Tuesday, November 6, 2012


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$

Plump green olives stuffed with smokey chorizo sausage were mouthfuls of brine and spice in a crispy, deep-fried panko coating. The sort of thing that you could eat like potato chips sitting on the couch at home but if you were invited to a friends' apartment for dinner and served these, you're manners would inhibit you from scarfing them down a dozen at a time well before your appetite showed any signs of relenting. The garlicky yogurt sauce beneath was nice, but somewhat forgettable compared to the olives themselves.

Chorizo Stuffed Olives - 5$

From the "smears" portion of the menu, the pork neck bone gravy with ricotta was not only our favorite dish of the evening, but the entire trip to Chicago. Considering our trip included a visit to Alinea and this is the dish we couldn't shake from our memory on the plane home, there's clearly still a great deal to be said in the rigorous defense of old-world simplicity amidst it's ongoing feud with the complexity of cutting-edge cookery. Here, "gravy" is used in the same vein that New Jersey Italians call their grandmothers meat-laden Sunday tomato sauce "gravy". Pork neck bones are roasted before being braised long and slow in tomato sauce, imparting rich depth to the liquid. Eventually the meat on the bones separates and is mixed throughout the tomato sauce. This roasted and subsequently braised pork studded red-sauce stands on its own, no pasta needed, served up with a dollop of creamy ricotta in the center that takes the acidic edge off the tomato. The dish is served with thick slices of crusty grilled bread doused in olive oil to deliver the love from the plate to your mouth.

Pork Neck Bone "Gravy", Ricotta - 9$

The house made "Lingua Agrodolce" or sweet and sour tongue proved to be more sour than sweet. It was nice and tender in the center but slightly dry around the edges. We found the grilled bread the tongue was served with to be sliced a little too thick, detracting from the meat - so we ate it solo.

Lingua Agrodolce - 6$

Appropriately served in a pig shaped bowl, another big hit was the fried pig's ear with crispy kale, pickled cherry peppers, and a sunny-side-up egg. Following our waitresses instruction, chopping and mixing it all together created an excellent balance of texture and flavor. Spicy, sour, pickled peppers cut through the richness of the egg yolk that sauced the dish while faintly bitter punches of crisp kale, soft chunks of egg white and audibly crunchy but not greasy fried ear provided assertive backbone. The result - a confidently seasoned plate that struck all the right chords.

Pig's Ear, Crispy Kale, Pickled Cherry Peppers, Fried Egg - 8$

Charred green onions with romesco sauce were unfortunately a pretty big flop. Served on an upside-down terra cotta roofing tile that was equally pointless as it was aggravatingly large, the char on the  green onions effectively subdued their pungency, but they were drowned in a sinus-clearing amount of vinegar. The romesco that accompanied them, a sauce that we're used to having a robust and full bodied texture as a result of having been thickened with either nuts, bread or both was unusually thin and excessively acidic which provided little in the way of contrast to the absurdly vinegary onions. Additionally, the 9$ price tag offered little in the way of value by comparison to some of the other dishes we ordered.

Charred Green Onions, Romesco Sauce - 9$

Tender Manilla clams and house made merguez sausage were served in the same cute, pig-shaped bowl as the pig's ear dish was. Sitting in a shallow pool of a sherry and tomato based sauce, this playful rendition of surf and turf was served with some crunchy toasted bread that was perfect for soaking up the liquid at the bottom of the bowl.

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.

Stay tuned for post 5 in our 6 part series spotlighting the restaurants we visited while in Chicago, Next up: Girl & The Goat. Or view our previous Chicago post: Topolobampo

The Purple Pig
500 North Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL

The Purple Pig on Urbanspoon


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  2. Hi April,

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

    To be honest we're not sure. We were in Chicago on vacation so we're less familiar with the day to day specials that the restaurant offers. Surely though, if you check the restaurant's website which we've provided a link for above there must be a section where they mention offered specials and promotional events.


    Foodie Date Night