UNIVERSITY VILLAGE — For Mario Minelli, owner of the Chop Shop in Wicker Park, there's no question about the importance that bacon holds in Chicago.
"It's the Cubs. It's the Bulls. It's the bacon," Minelli said. "Bacon is a signature landmark of the city."
Minelli represented his new restaurant and butcher shop for the first time at Baconfest, an annual celebration in which hundreds profess their love for cured pork, and perhaps lose part of their hearts to it in the process of sampling food and drink from dozens of area businesses.
Now in its sixth year, the event benefiting the Greater Chicago Food Depository has proven to be a place where Chicago's restaurants can show off what they can do with the beloved meat.
"This is amazing. We hear about these other restaurants, but it's a great opportunity to see what they are all in doing this place," said Sofia Zabaznova, an Uptown resident and server at Wicker Park's Fifty/50. "We've been trading food."
This weekend's event at UIC Forum featured some inventive treatments of bacon, including a bacon-poached sweet potato tartlet with bacon jam from River North's Zed451 and the bacon ice cream floats from Wicker Park's Lillie's Q, which returns to Baconfest this year, after missing it due to a fire in its restaurant last year.
"A good mix of flavor, salty and sweet," said Robert Bruce, a 53-year-old from the northwest suburbs, reviewing the bacon ice cream float.
West Rogers Park restaurant Rub's Backcountry Smokehouse came to its first Baconfest with the "Napoleon Dynamite," which pairs cherries with smoked pork sausage wrapped in, of course, bacon.
"It's nice to be here for the first time and see all of these people enthusiastic about bacon and food," said owner Jared Leonard.
Love of bacon was shown in other ways as well. Lee Salisbury and Meng Yang of the Ukrainian Village-based design firm UnitOneNine were selling baseball- and pig-themed T-shirts geared toward fans of the Cubs (Chubs) and White Sox (Ham Hox).
"There will be a Blackhogs one too," Salisbury said. "People here have asked for it."
For more neighborhood news, listen to DNAinfo Radio here: