When you walk into Gracie’s On West Main in Leola, a small town in Southeastern Pennsylvania, you know right away you’ve reached both a major and a magic bacon spot in the world. Here, bacon is king.
Looking at the chalk board menus and the walls, you see references to bacon everywhere. Types of bacon, sayings about bacon, even poetry about it. Signs declare “Bacon Is Like a High-Five For My Mouth.” T-shirts are for sale boasting “I Love You More Than Bacon.” So, you know bacon is held in high regard at Gracie’s.
“Yes, we’re crazy about bacon,” says Gracie Volker, who with her husband Jim Rutolo, co-own and operate Gracie’s On West Main, a restaurant named after her, of course. Many other foods are served at breakfast, lunch and dinner here. The establishment also caters and offers space for special events. But it’s obvious that bacon plays a special role, even a top role here. Bacon-lovers are drawn here from far and wide.
With Americans’ never-ending love affair with bacon, it’s no surprise that places like Gracie’s have sprung up across the United States – and in Canada, Europe and other countries.
Gracie’s menus are filled with bacon, including a bacon sampler consisting of four slices of locally-sourced, naturally-hardwood double-smoked bacon, two slices of caramelized brown sugar bacon, and two slices of Irish bacon. If that’s not enough for you, they offer a deluxe bacon sampler, which includes EVERY kind of bacon: double-smoked, caramelized, Irish, sweet garlic chili, Worcestershire black pepper, meat loaf bacon, a bacon of the week every week, and a side of bacon jam with toast points. Rutolo makes his own bacon jam, which turns out to be a long process using many ingredients. “It takes about 15 lbs. of bacon to make 5 lbs. of jam, and it contains molasses, cayenne, Worcestershire sauce, and expresso,” he notes.
There’s bacon and cheese, which is a grilled cheese sandwich (cheddar and American cheese) with double-smoked bacon. Buffalo bacon bits includes smoked cube slab bacon. Then there’s triple-bacon BLT and bacon green beans. Of course, there’s still bacon and eggs. And an Irish bacon sandwich, consisting of smoked Irish bacon, cheddar, eggs and colcannon, an Irish dish made of mashed potatoes, onion and cabbage. And for dessert, there’s maple bacon walnut pie. Last spring, Gracie’s sponsored a seven-course bacon dinner, they plan to sponsor another one in 2018.
“I love Irish bacon,” Rutolo says, pointing out this bacon which also is called cottage or English bacon. It comes from the shoulder and back of hogs, rather than from the bellies, which most American bacon is made from. Most of Gracie’s bacon comes from John F. Martin, a local meat processor. In fact, most of the dishes at Gracie’s are made from scratch – Rutolo and Volker use as many local products as they can in food preparation.
Gracie’s On West Main has been open for about four years, with both partners coming from backgrounds in the food industry. Gracie ran a café in close by Strasburg, while Jim grew up in nearby Reading and was in the restaurant business for more than 20 years. “I was in sales and got tired of that, I wanted to get back into the restaurant business, and so did Gracie,” Rutolo said. Since they’ve opened the restaurant, the two have also become the parents of J.W., now a 16-month-old little boy.
Of course, everyone who comes to Gracie’s wants to know how “the bacon thing” got started. Rutolo gives Volker credit. “I love bacon a lot,” she says. “When we opened, we began buying bacon from King’s, a small meat processor in Strasburg.” In the beginning, they served a couple bacons. But they realized the great interest in bacon, and decided to expand the types of bacon they’d offer, figuring customers would order bacon as part of the great demand for the meat. They did.
“We created a BLT with all three kinds of bacon we were selling at the time,” Rutolo says. “Then the demand for bacon was like a blank canvas, and we decided to see what we could do to paint on that canvas — bacon-wise, that is,” he says with a laugh. “We realized bacon had become a really big thing, and not just a fad,” Volker says. “Why? Part of it, I think, is that the quality of food people eat has gotten much higher. And bacon is simultaneously both good and bad for you, if you know what I mean?” she says, laughing.
Rutolo is the head chef at Gracie’s, and Volker comes up with what will work on the menus. “I could take off everything on the menu containing bacon, and some people probably wouldn’t notice. Obviously, there are a lot of non-bacon items on our menus. But a lot of customers would realize it right way, because they come here for the bacon,” she says. “The whole secret to the great success of bacon is how you use it, what you do with it,” Rutolo says.