When I sat down at the only open seat at the counter at The Purple Pig last week for dinner after some shopping on Michigan Avenue, the woman to my left had just started tearing into a huge hunk of pork blade steak. There was no denying she was thoroughly enjoying her meal. By the time my glass of wine (a fabulous Priorat) was poured, the same steak landed in front of the man to my right. Immediately all plans to order a light dinner of vegetable dishes (something a place boasting “Cheese, Swine & Wine” is not known for, but which are unexpectedly good) went out the window. Moments later the ice broke, and the two people on either side of me started raving about the pork blade steak. How could I not order the same? So I caved.
And I’m glad I did. The steak arrives searing hot, juicy, and has delicious flavor. The richness of the meat is offset with the tartness of a side of arugula salad with lemon vinaigrette and a scoop of njuda, a spicy salami and red pepper spread. And, oh, there’s a bit of honey brushed on the pork. Sounds funky, but it all works.
Since its opening a year ago, The Purple Pig has received tons of “best restaurant” accolades and has been a foodie destination ever since. On the Tuesday night I visited, the place was packed. Chef Jimmy Bannos, Jr. wanted to create a spot where you could stop in for a glass of wine and have some antipasti, charcuterie, and “smears,” or something more substantial in the way of Mediterranean-focused sandwiches, salads, or small entrées, and he came up with a winning formula. The small-plates menu and communal tables make it conducive to sharing a number of dishes that are well executed and delicious, all at affordable prices. Ditto for the European-heavy selection of wines, available by the glass, quartino, or bottle.
Pork predominates in all forms—lardo crostini, pork liver pâté, pork neck bone rillette and mostarda, roasted bone marrow with herbs, and pork saltimbocca. All parts of the pig are put to use in ingenious ways, some more to my liking than others. The creamy pâté will have you asking for more of the thick slices of grilled bread to finish up every bit, and the milk-braised pork shoulder is so tender all you’ll need is your fork to polish it off. The pig’s ear with crispy kale, pickled cherry peppers, topped with a fried egg has become a signature dish, but both my sister Martha and I on a previous visit found it too much fried-ness for our liking.
Nonporcine eaters will be surprisingly satisfied with the seafood and vegetable options, the latter of which change with the seasons. I like to come for the creative preparation of vegetables alone. On a previous visit, friends went gaga over a farro dish with roasted rutabaga and feta. Earlier this year a preparation of fresh fava beans with chopped bacon and hard-boiled eggs with vinaigrette and mint was divine. Pick a seafood item, whether oil-poached tuna, scallops spiedini, or whole grilled snapper for two, and you’re bound to be as pleased as your pork-loving dining companions.
The Purple Pig is the place to pop in at all hours for whatever suits your mood—for lunch, something light after an afternoon of shopping on the Mag Mile, dinner with friends where there’s something for everyone, or for a late-night stop. Whatever you choose, don’t leave without sharing the “Iris,” a fried brioche filled with creamy ricotta with chocolate chips that will have you coming back again, only next time, you won’t want to share.
The Purple Pig
500 North Michigan Avenue
Tel 312.464.1-PIG (744)
Sunday – Thursday, 11:30am – midnight
Friday, Saturday – 11:30am – 2:00am