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Cheese, swine, and wine still impress at The Purple Pig
The Purple Pig opened nine years ago and quickly became one of the most popular spots along Chicago’s Mag Mile. Now, all these years later, the popularity has not waned. In case you are not familiar, The Purple Pig is a rustic, sharable plate restaurant helmed by fourth-generation restaurateur and James Beard Foundation Award winner Jimmy Bannos Jr. In addition to a massive selection of “cheese, swine, and wine,” The Purple Pig features a range of dishes showcasing the flavors of Italy, Greece, and Spain.
My first visit to The Purple Pig was over seven years ago, so when I was asked to review the restaurant I had to search my memory to recall my prior visit. Why had I taken so long to go back for a visit? Like many locals (and possibly local tourists), I have often walked by and thought, “I should check them out again.” Then, seeing a long line and knowing that they do not take reservations, I have then thought, “Nah. Too long a wait. I’ll just go somewhere else.” I suppose The Purple Pig has become a victim of its own success – at least for people with my former attitude.
After my recent visit, I have advice to both locals and local tourists – if you have not yet tried The Purple Pig, go ahead and brave the lines. If you are like me, and have been once or twice but have avoided the lines since, give it another try. Yes – you will likely have a long wait unless you hit things perfectly, but my recent visit has reminded me just why the restaurant has developed such a fanatic following. The food is superb, the wine list is remarkable, and the service is top notch.
Chef Bannos has crafted a menu of shareable plates, all with a Mediterranean focus. Truly, if you peruse the menu carefully, there is something for everyone. Although the restaurant focuses on “cheese, swine, and wine,” you can still find plenty of vegetarian options, and the kitchen can also accommodate some vegan dishes and gluten-free items as well. On my recent visit, my dining companion and I managed to share an extraordinary amount of food in order to get a nice cross-section of the menu. The standout items for me were the following:
Pork Fat Roasted Almonds – Although this may sound like a simple preparation (and it is) the flavors are stunning. The warm almonds, roasted in pork fat, are lightly seasoned with rosemary and garlic. These are best eaten warm, but I had some leftover and discovered that they taste pretty amazing cold as well.
- Roasted Bone Marrow – This traditional preparation still has a special Bannos flair. The marrow is served with freshly baked bread alongside an herb salad (with some bitter herbs to help balance all of the rich and umami in the marrow) and a bit of Sicilian sea salt to add both saltiness and a crunch.
- Grilled Broccoli – I remarked to my dining companion, “Who would think that something as simple as broccoli could be so amazing?” This is a must-try item on the menu. The grilled broccoli is tossed in a creamy anchovy vinaigrette along with roasted garlic and toasted breadcrumbs. Frankly, I would visit The Purple Pig just for this and a glass of something dry and sparkling.
- Sweet Corn Polenta with burrata foam, heirloom tomato, passion fruit – The combination of flavors and textures was superb on this one. The passion fruit was a sweet/tart surprise, but when you add it to the other ingredients it all marries perfectly.
- Milk-Braised Berkshire Pork Shoulder (served with mashed potatoes and crispy lentils) – An iconic item on the menu for all nine years, this is comfort food at its finest. The pork is fork-tender and the sauce is rich without being cloying. The crispy lentils were a happy crunch surprise to balance out the textures.
- Sicilian Iris – This is another iconic item, a dessert made from fried brioche stuffed with ricotta and chocolate chips. All I can say is, “Wow!” This is one that definitely requires sharing, but even if you are not a dessert lover, try this one at least once.
I rarely rave about wine lists, but The Purple Pig has one of the most astonishing lists I have seen anywhere in Chicago. Recently named one of Wine Enthusiast’s “Top 100 Wine Restaurants in the United States,” each of The Purple Pig’s dishes comes with a wine recommendation expertly selected by Sommelier Alan Beasey. He has not only curated one of the best bottle lists in the city, he has also crafted an amazing list of wines by the glass. On their summer menu, I counted no less than 22 separate rosé wines by the glass. Twenty-two! The red, white, and sparkling lists are equally packed and contain classic pours from Mediterranean regions (France, Spain, Italy, Greece) along with fascinating options from areas such as Slovenia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Lebanon, and Turkey. Take my advice – be sure to explore the wine pairings suggested by both Beasey and by your server – you will be delighted at the results.
The Purple Pig (500 N. Michigan) is open daily from 11:30 a.m. – 11 p.m. They do not take reservations, so plan on a wait. For groups of 8 or more you can contact the event manager to arrange a table buy-out by sending an email to email@example.com. For more information call (312) 464-1-PIG (744), email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit The Purple Pig website, or follow them on Facebook and Instagram.