Swine isn’t usually my thing. Although I’ve been known to nibble on a side of bacon at a diner, that’s usually the extent of it. But at this year’s Outside Lands where vendors offer an endless parade of tantalizing pork creations, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to dive in and explore this nationwide food trend in all its creative glory. From flights of bacon, to Filipino pork burritos, to chicharrones described as “puffy pork magic,” it’s clear that Bay Area chefs have embraced pork as so much more than just the other white meat.
But for those not yet convinced that chocolate covered bacon is manna from heaven, there are hundreds of other culinary creations to explore, along with knowledgeable artisans to answer your geekiest questions about making cheese, chocolate, wine and anything else you might want to learn about.
Ranging from healthy to hearty to insanely indulgent, there is truly something for everyone at Outside Lands. But the best news of all is that even if you are not able to eat your way through the festival in person, you can still try most of the featured dishes at Bay Area restaurants and food trucks.
Here are some of the highlights from our food forays at Outside Lands, where we pigged out on pork and bounced for beignets.
On Friday we started our day with a fried egg sandwich from Il Canne Rosso. If you don’t like oozy yolks this isn’t for you, but it was excellent. The fresh Acme bread smeared with onion butter was perfect for soaking up the peppery eggs, which were topped with — you guessed it — salty slabs of bacon. We also tried their made-from-scratch French toast, which was divine, but more like a hunk of bread pudding set in a puddle of honey caramel. I had to stop myself from licking the container.
For our late morning snack we opted for something more unusual: porcini doughnuts from Rich Table. You probably won’t want to dunk these in your coffee, but do dunk them in the cheese sauce offered on the side. They were savory, doughy and only slightly mushroom-y. Everyone one who tried one seemed to take a moment to process the unexpected combination of taste and texture.
Next we headed to Living Greens Juice for a dose of liquefied fruits and veggies. The watermelon basil juice was sweet and refreshing and the potent, ginger infused “super greens” elixir packed a punch that wasn’t quite what we had in mind, but it did cleanse our palates.
Lunchtime is when we decided to go whole hog. After sampling a few different types of pork sandwiches, the grilled pork pernil from Split Pea Seduction rose to the top as our hands-down favorite. When I found out it was made from pork butts I almost turned and ran, but in the spirit of being adventurous I dug in, and enjoyed every bite. Herb stuffed and spit-roasted right in front of our eyes, the meat was layered with heirloom tomatoes, arugula and aioli on fresh Panorama bread. We washed it down with a Chardonnay from Paper Boy, a sweet and creamy wine that provided a nice contrast to the flavor of the sandwich.
We also tried a more traditional pulled pork sandwich from Southpaw, which was tasty but would have been a little bland without help from the tangy sweet sauce and slaw piled on top. A dish of maple sweetened crispy Brussels sprouts from American Grilled Cheese Kitchen made the perfect side for this one.
For a post lunch snack I went for the flight of bacon: the ultimate symbol of bacon’s new found gastronomic prowess. As I sampled each of the five types of bacon slung between a pair of skewers, I could really taste the differences. Some were peppered and dry rubbed, while others were hickory smoked or cured in brown sugar. My favorite was the Fatted Calf fruitwood smoked bacon, which paired well with a glass of Calder Syrah.
We also wandered over to CheeseLands to sample a variety of Bay Area cheeses as well as a creamy truffle Burrata from Wisconsin that’s not even on the market yet. Not to be left out of the pork party, CheeseLands also sold delicate slices of smoked Virginia ham from Long Meadow Ranch.
Snack & Twerk
On Saturday afternoon, sugar dusted beignets from Brenda’s French Soul Food were handed out for free — that is, if you were willing to shake your booty on stage alongside Big Freedia. A New Orleans native, Big Freedia and her band specialize in a hip-hop genre called “bounce” music, and you know why it’s called this as soon as you hear it. The performance was electric and wild, with band members and festival-goers grinding and twerking for their beignets.
The “Beignet Bounce” event was just one of many on the GastroMagic stage, featuring imaginative pairings of chefs, butchers, musicians and others. Some of the other events offered limited tastings too, like scrambled eggs made entirely from plants and a colorful salad crafted to look like nature’s version of a bowl of Skittles.
On Friday night we opted for Venezuelan vegetable arepas from Pica Pica. The fresh corn cakes stuffed with black beans, avocado and fried plantains would have been as good for breakfast as they were for dinner. The next night we decided to continue our pork-scapade with Big Chef Tom’s pork belly burger crafted from the same cut used to make bacon. A guy named Aaron standing in line behind us randomly blurted out: “I just wish they would make a pork a vegetable already,” and then went on to sing the burger’s praises, having eaten one the previous year. He was right about the “belly burger” being one of the tastiest things I had eaten this weekend. It reminded me a little bit of a juicy, well-spiced turkey burger, but better. A glass of Olivia Brion’s Pinot Noir was the perfect wine to wash it down.
If we hadn’t been totally porked out by this point we might have tried some of the other creations like El Huarache Loco’s pinto bean stuffed tortillas topped with bacon and chorizo, bratwurst from The Butcher’s Daughter, or The Chairman’s pork belly bao. So much pork, so little time.
All of the irresistible offerings at ChocoLands are made with Guittard Chocolate, a family run business based in the Bay Area for five generations. Amy Guittard invited us “backstage” to see the chocolate being tempered for their “liquid chocolate bar” treat. Sprinkled with bitter cacao nibs, a spoonful of this melted milk chocolate is like a shot of happiness straight to your veins.
We also tried the Chocolate Gold Rush ice cream offered by newcomer, Humphry Slocombe. A velvety chocolate ice cream studded with pieces of chocolate covered cones, the flavor was made just for Outside Lands and selected by San Francisco residents who cast their vote for their favorite of three flavors.
Although I thought I had hung up my pork hat for the weekend, I was lured right back into the fray by Bacon Bacon’s chocolate-covered bacon slabs. Salty sweet with Heath Bar crumbles on top, my future as a swine eater was sealed after just one bite.