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I celebrate and honor 22 the right way, at the Publican.

22. A special number in my life. A special date. A special age. A number that has brought luck, love and fortune to me through very little work of my own. Growing up I loved #23, for all the cliché reasons. In the 90’s all the best players donned that number, more than just the most famous, Michael Jordan. And so I begrudgingly left 23 behind and made room for one less, and it gave me so much more. On July 22nd, 2005 I embarked on my last first date with a gentleman working for the United States Navy, VS22 to be exact. On October 22nd that same fella with whom I shared in our last first date told me he loved me. On September 22nd, 2006, I married this man at the ripe young age of 22. We shared this age together, along with some amazing memories rounding out the day we exchanged vows. I graduated college. We celebrated in Vegas, with the fam. Spent our honeymoon in New York and shortly before turning 23 we decided to uproot everything and move to Italy. 22 kept showing up, winning us money in roulette, and the date happened to coincide with many life-changing travels throughout our stint in Europe.

On August 22nd, 2010, we moved to Chicago. No lie. It’s bizarre. I’m one to believe in coincidence rather than fate or miracle, but I’ve let the magic of numerology overtake my fully functioning brain and therefore, I’m banking on old 22. I find ways to celebrate this number, either big or small, and for our nickel anniversary I made no exception. We needed to eat our faces off, titillate our taste buds, send shock waves through our nerve-endings. And that's why we spent September 22nd, 2011 at the Publican.

The idea for the Publican came to me from a TV show I’d love to replicate in my own way someday. No Reservations, hosted by the acerbically funny, chef from New York, Tony Bourdain. Tony’s cactus sensibility resonates with my own, and although I’m somewhat sweeter and softer deep down (I think he is too), I’ve got a fairly razor-sharp tongue and very little tolerance for certain people or behaviors. This is why I respect his taste and his show tremendously. It’s not cheesy, phony, contrived, or dull. It’s genuine. It’s a window into worlds most don’t understand, or may not even be aware of, and it’s fricken food porn. When he’s ready to retire, I’m perfectly willing to attempt to fill his shoes. I’ll be sure to let him know because he’s clearly just waiting for me to say those words out loud. Ah, but one can dream.

So when Tony was in Chicago, as any smart person would be, he pointed out some excellent little gems that I’ve frequented and written about since; save for the Publican. Even hearing about it from friends, reading about it in the paper, and exploring their website, it still took almost a full year to make the trek to Fulton Market, for some pork, oysters and beer. Yeehaw. Warning, this place is three dollar signs ($$$), so it ain’t cheap. Special occasion arises, take your sweetheart or BFF and go. As with all others I deem worthy of writing about, this place is memorable and worth every penny.

This place comes with a major reputation and therefore some pretty significant popularity. They earned it and deserve it, but reservations are a must. We initially tried for a weekend, got shot down because of my last-minute attempt in making a reservation, and so we opted for the better choice anyway, Thursday, September 22nd. Taking a cab that drove dangerously quick, weaving in and out of traffic, attempting to arrive at our set time, we enjoyed the beautiful architecture Chicago has to offer, but arrived just beyond 15 minutes late. When this happens, you’re table is given up, but they do their damnedest to get you seated quickly. While you wait, you’re corralled like farm animals in the center of the restaurant, standing around small, circular, tall tables, where you peruse their impressive beer menu and get whiffs of the sizzling pork on other patrons’ forks. We ordered some microbrews and were quickly sat at the oyster chef’s table, getting a bird's eye view of all the action in the kitchen. The decor is simple, monochromatic, but very modern and sleek, with large paintings of pigs in cow print hung on the walls. Nothing makes you hungry like a pig/cow hybrid. Mmm.

The Publican is ran impeccably by executive chef, Paul Kahan, and chef de cuisine, Brian Huston. From the owners and creative minds behind Avec and Blackbird, this casual fare comes from the highest quality pigs, certified organic from Iowa, quality vegetables, top shelf oysters from trusted purveyors, and the staple ingredient giving this place its extra umph, beer. Designed by Thomas Schlesser, the Publican is simple farm fare with an old European bar decor. It's comfortable and impressive, casual but still a special occasion.

The menu is simple but also overwhelming, for the descriptions of each item are so enticing, the mixture of flavors so creative and unique, surely you cannot make a bad choice. We opted for half a dozen oysters, sweet n salty, a sampling of Serrano ham, and the Suckling Pig, from the entrée menu. The oysters are shucked fresh and are served on ice, with a tiny gravy boat of this buttery, garlic, vinegar concoction that you pour over each slurp with a sprinkling of lemon. I could drink that sauce every damn night. Oh my god. Jesus. Krishna. I’d imagine it’s what the buddha’s saliva tastes like. Weird? Oh well. The Serrano ham is Spanish, thinly sliced, and served with fresh slices of bread and butter. You make a tiny sandwich, or just eat that salty, bold deli meat by itself. We ate every single morsel. The suckling pig was the most jaw-dropping, life-changing, O-face inducing entrée I’ve had in days, ha, maybe weeks. I cannot fathom how good all the other entrees are and I cannot wait to find out.

What is abundantly clear when eating at the Publican, and watching the men at work, is how much passion and care is put into each plate, each bite. I love enthusiasm and talent put to use. My friends and people I admire deeply do this so well, and to share in the art created by chefs with people you respect and love makes for the most memorable evening, and I could not ask for a better experience. This is life for me. Laughing and eating. What more do we need?

Treat yourself. I’m sure you bust your ass and sacrifice to live your chosen life, so whether it be the Publican, or some other dining experience you’ve been eyeing, celebrate yourself and another with the joy and love that is food. Thank you and enjoy.

The other white meat brings some color into your life.

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.

Chew on this.

Eat consciously. Eat passionately. Laugh and chew. Drink a brew. Enjoy.