…trust the Hook.
One good way to lure me in to any vendor booth (or random party): put out a bowl of pretzels with assorted dips. This was what drew me to Todd's Dirt. Specialty barbecue seasonings in three flavors mixed with sour cream and cream cheese made for some outstanding dips. There was Original Dirt, Crabby Dirt, and Bayou Dirt. Original Dirt is made of 14 spices for all kinds of meat, vegetables and more, Crabby Dirt is made of 20 spices for all of your seafood needs, and Bayou Dirt is made of 16 spices in a Creole/Cajun style perfect for all sorts of cooking.
Call me crazy, but I really like Southern Hospitality's pulled pork sliders. I do. The meat is always tender and seasoned well with a good amount of sauce, the coleslaw is crunchy, and the little potato buns were nice and warm. Their line was pretty long too for most of the day, so I assume a lot of people felt the same way. Only downside in my opinion was that they didn't have any of their fried pickles on hand. BOOOO! If you haven't tried fried pickles yet, I suggest you get on that. Some people think it's gross, but those people are stupid. End of conversation.
To balance out all the saltiness of the 6 different kinds of bacon I tried (regular, applewood smoked, bayou bacon, peppered bacon, duck bacon, maple bacon), I needed something sweet. How about creamy and sweet, followed by crunchy and sweet? Sold. Georgias Eastside BBQ was serving up little cups of banana pudding, which is probably one of my favorite things ever. I love bananas. And I love pudding. This was probably the best one I've had next to Buttercup Bake Shop; it was creamy, sweet, and had a lot of Nilla wafer cookies in it. And did you really expect me to go this whole time without finding SOMETHING chocolate?? Gerb's Pumpkin Seeds to the rescue! Yes, they make all kinds of spiced pumpkin seeds (lightly salted, onion and garlic, etc), but they also make dark chocolate covered pumpkin seeds, which tasted like little morsels of chocolate heaven. I think the ratio of chocolate to pumpkin seeds was about 80/20, but um, who cares? The more chocolate the better. I had to buy a box for the road.
I certainly enjoyed the Beer, Bourbon and BBQ Festival, and I'm actually kind of thankful I didn't drink too much; some of that whiskey and bourbon was so strong, it would have deadened my taste buds for sure. Can't have that. How can I sample pulled pork, bacon, and popcorn cooked in bacon fat if I can't even taste it? That's like…a sin. I would have enjoyed this festival even more if it wasn't so damn crowded though. There were way too many people in there – I had to throw elbows just to get some bacon. What can I say? I'm passionate about these things…