Until this point in time, I’ve yet to review any restaurants beyond casual dining. I’ve kept the dollar signs at one, or between one and two. Today is different. Today is special. This culinary eatery may bring you into the 3 dollar sign range, but truthfully you’ll most likely hover in $$-$$$. Don’t let that frighten you. You’re treating yourself. You deserve it. We all do. This place also brings collaboration and community into the mix. You’ll be sharing a plethora of flavorful dishes. Bite bite pass. Welcome to the world that is the Purple Pig. I’ll caution vegetarians now. This is a pork centered-place; hopefully the name tipped you off. Their focus is cheese, swine and wine; so feel free to join, drink, eat some cheese and veggie focused spreads, but if this disturbs or disgusts you in any way, don’t ruin your friends' trip, simply move on or stay home. See: Pick-Me-Up, Chicago Diner, Pequod’s, or Panes Bread Cafe. Plenty to choose from friends. :)
Back on message. I’ve had the sheer masticating pleasure of the Purple Pig 3 times now. Each visit was full of surprises and beyond spectacular food. If you’re visiting the Chicago area, TPP is a great option as it’s located right in the heart of the Loop on Michigan Avenue and East Illinois Street. Just past Michigan Ave’s breathtaking bridge across the Chicago river, after you’ve craned your neck to glance in awe at the Carbide and Carbon building, on to the historic Tribune and a quick look across to Wrigley’s dual structure facade, you’ll amble north and see the purple arch on the west side of the avenue. Early birds are probably the only chance of sitting immediately; if you’re willing to wait and enjoy the atmosphere at its most potent, then arrive around 730-8, squeeze past the tiny waiting area to the hostess, grab some wine and be patient. As always, it’s worth it.
The Purple Pig mostly consists of long, high, rectangular wood tables with fairly comfortable stools. You end up sitting right next to perfect strangers which is an excellent chance to look, hear and smell what they’re eating and emulate if you so choose. As with any restaurant experience, you’ll cut costs tremendously by not ordering alcohol, but that’s fun for no one. The high quality wine will make you less irritated by the noise and more appreciative of the flavors and scents wafting through the air. Plus it may make the company you keep seem more interesting. Just kidding of course, the company I choose to keep could not be more interesting. There’s something in sharing wine with the people you love; it imbues the occasion with even more magic and, in moderation, more memories.
Their menu is broken down into: Antipasti, Salad, Fried Items, Paninis, Cured Meats, Cheeses, Smears, A La Plancha and of course, Dulci. Being grade “A” fatties the salad portion was not even perused. Doesn’t mean it should’t be, just means I won’t be reviewing it. Let me just boldly recommend now that you go for weird. If you read it and it causes you to make a face, that means you need to face your judgments and fears and put that item in your mouth! My favorite items at the Purple Pig are the Roasted Bone Marrow with Herbs, Pigs Ear with Crispy Kale, Pickled Cherry Peppers and Fried Egg, and Pig Tails Braised in Balsamic. My argument to those thinking any of these items sound cruel is if you’re going to eat an animal, honor it, appreciate it, and don’t waste it. To those simply thinking they sound gross, give your palette a chance to mature, your tongue will not be disappointed.
To those with slightly closed minds and weak hearts, there are a slew of enticing dishes that will serve as food to your soul, comforting and satisfying. The cavalcade of choices from the Antipasti, Fried Foods and Cured Meat sections will stimulate any red-blooded American or International and leave you yearning for more. Whatever you choose, I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed. The tapas style portions are all well-balanced, savory, not too big, not too small. If I were to recommend just one dish, at this or any food merchant in Chicago, it’d have to be the Milk Braised Pork Shoulder with Mashed Potatoes. My mouth is salivating like Pavlov’s dog just at the thought, at the split-second memory of the vision, sizzle, aroma, and pure masticating nirvana this feature provides. My Mom makes a great roast, unbelievable mashed potatoes, and perfect complimentary sauces, rues, or gravies; and this conjures up sweet memories of childhood, of pork shank in an Italian restaurant, of family dinners, and settles in my heart that wholesome, safe, healthy feeling. I love it. Please try it.
Few things in life are more pleasurable than sharing a meal with people you enjoy. When I reflect on my life to this point, I don’t reminisce about cars I’ve had, homes I’ve lived in, clothes I’ve worn or overall consumer related items. Those are all transient and meaningless. Food is sustenance. It is necessary for survival and also pivotal in the enjoyment of the beauty this planet provides. I reflect fondly on laughs and meals I’ve shared. I’ll take that with me as I approach the end of my life.
Eat consciously. Eat passionately. Laugh and chew. Drink a brew. Enjoy.