Chicago, Illinois – The Purple Pig

Restaurant: The Purple Pig
Cuisine: Mediterranean/Italian/Tapas/Small Plates
Last visited: June 13, 2012
Location: Chicago, IL (Magnificent Mile)
Address: 500 N. Michigan Ave
Transit: Michigan (Lower) & Illinois
Where I stayed: Hyatt Regency Chicago (Walking distance)
Price Range: $20-30 ($8-15 tapas/small plates)

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: 5
Service: 5
Ambiance: 4
Overall: 5
Additional comments:

  • Owned/operated by renowned chefs
  • Mediterranean/Italian
  • Eclectic/creative
  • Lots of pork dishes
  • Small plates/tapas
  • Good for sharing
  • Local favourite
  • Very popular/busy
  • Lively/casual
  • Reasonably priced
  • Extensive wine list/bar
  • Beer/cocktails
  • Sun-Thu 11:30-12am
  • Fri-Sat 11:30-2am

**Recommendations: Salt-Roasted Beets, Pig’s Ear with Crispy Kale, Milk Braised Pork Shoulder, Turkey Leg Confit, Sicilian Iris

I swear this restaurant was recommended to me over and over again. Whether it was from a local or a tourist, or a tourist that’s been to Chicago only once or over twenty times, the name always came up. The Purple Pig. If it wasn’t for all the recommendations I wouldn’t have moved it up to priority, but it was actually my first meal in Follow Me Foodie to Chicago. And damn it, I want to recommend everything! Chicago was off to a fantastic start and The Purple Pig hit a home run!

The place was packed and the line up was long, so come prepared with weapons or a few extra bills. Just kidding, but most likely there will be wait and it helps if you’re not picky with seats as there are communal tables.

I admit that I was a bit sceptical at first that it was going to be touristy, but judging by the crowd and even talking to some of them, there were a ton of locals. I was actually pleased that one of the locals I spoke with ended up being a total food snob because he kind of helped me rearrange my food itinerary for the fifth time. I was sceptical of him too though because tastes are so personal, but he basically had tried every restaurant on my list which was promising. Anyway long story short he ended up being right on the money for a few things and the fact that he was a regular here was a good sign. If I lived in Chicago, I’d be a regular at The Purple Pig too.

I ended up sitting at my favourite spot in the house – at the bar right in front of the open kitchen. And speaking of the bar it is indeed a wine bar with an impressive list of hand selected wines. The restaurant was casual, lively and energetic all throughout dinner and even though it was a bit crowded, it didn’t feel too cramped. The restaurant also had a covered outdoor patio and although it’s fairly large, the food doesn’t come across as mass produced.

The Purple Pig is a collaboration from Chefs Scott Harris of Mia Francesca, Tony Mantuano of Spiaggia, Jimmy Bannos and Jimmy Bannos Jr. of Heaven on Seven. If any of those Chefs or restaurants mean anything to you, you know this is a rock star group with “Best Chef” titles, Michelin Stars, and James Beard Awards to back it up. It was also named Top 10 Best New Restaurants in America by Bon Appetite Magazine in 2010 and it continues to attract locals and tourists alike.

Given the chefs backgrounds and awards, I’m happy to say that nothing about the atmosphere, service or food was pretentious. The food did not disappoint and I was nervous that the other restaurants on my list wouldn’t be able to meet this standard. It was the same feeling I experienced at Cochon in Follow Me Foodie to New Orleans and when food trips start off with a big hit you get spoiled. It was also the reason why I made Alinea my very last meal in Chicago.

The Purple Pig was one of the highlights in Follow Me Foodie to Chicago and I would trade a couple of our good Japanese restaurants in Vancouver, BC to have this restaurant at home. I actually missed and craved the food I ordered and I still thought about it days later. Although I never repeat restaurants on food trips of cities I’m visiting for the first time, I wouldn’t have really opposed to making an exception for this one. The menu was large enough that one visit was not enough, and despite the menu size, everything was being made in small portions in a controlled environment and upon order.

