Stop #1- The Purple Pig
I happened to be staying across from the Purple Pig, the now iconic tapas style restaurant on the Magnificant Mile. It has a large menu featuring a variety of animals in different shapes and sizes. It is a collaboration of chefs Scott Harris, Tony Mantuano, Jimmy Bannos and JImmy Bannos Jr. and promises cheese, swine and wine…but not beer.
We were seated outside without much delay on a high table set up in communal fashion. They was plenty of room and were shortly joined by three girls who sounded like the Chipettes. I even named them Brittany, Jeanette and and Elenor while I was waiting for my food and moved over a little in case Alvin, Simon and Theodore dropped by too.
The waiter came quickly and was happy to boast the fact the focus on the menu was Mediterranean food. He spouted off the predictable verbatim used at almost every tapas or small plate restaurant in North America in a manner synonymous with a stewardess’ safety banter on an outgoing flight….
“Let me take a minute to explain the menu. This is a small plate restaurant meant for sharing so we don’t recommend you order individual dishes but instead order dishes to share as a table. The menu is constructed from light to heavy. We recommend 2-3 dishes per person. Personally, I like the asparagus as a starter and the pork belly for something a little richer, but be sure to save room for our award winning house made dessert..haha!”
Another great thing is pointing out an intolerance or allergy after the recital is over. For example, asking “Does the pork shank have any garlic or onions, leads to a perplexed and slightly pained face and the standard line “I don’t believe so but I’ll check with the chef”.
After the speech, he asked if we wanted a drink. Our group are beer drinkers, so I politely asked if they had any local beer. He looked astonished. Instead of the simple answer of “No”, I got the “this is a Mediterranean restaurant so we only serve beer from that region” in the same tone and manner one would proclaim that San Marzano tomatoes are the only tomatoes you can use in Italian cooking . Fair enough, but heaven forbid I ask if they have a beer or two from one of the most vibrant microbrew regions in North America. Better yet, the menu features such favorites as Brasserie Dupont “Saison Dupont” from BELGIUM and Belhaven “Scottish Stout” from SCOTLAND. I’m not a geography expert, but I don’t think ships cruising the Mediterranean make port stops in Brussels or Glasgow.
One of the appeals of the purple pig is the huge menu, although it can be a bit burdensome when trying to decide amongst 4 people an appropriate “course” of action. After a lengthy discussion, they all looked at me and said “Well, you just order!”. So I did…
Pig’s Ear with Crispy Kale, Pickled Cherry Peppers & Fried Egg- Not the best I’ve had but the egg was cooked perfectly. The pig’s ear lacked a little integrity.
House Cured Lardo Iberico- Don’t mistake it for cheese! This salume was very pleasant with a subtle saltiness and silky texture.
Greek Yogurt with Mango Chutney- Arguably one of the best dishes I had on this day. The yogurt was thick and rich and seasoned wonderfully, The chutney had enough acid to cut through the intense creaminess of this oil laden spreadable delight.
Octopus with Green Beans, Fingerling Potatoes & Salsa Verde- Octopus was cooked well and worked with the beans. A little oily however.
Wagyu Sirloin Tip with Fingerling Potatoes, Cippolini Onions, Olives & Bone Marrow Vinaigrette- Cooked just to medium rare, the meat was tender and the potatoes were crisp and delicious. A safe dish for those not invested in snouts, jowls or tails although they do manage to sneak in a bit of bone marrow.
Mussels with Pancetta, Crème Fraîche & Marjoram- Decent but by no means the best mussels I’ve ever had.
Meatball Slider with Parmesan & Arugula- Moist, tangy and salty, it was a blissful few bites. Really messy to eat given the meat to bun ratio!
Pork Secreto with Roasted Red Pepper, Leeks & Pickled Watermelon Rind- This was another divine dish. This amazing cut of pork had an incredible sear and maintained it’s moistness.
There was too much food so dessert was not an option.
The purple pig is a Chicago icon, a magical creation of a handful of some of Chicago’s most prominent chefs. It’s a true nose to tail, small plate menu. The outdoor seating area is nice but be prepared to seat communally with all sorts of folks (maybe you’ll get lucky and have Fred and Daphne from Mystery Inc. show up). Inside, it’s loud and crowded and getting into the small washroom can be as difficult as getting into the restaurant itself. The menu is large and diverse but don’t go with indecisive people because it might be as painful as watching my dad try to pick out a birthday card. My choice of the various fare had some good and some not so good but the highlights were definitely the pork secreto and the Greek yogurt with rhubarb chutney although the lardo and steak tips also get honorable mention. That said, there’s at least another 20 things on the menu (including dessert) I’d want to try.
The only question that remains is “Can one have a medieval feast at a Mediterranean restaurant?” Based on the waiter’s logic, the answer is a resounding yes! After all, I can order a Scottish stout or a Belgian beer. Hell, maybe Game of Throne’s Winterfell may have been saved and the Red Wedding massacre may have been prevented if they knew an attack through the Mediterranean was a possibility. Damn beer drinkers.