The Red Headed Stranger at Frank in Austin. (Andy Staples)
AUSTIN, Texas – The bartender apologized, but I’m not sure why. He knew what he had just made.
“This is a little messy,” he said as he slid a Bloody Mary made with bacon-infused Tito’s Handmade Vodka toward me. The red goo inside pulsated like detritus from the set of a slasher flick, but the peppered rim and the strip of bacon protruding proudly from the top of the glass promised an experience beyond typical brunch booze.
First, a confession. I hate Bloody Marys. I hate tomato juice, and the mere idea of drinking something in which tomato juice is a primary ingredient makes me gag. (Tomato gravy, however, does not cause this distress.) But I went to Frank this past weekend because its cocktail and dessert menus offer the perfect test the first commandment of Heaven is a Buffet. For the uninitiated, the first of Heaven is a Buffet’s two commandments is this: There is nothing on Earth that can’t be improved by adding a few slabs of bacon. I needed to gauge the veracity of that claim. A commandment may brook no exceptions. Otherwise it’s merely a guideline.
I’ve written about Frank before, but my first visit came at a fragile moment following a late flight. I feasted on some late-night rabbit sausage, but the menu was limited and the bacon-enhanced items had been put away. On this visit, I resolved to try every bacon perversion Frank offered.
I wound up sampling four. I had the Bloody Mary. I had the chocolate- and bacon-chip cookie. I had the chocolate-covered bacon. Then I washed all of it down with an Old Fashioned made with bacon-infused Maker’s Mark.
As I walked to dinner, I wondered whether the various variations on bacon have grown tiresome. After all, nature’s most perfect food needs no jazzing up. A few days ago, someone sent me a photo on Twitter of a woman wearing a bacon dress. I replied that Fonzie might be strapping on his skis regarding the subject of bacon enhancements. As I left Frank just before the band took the stage, I knew the truth. Bacon can never jump the shark. The lord gave pigs ample bellies because He loves us and He wants us to be happy. Let’s examine my bacon adventure one item at a time.
The Red Headed Stranger
This is the bacon-infused, bacon-topped Bloody Mary pictured above. I had to try it because when a restaurant in Austin names a drink after Willie Nelson, the proprietors are proud of said drink. I also had to try it to put Commandment No. 1 to the test. It passed. As much as I despise the typical Bloody Mary, the Bloody Mary with a hint of bacon – not to mention a whopping strip of perfect pork sitting in the stew – was tolerable if not tasty. I’m not a brunch person. I see no reason to eat one meal when I could eat two. But I might be lured to such an affair if promised a bacon Bloody Mary. And a side of bacon.
Chocolate- and bacon-chip cookie
Chocolate- and bacon-chip cookie. (Andy Staples)
I’m a tough judge of chocolate chip cookies. Thanks to a recipe handed down to my mom by my paternal grandmother, I make the finest chocolate chip cookies on the planet. In college, after an excellent first date, I would bake a batch and bring them to the young lady. This always worked. Always – and especially when I baked them for my future wife.
Because of this, a restaurant cookie rarely moves the needle for me. This one certainly wouldn’t have if not for the candied bacon crumbles. They added just a hint of salty intrigue to an otherwise pedestrian cookie.
Chocolate-covered bacon. (Andy Staples)
Frank sells this for $2 a strip, but it could charge far more. Take a perfect, thick-cut slice of bacon. Dip it in milk chocolate and then dust it with turbinado and sea salt. On the first bite, the angels don't sing. They brush the backs of their hands across their foreheads, proclaim "Well I never" and faint. This might be the perfect dessert.
Bacon Old Fashioned
Old Fashioned with bacon-infused Maker's Mark. (Andy Staples)
This was not my first Old Fashioned made with bacon-infused bourbon. That came at a fine establishment in Winter Park, Fla., called The Ravenous Pig. This was the best one, though. The menu at Frank only suggests that the porked Maker’s Mark can be served neat or on the rocks. But Frank has bitters, sugar oranges and cherries, so why not make a by-God bacon cocktail?
The bartender set down the first of two with some trepidation. He hadn't been asked to make one of these before. He shouldn’t have worried. The bacon bourbon adds a complexity no oak barrel can match. So even though Blanton’s – the official bourbon of the SEC – may cost more than Maker’s Mark, the stuff in the wax-dipped bottle can’t be bested once the fine folks at Frank instill it with that glorious pork essence.
So – surprise, surprise – bacon remains undefeated. The first commandment of Heaven is a Buffet has been tested, and it has aced that test. If I can drink an entire Bloody Mary thanks to cured pork, there truly is nothing that bacon can’t improve.