My cousin and I have this tradition: I visit Chicago for work, and she takes me to popular Chicago restaurants while I’m in town. We always make time for one dinner, sometimes two, and I’m never disappointed.
It helps that Chicago has an unlimited number of great restaurants to choose from, so we can try a new spot each time I visit.
My most recent visit was in early December, and it was a whirlwind trip. I didn’t have much time to spare, so she suggested we try a restaurant a block from my office in the Wrigley Building: The Purple Pig.
To be honest, I wasn’t very inspired by the name. I figured anything named “The Purple Pig” must be a barbecue joint, and I am not a fan of barbecue. One glance at the menu and I realized that this was not the case. That is, unless you consider potato ice cream to be a newfangled version of barbecue’s most beloved side item, mashed potatoes.
The Purple Pig does live up to its name, however, by featuring a number of inventive pork dishes. (Chef Jimmy Bannos, Jr. was crowned “The Prince of Pork” by Food and Wine Editor and Chief, Dana Cowin.) Somehow we managed not to select a single pork dish for our dinner, but that was fine with us. We were blown away by what we did have.
Here’s what you need to know about The Purple Pig: The menu is…inventive. In our waiter’s words, many of their best known dishes are truly “a walk on the wild side.” And he was right.
My advice: Let go of your preconceived notions about food and allow yourself to get carried away by the daring and unexpected flavor and texture combinations that Bannos, Jr. serves up.
A typical small-plates restaurant, we selected six dishes to share between the two of us along with some wine. Our waiter was extremely knowledgeable and guided us through all of our options. Here’s what we tried, with our notes on each.
Whipped Burrata Cannoli with Butternut Squash, Mint Oil & Candied Pepitas
The cannoli was light, airy, fluffy, and subtle. It was a bit unexpected, as cannoli is usually a dessert item, but it’s served here as a savory-sweet appetizer. It comes with two dipping sauces: a sweet and well-spiced butternut squash puree, and an earthy homemade pesto. Favor the squash and you will not be disappointed.
Potato Ice Cream, Ossetra Caviar, Chips & Crème Fraiche
As the name implies, this is literally frozen potato ice cream. It’s served with fresh, salty chips topped with whipped sour cream and chives. It’s amazingly good all together. Be sure to scoop some potato ice cream onto the chip to balance out the salty-savory chip and sour cream with the crisp-light ice cream.
My brain wasn’t quite sure how to process what I was eating. It’s as strange as it sounds, but it works. Well. It’s one of the most unique dishes I’ve ever tried.
Black Truffle Ravioletto with Wild Mushrooms & Orange Blossom Honey
This is total comfort food. The ravioletto is basically a massive piece of honey-glazed ravioli filled with thick, buttery, melty cheese. My notes on this just say “hearty, meaty, cheesy,earthy, slightly sweet.” Kristen (my cousin) perfectly described it: It’s like getting an internal hug.
Smoked Scallops with Parsnip Puree, Cranberry Gastrique and Dakos
Scallops are normally the best part of any meal for me, but these got overshadowed by the more inventive dishes of the evening. Still, they were well prepared, with a bevy of supporting flavors on the plate to bring sweetness, earthiness, and creaminess to the dish at different points.
Lamb Ribs with Harissa, Treviso Marmalade, Israeli Couscous and Pomegranate
These were as decadent as they look. The tender lamb was doused in a thick, sweet marinade, complemented by the crunch and tartness of fresh pomegranate. Couscous added a nice texture to the dish as well. And whatever the reduction was on the plate was absolutely out of this world. The clear winner of the evening.
As if five other dishes weren’t enough, we decided to pile on with a dessert. The brioche was the one incongruent part of our evening. All other dishes were tapas sized, if not slightly larger, meant for sharing. The brioche, in contrast, was entree-sized. Kristen and I made it through about half of the brioche before we had to call it quits. It was extremely rich, filled with molten, chocolatey ricotta, and absolutely decadent. But it was so big that there was no way we could finish it – both because of the richness and the size.
In all, I had a great experience at The Purple Pig. It has a casual, lively atmosphere, great service, and memorable food. I’m fortunate that Kristen is as adventurous with dining as I am. With The Purple Pig only a block away from my office, it’ll be hard for her to convince me to try other new restaurants on subsequent work trips when this place is so good!
If You Go
- Location: 500 N Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL, 60611
- Hours: Sunday – Thursday 11:30 a.m. – 12:00 a.m., Friday – Saturday 11:30 a.m. – 2:00 a.m. (kitchen closes at 1:00 a.m.)
- Reservations: No. Seating is first come, first served.
- Dress: Casual
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