Best bets: Candied bacon

MICHAEL DONAHUE/The Commercial Appeal
Candied Bacon at eighty3 food & drink at the Madison Hotel. Aug. 21 2012 PHOTO BY MICHAEL DONAHUE

Photo by Michael Donahue // Buy this photo

MICHAEL DONAHUE/The Commercial Appeal Candied Bacon at eighty3 food & drink at the Madison Hotel. Aug. 21 2012 PHOTO BY MICHAEL DONAHUE

When I'm at parties at the Memphis Country Club and the University Club of Memphis, I gravitate toward the candied bacon. It's usually stacked in tiers on the bar. It's delicious and addictive.

I'm not alone. Others around me are eating it like, well, candy.

I thought country clubs were the only place I could find this delicacy until I saw "Candied Bacon" on the menu at eighty3 food & drink, the restaurant in the Madison Hotel. It's under the "Snacks" category and sells for a mere $5.

"Candied bacon is my signature thing," said the restaurant's executive chef, Connor O'Neill. Whether it's on a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich or served by itself, candied bacon is going to be on a menu where O'Neill works.

"Everyone loves bacon, so if you've got great bacon and you sweeten it up a little bit, I don't think anyone can resist it."

O'Neill served Candy Apple Bacon, which was bacon in an apple habanero sauce, at his last restaurant, Mudflats Bar and Grill in Columbus, Ohio. That was "really spicy," he said. He toned down the bacon when he moved to the Madison because he didn't want to serve "flame thrower food" right away.

To prepare his bacon at the Madison, O'Neill puts sugar and some fresh black cracked pepper on the bacon, puts it on a rack in a 350-degree oven for 14 minutes and then hits it with more pepper when it comes out "so it won't lose any flavor." He then allows the bacon to cool so it will "slightly crisp up."

He serves the bacon with a shot glass of his dipping mixture: champagne vinegar and Vermont maple syrup.

Candied bacon and cheddar scones with green onions and unsalted butter is one of the hotel's pastry selections. "It's great all day, but for breakfast it's got everything you want. People think of scones as dry biscuits, but this way it's got that little something extra."

O'Neill's passion for bacon happened when he lost most of his ability to taste after undergoing two brain surgeries for Arnold-Chiari malformation, a congenital condition, in 2010. The first two things he could taste were chocolate and bacon, so he began eating every variation of those two.

With his taste buds back, O'Neill now is the master of the sweet and savory, which is my all-time favorite taste combination. His eighty3 menu items include "Coffee Soy Marinated Elk" with buttered parsnips and chocolate cherry sauce; "Honey-Soy Glazed Sea Bass;" and "Blueberry Pudding," a salty, caramel bread pudding: cardamom and blueberry pudding with sea salt crust and salty caramel and salty vanilla ice cream.

eighty3 food & drink is at 83 Madison in the Madison Hotel; 901-333-1224.

© 2012 Go Memphis. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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