The result of a collaboration between well known Chicago chefs and restauranteurs, Tony Mantuano, Scott Harris and Jimmy Banos Jr. & Sr, The Purple Pig opened its doors in 2010 to a hero's welcome, including being named amongst the year's top ten best new restaurants in America by Bon Appetit Magazine. Located on Michigan Avenue in the heart of Chicago's "Magnificent Mile" The Purple Pig is a pseudo-Italian inspired restaurant and wine bar with an emphasis on cured meats, cheese and everything pig, hence the slogan that adorns the gate at the entrance and the header on the menus: "Cheese, Swine & Wine". The restaurant is on a little bit of an elevated catwalk overlooking Illinois street where the lineup can be lengthy since reservations aren't accepted. Not to worry though, a cocktail or a glass of wine isn't only allowed while you wait on the metal benches out front - it's encouraged!
We sat enjoying an extraordinarily well priced half bottle of Champagne in the late summer heat while we waited for our names to be called for an available table. After a short while we were seated outside on the covered terrasse at a long and tall, communal pub-style table. Dishes here are very sensibly priced, rarely exceeding 10 or 11$. Portions are relatively small, but satisfying and meant for sharing. The price point combined with the size of menu items lend themselves well to trying a lot of different things, and try a lot we did.
The menu is split into sections titled Antipasti, Smears, Fried Items, Panini, Cured Meats, Cheese, Salad & A La Plancha. Meal progression is not traditional here; as in appetizer, main, dessert. We found hopping about, mixing and matching different textures and temperatures from the various sections of the menu to be the way to go. Over several hours we sampled a sizeable cross-section of the menu about 2 or 3 dishes at a time, beginning with the salt roasted beets and fried chorizo stuffed olives.
A take on the ubiquitous twosome of beets and goat cheese, the crimson red root vegetables roasted in salt were paired with a quenelle of airy, whipped goat cheese and drizzled with a pistachio studded vinaigrette. The complimenting flavors of sweet, earthy beets and tangy goat cheese go together like Burt & Ernie, peanut butter & jelly or cheese curds and jalapeno chips (okay maybe that last one is just us, don't judge us). But after having graced every restaurant menu and suburban dinner party from coast to coast, this duo is certainly not a contender for originality, even with the addition of pistachio. A good bite, but not particularly groundbreaking.
Salt-Roasted Beets, Whipped Goat Cheese, Pistachio Vinaigrette - 8$
Chorizo Stuffed Olives - 5$
Pork Neck Bone "Gravy", Ricotta - 9$
Lingua Agrodolce - 6$
Pig's Ear, Crispy Kale, Pickled Cherry Peppers, Fried Egg - 8$
Charred Green Onions, Romesco Sauce - 9$
Manilla Clams, Merguez Sausage, Manzanilla Sherry, Tomato - 14$
What's better than fried brioche stuffed with ricotta for dessert? Easy, fried brioche stuffed with ricotta and chocolate chips. The "Sicilian Iris" is essentially a softball sized, golden-brown doughnut served piping hot out of the fryer with a dusting of powdered sugar, the creamy ricotta in the filling effectively tempered the sweetness of the chocolate chips. Perhaps not be the most elegant of desserts, but it was certainly a fulfilling one that satisfied our sweet-tooth without rotting it.
"Sicilian Iris" - 7$
Including tax, tip, 8 dishes, a bottle of wine and a half bottle of champagne, dinner for 2 came in at about 200$; that's a value worth boasting about if you ask us. The mood was casual and wine prices were very practical with an above-average selection of wines by the glass and half-bottle formats as well as tonnes of brilliant bottles well below the 60$ price point. Service was friendly and knowledgeable but the packed house on the night we visited made it a little tough to get a hold of our waitress at times, in the end we had to approach the cash inside to get our bill and pay so we could leave. We barely scratched the surface of this menu which leads us to believe there must have been a plethora of other fantastic dishes we didn't get the opportunity to try. We can't imagine a return trip to Chicago without coming back for more of that delightful neck bone gravy and the fried pig's ear, if you're planning your own trip we wouldn't suggest you forgo dropping in either, before you know it you might look at your watch and realize you've been there all night too.
The Purple Pig
500 North Michigan Avenue