TAMPA — The salty, greasy aroma of fried food isn’t something new at the Florida State Fairgrounds.
But the sizzling scent of bacon — all kinds of bacon — was a first on Saturday.
People dressed like bacon and wearing bacon T-shirts stood in line to try dozens of different bacon-y foods at the America Loves Bacon Festival, which made a stop in Tampa as part of its spring tour.
There were General Tso bacon nuggets and funnel cake bacon and ground bacon sliders and bacon on a stick. There were bacon cheddar hot dogs and bacon cotton candy and XXX Diablo Pepper bacon.
Each festival-goer received five sample tickets with their admission to the one-day event, which they spent while meandering from booth to booth trying things like cream soda bacon and bacon doughnuts.
Their snacking was punctuated by live music performances, cooking demonstrations and bacon-eating contests in which the first person to finish a pound of bacon won.
Everybody likes bacon, said Evan Weinstein, one of the founders of America Loves Bacon.
He used to work in music and concert promotions, he said, and when he decided to break into the food industry bacon seemed like the key. It’s one of the most popular foods in the country, and the perfect fare to anchor a new, traveling food festival concept.
“I know vegans who say ‘I’m a vegan, except I eat bacon,’” Weinstein said.
All of the bacon the chef was frying up was from free-range pigs raised on farms in Iowa, he said. It was all naturally cured, without MSG or other preservatives.
His favorite menu items are the bacon peanut brittle and the caramel bacon.
“We try and come up with creative concoctions and creative flavors that allow people to try different things,” Weinstein said.
Festival organizers also invited local food trucks and restaurants to bring their best bacon recipes. They served things like pork barbecue and pork belly, and one truck advertised that it would put bacon on anything upon request.
There was a long line for the tent managed by Datz and Dough restaurants, where people sampled offerings such as bourbon buttercream bacon brownies and Sriracha bacon macaroni and cheese.
The owners of the South Tampa restaurant jumped on the chance to participate in a festival centered around bacon, said Datz PR manager Tony Pullaro.
“We’re obsessed with bacon,” he said. “Every day we talk about it. We dream about it.”
Tara Dunbar and her husband, Bryan, drove 45 minutes for the event. They couldn’t pass up a bacon festival, she said as she clutched a bouquet of bacon strips on sticks.
“We’re human beings,” she joked.
Eleven year-old Cassidy Lawless was lured in particular by the chocolate-covered bacon. She came with her mom and wore and “I love bacon” T-shirt and a temporary bacon tattoo on her arm.
“I just really like bacon,” she said.