The Rage in Chicago is to Eat the Whole Hog
In Chicago right now, it’s all about the pig. Or I should say it’s about all the pig. The current rage in the Windy City is restaurants that serve everything pork from snout to tail. One of the newest is The Purple Pig, whose motto is “Cheese, Swine and Wine.” Seriously, what else do you need to be happy?
I was very happy after I left The Purple Pig, a two-month-old boite on Chicago’s Miracle Mile (actually, it’s set back just a bit from Michigan Avenue, but that’s its official address). In an area of the city that is starved for good restaurants, TPP was packed on the Friday afternoon I visited. But I’m certain its popularity isn’t solely due to the dearth of dining (really, how often can you do Billy Goat Tavern?). It’s packing them in on the merits of its fine food and terrific service.
I’ve been feeding pig ears to my dogs for years, so I was taken aback a bit to see pig ears on the menu. Now I understand why my dogs devoured them so voraciously. These pig ears were not the freeze-dried variety sold in pet stores. They were julienned and fried with a bit of spinach, and served in a small dish with a fried egg on top. The server admonished us to just mix everything together. What wonderful flavors. The meat was firm but not chewy, and the richness of the egg yolk coated the mouth.
I also had a ragout fashioned out of the meat found around the pig’s neck bones. Perhaps in a demonstration of the meat’s authenticity, the meaty sauce held a small piece of neck bone. The gravy also had creamy Calabro ricotta and was served with crusty rounds of well-buttered toast.
The toasted rounds also came in handy with the serving of marrow bones, roasted cross sections that held a pulpy substance that can best be described as meat-based butter. You scoop the pulp out, smear it on a piece of bread and sprinkle a bit of salt on top.
One of the marrow bones was a bit undercooked, and when I mentioned this to the server, who was also the bartender, he whisked the plate away and returned with another full serving of bones. (We were already stuffed, so we passed them down to our neighbors at the bar.)
The wine list has dozens of worthy entries, and The Purple Pig (I’m guessing its the red wine that made it purple) has a neat wine policy. Many of the selection are available by the glass, a third-bottle, half-bottle of full bottle. That doesn’t mean those selections are packaged that way. If you order a half-bottle, the bartender simply pours that much into a carafe. It’s a great way to enjoy more wine without having to buy a whole bottle.
The Pig occupies a fairly small space. The L-shaped room is packed mainly with communal tables (which are everywhere in Chicago, even in the fanciest restaurants) and a comfortable bar. The light fixtures over the tables have the menus clipped to them, so they’re always handy. The room just buzzes with people who are happy to be there. And why shouldn’t they be?
The Purple Pig is at 500 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago. It's open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 312-464-1744. Here's a link the Purple Pig's Web site.