With our time in Chicago running ever shorter, the missus and I made the executive decision to start picking restaurants from the very top of the hit list as we scheduled various going-away meals. Up first, the Purple Pig (500 N. Michigan), a Mediterranean-influenced swine and wine emporium started a few years ago by Chef Jimmy Bannos Jr. and his prominent financial partners (including Tony Mantuano of Spiaggia fame, Scott Harris of the Francesca's empire, and pop Jimmy Bannos Sr., most well-known for Heaven on Seven). Back before my blogging days, I had the good fortune of standing in line at Great Lake Pizza next to the chef's mom, who at the time told me about the pending opening of her son's new eatery. This was late 2009 - since PP fired up its grills shortly thereafter, it's been nearly impossible to get a table as the place is small, reservations are not accepted, and the food is allegedly kickass. What better time to dine there than a Monday night in winter immediately following the Super Bowl, right? Well, that pretty much worked for us - we (we being me, Mrs. Hackknife, my cousin P.J., and his wife Megan) still had to sit at a communal table, but only after a modest 20-minute wait.
Once inside, I quickly appreciated the conundrum of dining here. The restaurant really IS small (seating for maybe 50 if everyone sucks their guts in) and the kitchen is impossibly tiny considering the magical dishes emanating from it. We started with a selection of antipasti items, including pork-fried almonds with rosemary & garlic (totally addictive), salt-roasted beets with whipped goat cheese and pistachio vinaigrette (as a semi-authority on beet roasting and not much else, I found these a little underwhelming), and our server's recommendation on some cured meats and cheeses. We all loved the cured meats (jamon Serrano, tartufo - a salami made with black truffles, and Catalonian fuet - a dry Spanish pork sausage) and the cheeses (caprino tartufo - a goat cheese studded with black truffle, quadrello - a buffalo milk cheese, and piave vecchio - similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano), which you can see in the photo below; however, there were plenty other menu items to explore.
We subsequently went a little crazy and ordered up a few more goodies (since, you know, small plates of stuff don't really count towards daily caloric intake). Croquettes of fried manchego cheese with a sweet membrillo (like a quince marmalade) were sinfully delicious, as was one of the house specialties, strips of crispy pig's ear with kale chips (slightly better than my house recipe), pickled cherry peppers, and a fried egg on top (which I gingerly worked around). Equally decadent was a rich rillette made from pork neck bone meat/fat, paired with a mostarda (a mustard and candied fruit syrup common in Italy) and crunchy toast points for spreading). By the time we sliced into the milk-braised pork shoulder with mashed potatoes, our bevy was hitting the proverbial wall, but we rallied in time to enjoy an amazing dessert of panini stuffed with Nutella and something that resembled marshmallow fluff (see photo below).
Clearly, my recommendation to you is not to be deterred by the extended wait times and no reservation policy at PP, as the payoff is well worth the inconvenience and lack of personal space...