The Purple Pig received its’ name from restauranteur Jimmy Bannos Sr. to represent a pig drunk on red wine, encompassing the restaurant’s “cheese, swine and wine” focus. So it’s no surprise why we ended up at the Chicago hotspot.
Located on bustling North Michigan Avenue, the warm and inviting venue was packed when we arrived at 9pm and hadn’t slowed down by the time we left well after 11. According to Chef Jimmy Bannos Jr., they want diners to take their time with the menu, be it with food, wine or both. I had the pleasure of picking the Chef’s brain about the restaurant and menu before our dinner, so I knew what items we had to try during our meal.
When we sat down for dinner, the couple next to us were in the depths of tackling the Roasted Bone Marrow with Herbs, which looked like it came from a dinosaur. We knew we were in trouble. Our meal started with the chef’s seasonal recommendations from the Antipasti portion of the menu, Shaved Brussels Sprouts with Pecorino Noce and Parmigiano Reggiano, and Butternut Squash with Pumpkin Seeds, Brown Butter and Salata. The brussels sprouts were light and refreshing in comparison to the heartiness of the butternut squash, perfect compliments to one another. That being said, the butternut squash was our favorite dish of our entire Chicago trip. We may have even propositioned the Chef to move to NY for that dish alone! We realized later that this was premature, because there were additional menu items we’d gladly have the Chef recreate for us in NY too.
We moved onto one of the dishes that the Purple Pig is best known for, Pig’s Ear with Crispy Kale, Pickled Cherry Peppers and Fried Egg, from the Fried Items portion of the menu. The saltiness of the pigs ears, combined with the oozing fried egg on top and crispy yet sweet kale, all melded together to offer up a very complex bite. According to Chef Jimmy, the technique they use is what makes their Pigs Ears stand out from other restaurants that offer pig’s ears on their menu. They’ve also been serving it up since 2009, so although cities have recently become more adventurous with food items, Chef Bannos Jr. would like to think that the Purple Pig was one of the first restaurants behind the trend.
Next up were the Smears, and we opted for the Pork Neck Bone Gravy with Ricotta Smear. The dish sounded like it would be a traditional gravy, but appeared more like a tomato sauce, served with a side of chunky toasted bread. This dish is very rich and filling and recommended for those that are on the hungry side.
Moving on to our main entrees, we dove into the a La Plancha (translation: grilled on a metal plate) selections, choosing the Scallop Spiedini with Chickpea Aioli and House Made Veal Mortadella Sausage with spinach, fresh chickpeas and preserved cherry tomatoes. The scallops were the perfect portion to not overpower the other dishes we had just scarfed down. The sausage supplied another hearty dish that made us so full we almost regretted we ordered entrees… key word: almost.
I was ready to be rolled out of the restaurant, but the Chef would have nothing of it, and we’re glad he didn’t take no for an answer. He served up the Sicilian Iris, a ricotta and chocolate chip-filled fried brioche and Affogato: Salted Caramel Ice Cream, which is made in house, and espresso. The desserts at the Purple Pig are worth the trip to Chicago alone! The server described the Sicilian Iris as a combination of a donut and cannoli and it put New York’s Cronut, another popular dessert combo, to shame. The chocolate filling oozed out and mixed with the warm dough and dusted powdered sugar for one delicious bite after another. The Salted Caramel soft serve, garnished with hard candies and topped with espresso, helped us to not fall into a food coma. It was the perfect way to end the overwhelmingly flavorful meal.
So if you’re visiting Chicago, why should you run to the Purple Pig to fulfill your foodie desires? If the above account of our meal doesn’t convince you, there’s also the rest of the widespread food and wine menus that we even scratch the surface of. Multiple visits to the restaurant are needed to try even a fraction of the menu, especially since it changes seasonally. The restaurant is a perfect date spot, given the barrage of sharing dishes on the menu.
There’s also the uniqueness of the space. Chef Bannos Jr. believes that when people walk in for the first time, they’ve never seen another restaurant like it. Partner that with a first class dining experience at an affordable price point with an extensive wine list, and you have yourself a perfect evening. Jimmy says, “it’s fun, fun is key and unpretentious. We work hard to have everyone leave happy.’
– Stephanie Carino
The Purple Pig
500 N Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60611