Andrew Motta first fries up a ground bacon patty, tops it with bacon strips, and tops that off with Canadian peameal bacon. "We’re not done yet," he warns, as he piles on chipotle pulled pork and, to top it all off, a bun embedded with bacon bits.
"Because this is a sandwich you just don’t eat, you actually conquer, you get the bacon flag," Motta explains, puncturing The Notorious P.I.G. burger with a tiny paper flag promoting his new Toronto restaurant, Bacon Nation.
After downing the burger, customer Marcel Tualla concludes, "It was heaven."
Tualla was a vegetarian for 10 years, but he always missed bacon: "the saltiness, the texture, the fattiness." So he’s returned to the processed pork treat he can’t resist.
In an era when processed and fatty meats are vilified by health experts, and vegetarianism has gone mainstream, somehow, bacon is back — in dishes bolder and badder than ever before. It can be found sprinkled on donuts, baked in butter tarts, and slathered with Nutella and cream cheese in a sandwich.
That last dish — the Nutella Bacon Relapse — is another menu item at Bacon Nation, where every dish includes bacon — from tacos to cheesecake.
Motta and his brother and business partner Dan started their bacon creations two years ago at Toronto’s Canadian National Exhibition. They either repulsed or delighted crowds with crazy concoctions such as the bacon-wrapped deep-fried Mars bar and a NutellaBBBLT.
Sensing a bevy of bacon lovers, the brothers decided to quit their jobs and serve it full-time.
"We're here because of the demand. We're here because people actually asked for and wanted it,” said Motta. According to the market research company NPD Group, over thepast five years, Canadians have been increasing their bacon orders at restaurants.
According to NPD, orders rose six per cent last year alone. The research led the group to conclude: “When bacon is included in the meal, Canadians have a higher level of satisfaction and feel more valued.”
Motta said bacon has always had a cult-like following, describing it as “the meat candy of the meat world.” But he said it’s sizzling now thanks to food connoisseurs who discovered that it can enhance just about any dish.
“The foodies got a hold of it and started throwing it on everything," Motta said. "It just took off. I don’t know if it’s the saltiness, the savouriness of it, but it makes everything taste that much better."
"It’s such a weird combination but it works so well," said customer Keenan Horne after digesting his Nutella Bacon Relapse. "It’s almost like breakfast and dessert at the same time."
Bacon Nation is just the latest bacon-themed restaurant. It comes on the heels of Canadian Bacon Eatery which opened in Oakville, Ont., earlier this year. In 2013, Canadian Bacon Cookhouse set up shop on Halifax’s waterfront.
Offerings include bacon lollipops — skewered bacon strips coated in chocolate.Bacon has such a hold on our hearts, it’s even celebrated at festivals across North America. The Leslieville Farmers' Market will host Baconfest III in Toronto on Aug. 17. It’s the busiest day for the market, attracting 2,500 people last year.
Registered dietitian Casey Berglund noticed bacon was wrapped around many foods at this year’s Calgary Stampede.
“It does seem to be true that bacon is coming back in many different forms,” she said. But she also noted that we’re not supposed to be eating it. Not only is it high in salt and fat, but “there have been some studies to suggest a link between processed meat and increased risk for certain types of cancer."
Andrew Motta said the peameal bacon is cut from a leaner part of the pig and, since it’s ground up in the patties, they’re leaner than a traditional beef burger. And the Bacon Nation brothers openly acknowledge they’re not serving dietitian meals.
Instead, the restaurant is there for people who need to cheat on their everyday diets once in a while, said Dan Motta. “Bacon’s a great vehicle for that.”
Berglund even admitted she has bacon on occasion, and knowing some cannot resist, she advises bacon lovers to eat it sparingly and savour every bite: “If you have to have it, share it with friends and really enjoy it.”