Pig bellies and wood sheep2/11/2015
Bacon Fest 2015 belly-upped with drama. This year’s event, at the Iowa Events Center for the first time, nearly doubled in size. Shorter lines to buy food and beverages pleased customers, but many vendors said sales were down considerably despite the larger crowd. Twenty-five portable bathrooms filled an entire hallway, reducing more lines while seriously disturbing the aesthetics of the building. Did the architects not include enough bathrooms to accommodate events that are not even sold out?
Jones Dairy Farm won the best bacon trophy for its cherry wood-smoked, dry-cured product, made from smaller than usual bellies. Des Moines Bacon Company finished second with its apple wood-smoked bacon, and Berger’s Smokehouse took the bronze. Jethro’s bacon-wrapped ribs won gold in the savory category. Big City Burgers and Greens’ bacon-wrapped pork wings, Formaro’s bacon tater tots and Bob’s BBQ Emporium’s drunken pork belly were the runners-up. The sweet awards went to Al Dente Toffee for its maple bacon toffee, Honey Badger Barbeque’s farmland maple bacon donut, Chocolate Storybook’s spicy dark black mamba bacon and Local Yocals’ bacon and cheesecake.
That added up to a big day for Jethro’s. Not only did that company win the savory category, but it is the only local purveyor of Jones Dairy Farm bacon. In fact, it’s the second-largest customer in America for that 126-year-old company in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. Jones is most famous for its sausage, which is made from shoulders, butts and loins rather than trimmings. That and its Canadian bacon are sold at local Hy-Vee, Super Target and Costco, but only Jethro’s sells its smoked bacon.
The latest Jethro’s, on 22nd Street in West Des Moines, is responsible for most of that consumption. The store moved five tons of bacon in its first two months last fall. Fully titled Jethro’s BBQ & Bacon Bacon, the restaurant hires employees strictly to slice bellies into bacon strips. The store remodeled the former Hooter’s, and that experience convinced the company to never again remodel. It’s usually cheaper to build from scratch, but this was an historic building to the mindset of the Jethro’s demographic – Iowa’s first “breastaurant” (yes that’s a real industry term) and one of the few Hooter’s that ever went belly up.
In addition to much of Jethro’s usual super-sized menu of brisket, ribs, pork shoulder and chicken, with house-made sauces of every regional style, the new store offers its award-winning version of smoked pork belly in extreme manners. Potato bacon soup ($5), which replaces gumbo on this menu, was hearty by any standard. Bacon buckets ($9) were subtle by no standard whatsoever, delivering 10 slices of bacon stacked high. The blue ribbon winning bacon wrapped ribs ($11) were offered, too, with a Bourbon glaze. Bacon steak sandwiches ($11 and up) offered Hollandaise sauce on a hoagie.
Of course, bacon is included in most forms of breakfast, which is available whenever the restaurant is open. These include four egg omelets, triple bacon eggs Benedict, bacon hash, bacon banana peanut butter pancakes, tater tot skillets and bacon and eggs. Bacon burgers come in many sizes — none small — and BLTs come with salmon. Wraps were made with chicken wings and bacon.
Side Dishes: The Chinese Year of the Wood Sheep begins just before midnight on Feb. 18. Such years are considered to be the gentlest, most peaceful and compassionate of all in Chinese astrology. That can’t start soon enough, eh? The Chinese Association of Iowa will celebrate at Merrill Middle School on Feb. 21, from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has determined to pass San Francisco as the nation’s largest celebration of Chinese New Year with a two-week festival that has every major Chicago cultural organization participating this year. CV
Jethro’s BBQ & Bacon Bacon
1480 22nd St., West Des Moines, 868-0888
Sun. – Thurs. 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., Fri. – Sat 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Jim Duncan is a freelance writer who has penned nine different columns for Cityview and its sister publications beginning in 1987.