Feast on Great Swine and Wine at The Purple Pig

We’re still slowly blogging our way through our eating and drinking extravaganza in Chicago. There are so many great restaurants in the Windy City that we actually had to pare down our list, planning lunch and dinner accordingly to cover our favorites. We first stumbled upon the Purple Pig in 2010 as we strolled along the Magnificent Mile. It seemed like it was easier to get in back then since they had only opened in late 2009; however, it is now one of the more popular spots in Chicago, and seats at the no-reservations place are much harder to come by.

The Purple Pig is a collaboration of four long time Chicago chefs: Scott Harris (Mia Francesca), Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia), Jimmy Bannos and Jimmy Bannos Jr. (Heaven on Seven). The extensive 100+ item all-day menu features house-made charcuterie and Mediterranean-inspired small plates meant to be shared. Their motto of “cheese, wine and swine” succinctly describes this temple to all things pork (and other proteins) with one of the most extensive wine lists that we have seen at a restaurant.

Knowing that it might be harder for our group to get a table in the evening, we decided to go for lunch and were given seats at the communal table outside under their purple canopy. It was a particularly warm day, but, thanks to some fans, it was tolerable to eat outdoors on their patio overlooking the Chicago River:

It was a very warm day so we petty much stuck with drinking plenty of water, but did manage to share a bottle of a refreshingly crisp Southern Italian Falanghina (white wine) amongst our group. We began with snacking off of the fried items part of the menu with an order of Chorizo-stuffed olives served with a tangy roasted garlic sauce:

The cross-section shows that a prep cook worked hard to stuff the large green olive:

We also shared the Purple Pig Platter of cured meats which included many hams, salumi and beef tongue topped with agrodolce (sweet and sour) sauce. It was a great selection of several different types of cured meats that were rich and satisfying:

We took a very brief respite from swine and ordered the cold Calamari antipasti dish. The cured rings were deliciously studded with fregola, radishes, cucumbers and bits of pistachios — all adding crunch in addition to flavor. Served with a citrus dressing, it turned out to be the lightest and possibly the healthiest dish we ordered:

The tasty house-made Chicken Mortadella came in a sausage format, served with an apple and arugula salad:

We returned back to chowing on swine with their signature dish that we remember raving about when we first came to the Purple Pig. The Pig’s Ear was presented as deep-fried strips accompanied by crispy kale chips and spicy pickled cherry peppers all topped with a sunny-side up egg. We mixed everything together the best we could such that the yolk coated the tasty offal “fries:”

The batter-coated and fried Pork Sweetbreads were deliciously crunchy and creamy at the same time. The apricot purée added sweetness while the finely chopped fennel fronds added an herbal flavor:

Not available at many places since it is a special butcher’s cut, the Pork Secreto (Spanish for secret) is the thin layer of meat underneath the belly fat. Cooked on the plancha, this is a very Spanish dish that features one of the tenderest and tastiest parts of the pig. Also served at Coqueta in San Francisco, we hope that this is one cut that works its way on more menus:

The very tender Veal Neck contained plenty of meat between the vertebrae bones. It may have been a little heavy for an afternoon repast, but this version of a pot roast made with a lesser cut of beef, with the added bonus of some silky soft tendons, was comfort-food great:

The Purple Pig lives up to its name, providing many different cuts of the swine and offering numerous different wines, of which we would have drank more if it weren’t mid-day and so hot. It is one of the better curated wine lists that we have encountered in the US.

All plates are meant to be shared; however, unlike many other tapas-style restaurants, we would recommend sticking with no more than 3 dishes between two people since the portions are very generous, especially with the meaty items. We actually had two more items on order, which the server graciously allowed us to cancel. We had tried to order two dishes per person, but luckily the server thought it was too much and hadn’t asked the kitchen to fire the last items. We’ll just have to come back next time through and re-order those items, along with a bottle or two of wine.


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