Last week Naseem and I had a crazy, whirlwind experience. We were invited by the marketing and advertising team at Denny’s (yes that Denny’s, America’s diner) to visit their headquarters is Spartanburg, South Carolina and learn about the re-launch of their Baconalia menu — coming to a Denny’s near you this week. Many of you may remember that in 2011, they first introduced this bacon-themed menu to much media attention, particularly because of their bold Maple Bacon Sundae. This taste sensation got Baconalia mentioned on Conan, Letterman, Leno, and got major exposure on at least one episode of South Park. As far as I’m concerned, if Matt & Trey have noticed you, you have most definitely arrived. A number of restaurant chains have thrown in a token bacon-themed dessert item since, but none has committed in the way that Denny’s has.

IMG_20130307_124615_339The morning of the event was filled with anticipation on my part. Prior to being shuttled to the 16-story Denny’s Headquarters building, we didn’t actually know which promotion we were there to cover. What would we be tasting? And who else would share this experience with us? Turned out we were in very good company, with bloggers from Foodbeast, Burgerbeast, GrubGrade, and Mr. Baconpants himself. Perhaps most awesome was meeting the lovely Megan and Jason Day of BBQAddicts, inventors of the legendary and much-imitated Bacon Explosion.

We spent about an hour whetting our appetite on fruit and cinnamon-sugar pancake puppies (which I heart) while the VP of Marketing John Dillon and his team shared some information and stats about Baconalia past and present. They showed us their upcoming advertising campaign and I have to say it was smart and very funny. A song and video by Rhett & Link. A partnership with FailBlog. Commemorative melamine plates! The links are almost endless and the presentation was an experience that I’d like to talk about further, but I’ll save that for another post because I really want to get to the menu. Which is exactly what I was thinking while we talked about and looked at images of the food to come.

Caramel_Bacon_Stuffed_French_ToastFinally around 11 am we walked across the street to Denny’s test kitchen. I have always wanted to say I went to a test kitchen. I feel like a damn Food Network correspondent. There are 12 bacon-themed items on the new menu, nearly double what there were in 2011. Two of the items were pretty basic egg & bacon plates, which were omitted from the tasting, I assume, in the interest of time and stomach space. My favorite dish was also our first: The Caramel Bacon Stuffed French Toast ($7.99). This consisted of two thick slices of French toast, perfectly cooked without any noticeable egg on the exterior, a peeve of mine. Between the slices was a generous layer of white chocolate cream cheese (yum!) mixed with nice-sized chunks of crisp bacon. Topping it all off was a tasty drizzle of caramel sauce and more bacon chunks. It was delicious, plain and simple. I would order this. Naseem and I both had difficulty keeping our tasting to a couple of bites. But with eight more dishes to come, we really had to pace ourselves. The French toast comes with two eggs, two slices of bacon, and a side of warm maple syrup. I’d say the syrup is totally unnecessary.

 

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Naseem’s favorite item (and in my top three) was the Spicy Pepper Bacon Jack Burger ($7.99). We had all discussed the spice level that we expected from this burger, and were happy that it actually delivered. With a chipotle sauce, pepper jack cheese, pepper bacon and, most important, pickled jalapeño slices, you’re actually left with some lingering heat on the tongue for several minutes. There was also much discussion about the veggies included on the burger. I’m a fan of lettuce, tomato and pickle, particularly if the lettuce is crisp and shredded, which this was. The bacon obviously couldn’t be the stand-out flavor in this burger, but a decent burger doesn’t use bacon as a crutch. This item is served with fries, and can be ordered with a turkey or veggie burger.

 

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Naseem and I were both excited about the BBQ Bacon Mac’n Cheese Bites ($4.59). There are six pieces in this appetizer, served atop a pepper jack sauce and drizzled with BBQ sauce. Each ball of cheesy goodness was deep-fried to a crispness that our forks could not penetrate. This is definitely a finger food. As far as being fried mac’n cheese, I liked it. The bacon, unfortunately, wasn’t as prominent as I had hoped. And the sauces weren’t a match for me. Maybe the pepper jack would have been fine on it’s own, but the BBQ sauce dominated the other flavors. It may have even been why I couldn’t taste the bacon. If I ordered this, I’d ask for sauces on the side. But again, I would totally order it.

Other menu items included:

The Ultimate BLT ($6.99): A solid, tasty sandwich with avocado and mixed greens, but I’d need at least two more slices of bacon to call it ultimate.

The Pepper Bacon Avocado Omelette ($7.99): Not terribly interesting. Veggies were nicely sautéed, avocado was ripe but firm, but it also could have used more bacon.

The Bacon Pepper Jack Tilapia ($8.99): Although we were told this item got very high marks in test, I cannot get behind putting cheese and bacon on fish; spinach and pico de gallo? Maybe in a taco situation. The fish itself had a nice texture and mild flavor.

 

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And now on to the famous bacon desserts. The Salted Caramel Brownie Sundae with Bacon ($3.69) was our favorite, hands down. The brownie was super fudgy with a crushed pretzel crust. The caramel sauce, as stated earlier, was delicious. Denny’s uses a 12% milkfat vanilla ice cream for all of these desserts, so it was nice and rich. And finally the diced bacon was diced large and cooked crisp. A killer mix.

They brought back the famous Maple Bacon Sundae ($2.99) and added a Maple Bacon Milk Shake ($3.69). I may be the only bacon fan out there who doesn’t love maple, so neither of these desserts appealed to me. But if you do love that flavor combo, then I think the shake would blow your mind. The bacon is blended to a fine enough mince to get through the straw, and we were all impressed with the crispy texture, even when blended with ice cream. The key there is that each shake is scooped and blended to order; there is no pre-mixed maple-bacon ice cream on standby.

I was totally impressed with the crispness of the bacon throughout the tasting. I recognize, however, that I was being served by test kitchen chefs and culinary experts; I’m anxious to do a testing at our local Denny’s with a few of our readers to see how the experience holds up in the real world of a franchise owner.

If you want to see what all the hype is about, you have 10 weeks to try out the Baconalia festivities. Yes, this is a limited-time promotion, and we cannot guarantee that any of the items you see here will be available in the future. If you do give this menu a try, let us know what you thought and which items were your favorites. Seriously, I eat that French toast one more time and breakfast may never be the same again.