The food was solid, the portions were more than fair and the prices were very reasonable for the ambiance, location and overall quality and execution of food. If anything, I will make a comment on the salt. I have a really high tolerance for salt and although the food wasn’t noticeable that salty in the moment, it sure caught up to me after. That was the only issue, but it wasn’t what made the food so delicious either. I’m sure it helped, but the food was actually well thought out, innovative and executed with good ingredients and flavour.

On the table:

La Cartuja Priorat 2010 from Priorat, Spain – $49 bottle

**Salt Roasted Beets6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • Whipped goat cheese and pistachio vinaigrette $8
  • I wouldn’t have ordered this because it sounded like something I could attempt at home, but it was a house favourite and recommended several times.
  • Oh gosh. This was fantastic! Beet and goat cheese is nothing new, but the execution for this made it memorable.
  • The beets were tender and sweet, cooked in red wine and infused with salt without being too salty.
  • The salt really brought out the flavour of the beets and the crunchy buttery pistachio nuts were plenty.
  • It had lots of acidity in the vinaigrette which kept the salad fresh and vibrant.
  • The goat cheese was creamy, thick, not too gamey, a bit salty and almost lemony and it just brought back the acidity and added a richness to the salad.
  • It was what it was, but how the ingredients came together went beyond the description and it was incredibly flavourful and well delivered.

Chorizo Stuffed Olives2.5/6 (Okay-good)

  • $5
  • These were the only things I wouldn’t really order again.
  • It was a change from the typical bacon wrapped dates (which is more Spanish), but I found these to be too salty and I have a high tolerance for salt.
  • They were lightly breaded, crispy and deep fried, but it was almost like bites of salt and it was bordering on burn your lips salty.
  • The green kalamata olives were already so small so you could only fill it with so much chorizo and it ended up getting overpowered.
  • It was served on a bed of thick Greek yogurt that was rich, thick, garlicky and cheesy so all aspects of it seemed to be salty.

**Pig’s Ear with Crispy Kale6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • Pickled cherry peppers and fried egg $8
  • !!!! I can’t contain my excitement for this dish!!! I want to bring it home and it was one of the highlights from my whole Chicago food trip.
  • I like pig ears more so when they’re deep fried, but if you’ve never had them you would think this was almost bacon and eggs. Try it!
  • The fried egg wasn’t popped when it was served, but I popped it for my Egg Yolk Series.

You’re supposed to mix everything together before you eat it.

  • Anything with a fried or poached egg is already a bonus for me and this was brilliant! 
  • Kale alone is already such a hot ingredient this year and deep fried kale even more so. It’s no longer just a hotel garnish. 
  • The dish was salty and tangy with a bit of heat and it had so many crunchy and crispy textures.
  • The crispy pig’s ears tasted better than pork rinds and the fried kale were almost like airy light chips.
  • The pig’s ears were not a bit chewy or gelatinous and it was braised before being deep fried so they were incredibly tender and crispy throughout.
  • The pig’s ear came across as bacon flavoured chips or cracklings. 
  • The “cracklings”, crispy kale and chopped up bits of slippery egg was a celebration of textures and flavours in my mouth. 
  • The tangy and juicy bites of cherry peppers gave the dish some acidity and helped balance out the deep fried goodness.
  • The runny egg yolk was an all natural sauce. It wrapped everything together in one delicious bite and overall this dish was nothing, but a gift.

Pork Neck Bone Gravy with Ricotta4/6 (Very good)

  • $9
  • I’ve had oxtail gravy and lamb neck gravy before, but not yet pork neck gravy.
  • What the heck has taken me so long?! Someone start using pork neck outside of making Asian soup stocks!
  • This was actually one of the chef’s mom’s recipes.
  • It was served rustic with a generous amount of good quality chewy toasted Ciabatta bread.
  • I wasn’t expecting a red sauce and I was thinking more of a traditional brown gravy where the sauce is made from all natural pork drippings.
  • The ricotta cheese was light and fluffy and it added a richness to the sauce and toned down the acidity of the tomatoes.
  • It was a thick sauce meets a thin stew and it was melt in your mouth with shredded pieces of 6 hour braised pork neck.
  • The only thing is that I couldn’t really taste the pork neck and only got the texture of it.
  • I would have preferred a toned down red sauce and perhaps just a bit of tomato paste because at times I forgot the pork was in there.
  • There was a bit of chili heat, onion, garlic, oregano and fresh basil flavour and as a red tomato sauce it was good.
  • If you’ve never had pork neck you could easily mistake it for pulled pork (from pork shoulder or butt).
  • The sauce wasn’t greasy or gelatinous, but I just couldn’t taste any pork flavour which was surprising since pork neck bone has a ton of flavour.

