Dining With Denise Neil

Inaugural Midwest Baconfest outstrips planners’ expectations (VIDEO)

Red Robin manager Monty Noggle and his staff feverishly blended bacon milkshakes for the masses at Saturday’s Midwest Baconfest.
Red Robin manager Monty Noggle and his staff feverishly blended bacon milkshakes for the masses at Saturday’s Midwest Baconfest. The Wichita Eagle

Bacon beer. Bacon pancakes. Bacon cupcakes.

Bacon burgers. Bacon tacos. Bacon milkshakes.

Bacon dip. Bacon balls. Bacon Bloody Marys.

A T-shirt in high demand at Saturday’s inaugural Midwest Baconfest, a celebration of the beloved pork product at Hartman Arena, summed it up best.

“ ‘That’s too much bacon,’ said no one ever,” it read.

The event, a concept that’s been successful in other cities, got off to a sizzling start in Wichita, too.

More than 2,500 people packed onto the floor of the Park City arena to sample bacon creations from 16 local restaurants, watch a bacon-eating contest, sample bacon beer and Bloody Marys and share a little bacon humor, mostly in the form of bacon-themed clothing.

Among them was Julie Wilson, who drove from Hutchinson to attend Baconfest. The T-shirt she wore, borrowed from her son’s closet, was made out of a fabric printed to look like layers of bacon strips.

“This is impressive,” she said while waiting in a long line to get a taste of a bacon-topped cupcake. “I’m very impressed by how many people are here.”

The crowd was even bigger than Hartman Arena officials thought it would be and was a bit overwhelming at times. People stood in lines 50 to 75 people deep for samples, and those traveling from line to line had to fight through a crowded floor of bacon-breath brethren.

Zac Clark, who said he loved the idea of Baconfest, was less than impressed with its execution.

“I love bacon,” he said. “But I don’t love congestion. There’s no flow, and there seems to be a lack of organization.”

Organizers are learning from the first year, said Aran Rush, executive director of Hartman Arena. They weren’t anticipating exactly how popular the event would be and will likely make adjustments at future Baconfests.

“We are making a list of changes for next year,” he said. “We will also be surveying everyone who came to get their input.”

At the Red Robin booth, Monty Noggle led a team of employees furiously blending bacon shakes flavored with maple syrup and caramel and dressed with a strip of crispy bacon.

“You never know how to prepare for one of these,” he said as a co-worker frantically scooped vanilla ice cream into a blender.

A panel of judges chose a decadent bacon and jalapeno-topped burger from Big Larry’s Burgers in Valley Center as the top bacon bite. Lou’s Charcuteria, which entered several bacon appetizers, was the runner-up.

Bobby Lane, an owner and head chef at Wink Hartman’s Chester’s Chophouse, was the organizer of the food competition at the event.

Bacon is universally loved and is an obvious food to fashion a festival around, he said.

“It’s very versatile, and it has a familiar, homey flavor and taste to people, I think,” he said. “There’s nothing better than waking up when you were a kid and the house smelled like bacon. Whether you’re 6 or 60, the same sensory things are kicking off in your head.”

Reach Denise Neil at 316-268-6327 or dneil@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @deniseneil.