Pork’s best cut saw thousands flocking to Fraze Pavilion last Saturday to celebrate and enjoy the best salty, smoky, fatty, wonderful bacon laced dishes that restaurants and food trucks had to offer.
The decade-old event, Bacon Fest, celebrates dishes that put bacon on a pedestal thanks to culinary vision, preparation, skilled technique, quality ingredients and execution of incredible kitchen staff.
Not only were the robust crowds on hand helping judge the dishes, but so were a panel of judges, including this writer.
I had the opportunity to sample many impressive dishes over the course of the day, but one in particular stole my heart and my stomach.
Chef Bryan Ondre and a small but mighty team from Coco’s Bistro brought a smoked brisket sandwich that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Ondre took a brisket coated with a coffee rub he created and then smoked it for more than eight hours. The bacon for the bacon jam the sandwich was topped with was cooked in a large pan for three hours rendering the fat. Ondre then sauteed onions, shallots, and garlic, added the cooked bacon and then mixed it all together. He added brown sugar and maple syrup and bourbon and cooked it down. The coleslaw the sandwich was also crowned with was made with a medley of thinly sliced napa cabbage, bell peppers and red onion mixed with mayonnaise and red wine vinegar.
A thinly sliced housemade potato chip soaked overnight and fried the next day was tossed in a wonderful bacon-sriracha seasoning.
The dish was impressive with wonderful satisfying flavors that ran the gamut from light, crisp and refreshing to deep, moody and complex to meaty, savory and gratifying. Every bite and flavor satisfying. It was a dish that took me by surprise — the kind of creation you would expect to see at a sitdown restaurant, but not at an outdoor food festival with a deep simmering heat and lines of people looking to be fed.
It was the Critic’s Choice Dish for 2023.
“I knew I wanted to make a sandwich this year. I have really been loving smoking meat so I decided to smoke brisket. Then I made a bacon jam for the bacon element and also knew it would pair well with the smokey element. Then the creamy coleslaw acted as the acid and sauce of the dish … A lot of people said it was the best sandwich they have had in a long time,” said Ondre. “I had a great time (at Bacon Fest). I love cooking, hanging out, and mingling with everyone that shows up. I don’t think I will be doing any other events (this year) Bacon Fest is usually the only event I can get away from the restaurant to do … I would love to come back next year and try to come up with a new dish to do.”
Ondre has been working in the restaurant industry for two decades starting as a dishwasher when he was 16 at Pacchia in the Oregon District. He moved to Portland, Oregon in 2010 where he had the opportunity to work under Chef Tony Myers at Serratto becoming his lead line cook. He came back to Dayton in 2015 working under Chef Margot Blondet at Salar. Later he went to Tipp City and worked at Coldwater Cafe as sous chef and eventually found his way to his current position at Coco’s Bistro.
His culinary talent is not just clear in this case, but eating at Coco’s his mastery is on full display. If you haven’t been in a while it might be time to go. And if you’re lucky, you might just get to try this sandwich, which has been a featured special a few times since winning. Check Coco’s social media accounts to get hip to special dishes they are featuring each week.
Best dish, best dessert, most creative, most baconlicious and People’s Choice for “Best Damn Bacon” were also awarded at the Fraze Pavilion event.
Once again the People’s Choice Award was given to 1776 Grill for their simple, straightforward and unpretentious. bacon stuffed garlic toast grilled cheese that lived up to the festival’s motto — “everything is better with bacon.”
This is a delicious simplistic dish that always seems to draw a line across the festival grounds and is a crowd favorite. Three ingredients — bread, cheese and bacon that come together under an umbrella of comfort bathed in garlic and butter is a proven winner.
Best Dish from the judges was awarded to Rolling Indulgence food truck which offered up a complete bacon infused meal consisting of maple bacon parmesan sweet potato fries, steak cheddar and bacon burger and Oreo bacon blast milkshake shots if you were smart enough to purchase all three.
The award for most creative was given to “The Elvis” featuring a chocolate peanut butter brownie topped with a maple drizzle on a scoop of banana pudding ice cream topped with plentiful chunks of bacon.
Best Creative dish was awarded to Gourmet Grub Shack for the chicken bacon jalapeno popper quesadilla that married a traditional quesadilla with a cheesy spicy jalapeno popper.
The most baconlicious dish came courtesy of smoking inferno with wonderful crispy sweet savory strips of smoked brown sugar bacon.
“Bacon is a universal dish and ingredient that brings people together,” said Amy Zahora, President of the Miami Valley Restaurant Association (MVRA) who said at the time she believed the crowds matched last year.
The event was cooking under the hot summer sun which didn’t seem to dissuade much of anyone.
It’s bacon, and for anyone who loves it, the crowds were no surprise.
DAYTON EATS runs Sundays in the Life & Arts section of the Dayton Daily News and features the latest on menu updates, special dinners and events, new chefs, interesting new dishes, and food adventures. Contact Contributing Writer Alexis Larsen at email@example.com.