Eggplant Caponata with Goat Cheese4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)

  • $11
  • This was recommended by the guy from my intro and I would have easily looked passed it if it wasn’t suggested by a regular.
  • I love eggplant, but I wasn’t too focused on vegetarian dishes at a pig lovers restaurant.
  • This dish is also one of the chef’s mom’s recipes.
  • It was a very heavily sauced eggplant caponata which is basically a chilled sweet and sour salsa.
  • It was roasted eggplant, olives, capers, cherry tomatoes, plump golden raisins, pine nuts and pimento peppers slowly cooked in red wine vinegar and sugar.
  • It was quite salty, tangy and sweet and the pine nuts added texture, but not flavour and I really love caponatas with buttery pine nut flavour.
  • It was kind of wasted since pine nuts are such a pricey ingredient and they were quite generous with them too.
  • It tasted like an antipasto and I wouldn’t mind more eggplant presence and it was perhaps cooked too long that it lost its flavour.
  • All the vegetables and ingredients just combined into each other and I couldn’t really taste the flavour of each thing, but it was still very good overall.
  • It was richer and chunkier than the pork neck gravy and I actually liked it better, but just wish it was less cooked down and less saucy.
  • It was served with a generous amount of good quality chewy Ciabatta bread with a nice thick layer of salty rich goat cheese that came across as cream cheese.
  • It was a good portion, great combination of ingredients and they were generous with the goat cheese spread too.

Foie Gras & Membrillo5/6 (Excellent)

  • $15
  • It was executed like peanut butter and jelly!
  • It was the sophisticated version of a classic sweet and savoury combination.
  • Strawberries and foie gras are a traditional pairing and a match made in heaven.
  • It was served with crostini fresh from the oven.
  • The foie gras spread didn’t actually have peanuts in it, but it was the savoury aspect of the dish.
  • There was no discolouration and it was smooth throughout and I could taste the foie gras.
  • It was a very traditional foie gras parfait and it was well whipped, creamy and well seasoned with a sprinkle of fleur de sel on top.
  • Instead of strawberries it was Membrillo, which is quince puree in Spanish, but it didn’t taste like the quince I’m used too.
  • It tasted more like a sour red fruit jelly than an aromatic quince which tastes like a cross of an apple and a pear.
  • The quince was cooked down with vinegar and sugar so that’s perhaps why, but it still worked perfectly and enhanced the foie flavour.

**Milk Braised Pork Shoulder6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • With mashed potatoes $10
  • Oh god. This was freaking amazing and it was my favourite dish of the night! Looking at the picture makes me want a hundred!
  • This was indulgent comfort food, but I would enjoy it at any temperature in any mood.
  • The portion doesn’t seem that big, but it’s extremely rich.
  • It was the house favourite and it’s been on the menu for the longest and it’s a FMF Must Try!
  • I will hunt you down if you don’t order it… unless it’s for religious reasons you don’t eat pork.

  • The pork was brined and then braised in milk for about 10 hours so it was literally melting! I barely touched it and it just fell apart!
  • Think buttermilk fried chicken, it’s not Kosher, but milk does wonders to meat.
  • Milk tenderizes meat extremely well and on top of that it was brined and braised for such an extensive amount of time. It almost exceeded what “melt in your mouth” means.
  • I didn’t need teeth to eat this and the whole thing was melting like super soft butter.
  • It was a good quality pork and there was a good amount of fat to keep it moist, but not gelatinous.
  • It was juicy, tender and full of flavour and swimming in a pool of creamy smooth mashed potatoes and a yellow pork gravy that tasted like bechamel sauce.
  • The pork gravy was made with pork drippings, flour and butter so it was roux based and incredibly rich and indulgent.
  • The gravy likely had onions, carrots and celery to give it aromatics and depth and I could taste some bay leaf.
  • The potatoes were silky and buttery and almost like pommes puree and all three components just melted together.
  • It was a soppy mess of melting pork, sauce and potatoes and it made for a bite I didn’t need to bite and only savour.

