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BEST PAEAN TO PIG
BACON FEST sounds like one of Homer Simpson's harebrained schemes. Actually, last January's three-day event was the inspiration of two locals, Brian Guido and Nick Miller, who wanted to showcase the craftsmanship that goes into makin' bacon. So they persuaded a handful of restaurants to show off their way with swine. Luigi's Slice served BLT pizza and brought in bands to play songs from Kevin Bacon movies. Pangaea Two Brews Cafe offered bacon-and-beer specials, while Magpie Cafe and The Golden Bear served bacon-heavy brunches. And Mulvaney's Building & Loan hosted a sold-out bacon-curing competition. "It was way bigger than any of us thought it would be," says Guido, who went on to organize BLT Week in July, complete with a BLT bike crawl and restaurants serving BLT doughnuts, BLT cocktails and other delicious variations on the BLT theme. This January, Bacon Fest expands to a week (Jan. 21–27), with more participating restaurants, a music showcase and a bacon-cocktail competition. As Homer would say: Mmm . . . bacon.
BEST URBAN MUSHROOM GROWER
With an average of 320 days of sunshine a year, Sacramento isn't the ideal place to grow mushrooms. But that didn't stop Roxana Walker from starting DRAGON GOURMET MUSHROOMS, which supplies some of the city's top restaurants with their favorite fungi. Walker, a chemist for the state, began farming mushrooms for fun in her garage back in 2000. She started selling her 'shrooms at a local farmers market and eventually outgrew her home setup. Now, she has an 8,200-square-foot warehouse downtown where she produces 600 pounds of oyster mushrooms and 100 pounds of shiitakes a week. Walker sells her produce at Taylor's Market, Nugget Markets and farmers markets all over the region, and she supplies restaurants such as Biba, Magpie Cafe, Kru, Zen Sushi and Lucca.
BEST LOCAVORE FIND
Everyone knows you can buy a first-class education at UC Davis. But did you also know you can buy meat? UC DAVIS MEAT LAB is a federally inspected meat processing plant on the Davis campus that's used primarily for teaching and research by the university's animal science department. But on Thursdays and Fridays from 1 to 5:30 p.m., the meat lab opens its doors to the public and sells the same cuts you'd find at a highend butcher, from dry-aged rib-eyes to frenched racks of lamb. "Everything's local and fresh," says meat lab manager Caleb Sehnert, who oversees the facility and its student employees. Proceeds are ploughed back into the animal science department. "Our customers really like our products," Sehnert says. "And they get to support the university." Building C, Harold Cole Facility, La Rue Road, Davis; (530) 742-7410; animalscience.ucdavis.edu/facilities/meat
BEST CREAMY TREAT
When she was laid off from her corporate job almost two years ago, Rachel Sprinkle-Strong yearned to do a 180. So she started POPCYCLE CREAMERY, making artisanal ice cream push-up pops with intriguing flavor combos such as sweet corn/blackberry, roasted cherry with goat cheese and strawberry balsamic. Sprinkle-Strong uses organic milk, raw cane sugar and produce from local farmers markets to make her small-batch wares, which she sells for $3 a pop at local street events. She also takes orders for weddings and private parties, coming up with custom flavors such as cocoa Zinfandel for the pops she made for a Bogle Vineyards employee's wedding rehearsal dinner using the winery's Old Vine Zin. (916) 214-8023; popcyclecreamery.com