Better with bacon

Ask for opinions about the quintessential American food, and you’ll likely get answers including burgers, apple pie and barbecue. For my money, though, there is no ingredient more American than bacon — it’s versatile, indulgent and increasingly ubiquitous, which is why it makes sense that it is the centerpiece of a new grab-and-go restaurant debuting at The James Chicago this summer.

Burke’s Bacon Bar is the brainchild of chef David Burke — who also has David Burke’s Primehouse at The James Chicago — and Rick Gresh, executive chef at Primehouse. Focusing on lunch, dinner and late-night dining for both hotel guests and the surrounding downtown area, Bacon Bar will serve a menu centered on “handwiches,” smaller sandwiches that can fit in one hand inspired by Burke’s visits to diners on the Jersey Shore and with a menu price around US$4. Most important, each handwich will feature some form of bacon — albeit bacon somewhat broadly defined.

Burke and Gresh recently gave me a sneak preview of the Bacon Bar space and menu, and I sampled a handwich on a steamed bun with Peking duck, hoisin sauce, cucumber, greens and Lap Cheong — Chinese sausage — providing the “bacon” element.

It’s an intriguing concept — and one that plays to the casualization of dining in addition to consumer demand for variety and convenience. Not surprisingly, Burke is confident about the outlet’s success — and already brimming with quirky offshoot ideas, such as a deep-fried whole pig’s head that could be delivered in lieu of a birthday cake. He said he has tried the idea in New York City, and just needs to work out some additional logistics in Chicago. Burke joked with me, “Sugar kills — eat pork.”

A whole pig’s head is a bit much for me, but as a proud American, I’ll gladly take some more bacon.