**Turkey Leg Confit5.5/6 (Excellent!)

  • Crispy lentils, treviso, endive and argo dolce $15
  • I was scared to end with anything other than the pork shoulder, but they nailed it again with this last course.
  • I’m a huge fan of duck confit and they made this turkey leg taste like a bigger version of it. I loved it.
  • It was a huge turkey leg and the meat shredded apart with so much ease that even someone with arthritis would have no problems taking it off the bone.
  • It was brined and pre-roasted and perhaps fried upon order so that it had a nice and crisp skin with well rendered fat.
  • The meat was tender, juicy and almost extra buttery and meaty from being confit (cooked in duck fat). In a blind tasting, it could have been duck confit.
  • Dark meat is usually juicy, but this was extra juicy from the way it was prepared and executed.
  • It didn’t even need the sweet and sour red wine vinegar and sugar sauce (argo dolce) which had a hint of perhaps orange in it.
  • The sauce was still good, but it felt more like the vinaigrette for the lentils and salad.
  • The turkey leg was sprinkled with crispy deep fried lentils and I asked for more of those which they happily provided free of charge.
  • Having a bite of the moist turkey and crispy lentils in one bite was bang your hand on the table good!
  • The side was a treviso and endive salad which are both naturally bitter vegetables, but the bitterness was desired to contrast the richness of the confit turkey leg.
  • It felt like Christmas or being at the carnival holding a turkey leg, and even though I’m a gravy girl, I didn’t even think about it once while eating this.

Proof that the meat just slipped off the bone.

Soft Serve Ice Cream4/6 (Very good)

  • Salted Caramel $5
  • I sampled the salted caramel ice cream plain and although rich, creamy and very good, I couldn’t taste the salt… a bit surprising because I could definitely taste it in everything else.
  • The one above was someone else’s order and it looked like they sprinkled fresh bacon bits on top which was a bonus.
  • I was surprised bacon bits wasn’t the standard and I was hoping the restaurant would offer more pork inspired desserts.
  • The bacon and chocolate and bacon and caramel are all very popular combinations now, but things like blood chocolate ice cream or even beef tendon cannolis would be fun to see.

Panino Con Nutella3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • Sweet sandwich filled with chocolate hazelnut spread, marshmallow and bananas $6
  • This was a bang for your buck. It was a huge portion and it’s two sandwiches for dessert!
  • It was a s’mores panini with Nutella, marshmallow cream and warm bananas.
  • The bread was crispy with a nice chew and the bananas were creamy, but the hole thing was quite sweet and very filling as expected.
  • If you like the ingredients of course it is good and for $6 I would say it was great, but it was also something you could easily make at home.
  • I actually ended up eating an entire sandwich which surprised myself.

**Sicilian Iris5/6 (Excellent)

  • Ricotta and chocolate chip filled fried brioche $7
  • This was almost a doughnut meets a ricotta and chocolate chip bread pudding and I loved it!
  • It was another substantial dessert and I ate it with an order of Gianduja Chocolate soft serve ice cream on the side. I’m a fan of ice cream and hot and cold desserts.

  • It was crispy on the outside and fluffy, soft and light inside.
  • The brioche was filled with melted ricotta cheese and chocolate chips and it came across as a mildly cheesy chocolaty custard.
  • It was basically a custard filled doughnut, but ricotta has a tang and it wasn’t as rich, thick and sweet as custard.
  • The whole thing was melt in your mouth fantastic!
  • Again, I recommend stuffing it with some ice cream and be prepared to stay away from the bright lights.

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