Something’s Sizzling in Macon
The city’s love affair with bacon is going strong.
By Lisa Pritchard Mayfield
Photography by Christopher Smith
Bacon. It’s one of the few foods that’s both salty and sweet, all at the same time. Practically all protein and fat, and one of life’s greatest guilty pleasures, bacon’s popularity is far from abating. In fact, here in the midstate, the pork product is sizzling hot.
Maybe one of the indicators of bacon’s recent surge in popularity was our city’s selection of a tasty moniker for our new baseball team. In its inaugural 2018 season, the Macon Bacon were successful enough to earn a spot in the playoffs.
Fans of the team sported hats, T-shirts and other gear featuring strips of sizzling pork while they cheered on the players and team mascot, Kevin Bacon.With 24 home games scheduled between June and August, the 2019 season should be just as hot.
Outside the ball park and inside area kitchens, Macon’s love affair with bacon is going strong, too.
Candied Pepper Bacon
This is so easy – and delicious!
Fruit pepper jelly, such as Wisham’s Blueberry or Blackberry Jalapeno Jelly
Place bacon in a bowl with fruit pepper jelly. Toss it all together to coat. Spread the bacon out on a sheet of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Spoon any extra pepper jelly onto the slices, then cover with another sheet of parchment paper and another cookie sheet to keep the slices from rolling up.
Bake in a 325-degree oven for 15 minutes. Remove top sheet and parchment paper, and finish for another 5 minutes in the oven. Enjoy!
“We are in the South, everyone loves bacon,” said Natasha Phillips, owner of Fountain of Juice, a local eatery. “And honestly, there is not much you can’t add bacon to.”
At FOJ, candied bacon is one of the hottest items on the menu.
“Our candied bacon skewers just blow people’s minds,” Phillips said. “Sweet bacon on a stick – it brings joy to the world!”
FOJ also adds candied bacon to its Caesar salad and often pairs it with pimiento cheese. Another great Southern classic, the BLT, is taken a step further at FOJ.
“We use candied bacon and add avocado on our wonderful ciabatta roll with ancho aioli,” she said. “It’s so good!”
At downtown Macon’s Piedmont Brewery and Kitchen, bacon is a big part of the Sunday brunch menu.
“While we serve bacon with just about anything on a daily basis, it is our house-cured, pork-belly pastrami that people really love,” said Brian Whitley, co-owner. “Most folks don’t realize that pork belly is actually the cut of meat that gives us bacon.”
Piedmont takes a large pork belly and cures it for five to six days before slow smoking it at 225 degrees for 10-12 hours, according to Whitley.
“We then slice it thick – at this point, it truly looks like bacon – and pile it high on all types of sandwiches,” he said. “So, while this is not necessarily bacon, it is 100 percent bacon in disguise. And it also fits with our game plan at Piedmont, which is offering unique twists on classic pub foods.”
Braised Pork Belly
Get crazy in how you use this. It can go out as an appetizer, served with a blackberry jalapeno jelly, or it can be the main dish, served with greens on the side. Try shredding it and using in some unbelievable tacos or pastas. Chunks can be frozen and used later to make flavorful greens or black-eyed peas.
1/3 portion (about 4 pounds) pork belly
Beautiful Briny Sea Magic Unicorn Salt
Braising liquid (wine, apple juice, beer – even a mix of bourbon and water works well)
Trim the skin off the pork belly, if necessary. Cut into 2-by-2-inch chunks and rub with Unicorn Salt. Let sit in a zip-top bag overnight.
In the morning, take it out and allow it to reach room temperature. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees and put the pork into an oven-safe pot with lid. Cook for about 30-45 minutes, fat side up, then pull out and add the braising liquid. Pour in enough of the braising liquid to come halfway up the pieces.
Drop oven temperature to 200 degrees and put pot back in. Cook for another 4-6 hours or more, as needed.
A few blocks down on Cherry Street, bacon assumes a starring role in many of The Rookery’s featured menu items, particularly the burgers and sandwiches for which the popular restaurant is known.
“We cook about 50 pounds of bacon every day,” said Matthew Newton, general manager of The Rookery. “We double it, crumble it, crisp it and stack it,” he said.
Among the favorites there are Betsy’s Grilled Pimento Cheese Sandwich.
“Betsy Griffith, who owns The Rookery with her husband, Wes Griffith, has put her signature pimento cheese on our menu,” Newton said. “We’re a little biased, but her pimento cheese is the best in town and is only made better with the addition of applewood–smoked bacon.”
Both the Jimmy Carter Burger and the Jimmy Carter Shake feature bacon.
“Our 39th president was a peanut farmer from Georgia, and the inspiration for this combo,” Newton said. “We wanted something special that really set our menu apart. Anyone can claim they do a better burger, but we do it better here in Georgia with peanut butter and bacon.”
Upstairs from The Rookery, the burger at Dovetail is remarkable, and an unexpected addition to the menu at this fine dining establishment. Processed in-house and made of sirloin and finer cuts of beef, it includes locally-sourced bacon.
A newcomer to downtown, but not to Macon, is Famous Mike’s. What started out in a small gas station on the edge of the county is now located in the midst of the burgeoning Poplar Street business district, “an exciting and wonderful opportunity for Famous Mike’s,” said general manager Barbara Holland.
Once able to seat only 18 customers, the new location accommodates 50 diners and offers home cooking, hot sandwiches and great burgers, Holland said. Now serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, Famous Mike’s menu offers a generous helping of that most famous strip of pork.
“Each menu item that features bacon offers an abundance of it,” Holland said. Burgers named for Allman Brothers Band members include the Dickey Betts – a blackened burger with bacon, grilled onions, mushrooms, blue cheese and Swiss cheese; the Duane – a double burger with bacon and cheese; and the Gregg – a single with bacon and cheese.
Make Your Own Bacon
Try making your own – research the various salts available and experiment.
1/3 portion (about 4 pounds) pork belly
Salt mixture; consider trying pink curing salt
Rub your favorite salt mixture into the pork belly. Let it sit in a large zip-top bag in the refrigerator for 8-10 days, tossing it around daily to make sure the rub gets into the meat. (You will see a good bit of liquid accumulate in the bag as it’s pulled from the meat.)
After 8-10 days, take it out, rinse thoroughly and let come to room temperature. Put the slab on a 215-degree smoker for about 3 hours, making sure the meat reaches 150 degrees internal temperature. Remove from smoker and refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
Slice the cold slab to desired thickness, then fry it up!
At Village Marketplace on Ingleside Avenue, owner Brendan Rowley said it’s difficult to keep bacon in stock. Maybe that’s because the bacon he sells is from Rocking Chair Ranch, just to the north in Forsyth.
“The bacon from RCR is definitely one of my best-selling products,” Rowley said. “I try to keep it in stock at all times, but that’s been a little difficult lately. People love the texture of the meat.”
Bacon from Rocking Chair Ranch is a little bit more firm than the typical “big farm product,” Rowley explained. “You can look at each pack and see how meaty or how fatty it is, and go with your preference.”
Rocking Chair Ranch, known for its beef, doesn’t raise the hogs from which its bacon is made; they get them from a like-minded farmer. Plans are under way, however, for Rocking Chair Ranch to begin processing hogs themselves in late 2019.
Rowley even makes his own bacon and braised pork belly from fresh meat, and shared his recipes with us. No matter how you fry it, you can’t deny it – bacon has moved beyond the breakfast table.