Walking down Michigan Avenue offers countless restaurants to satiate anyone’s appetite. The Purple Pig (500 N. Michigan Ave.) forces restaurant-goers to be brave. How do fried pig’s ears and smoked pig’s tongue sound to you?
The Purple Pig is located two blocks away from the Grand CTA Red Line stop and is within walking distance from Loyola’s Water Tower Campus. Once through the towering black gates, patrons will be greeted with a cozy and warm interior. Tables stretch from wall to wall, lined with wine glasses and maroon cloth napkins. Chefs and bartenders scurry around in the tight kitchen working in unison, all equally necessary to make dinner run smoothly. The owner and head chef, Jimmy Bannos Jr., stands at the end of the line meticulously maintaining the quality of each dish that goes out. Bannos’ work ethic in the kitchen and love for food and wine makes him one of my idols.
The Purple Pig first ignited my desire to explore the vast depths of the culinary world in the summer of 2014. My underdeveloped palate was confused and delighted with all the smells, flavors and textures I tried that day. Five years later, The Purple Pig is still my favorite restaurant in Chicago.
Cutting back to dinner, I met my good friend Sami outside the gates of the restaurant. The narrow walkway was illuminated by propane torches on each side of the deep violet awning. Once inside, I couldn’t hide my smile. I caught a whiff of vegetables charring, heard wine bottles popping and saw sparks and flames dance from the kitchen. I turned to Sami and asked, “Are you ready to be blown away?”
This was Sami’s first time and, most likely, my 15th time. The Purple Pig never ceases to surprise my palate with the food and drinks it constantly curates.
Adam, our server, asked, “Anything to drink or do you two need another minute?” Before he could finish his sentence I shouted, “A bottle of Lambrusco, please!” The Lambrusco fizzed like champagne, while ascending further up the glass and the deep magenta shined clear as day. Lambrusco is the perfect dinner wine for its semi-sweet and semi-dry profile; it can compliment almost every dish. And honestly, who doesn’t like a good bubbly?
Taking a look at the menu, the vegetarian options are hidden behind a tower of pork. Sami and I negotiated on what to order but, in the end, we just followed our stomachs and said “to hell with it, give us everything.”
The dinner was ordered, and we began making up for lost time. Our conversation carried on with the laughs and muffled chatter from others humming in the background.
Back to back, dish after dish came out steaming and crackling toward our table. Buckle up, because this is about to get crazy.
Greek-style cornbread appeared, interrupting our conversation with its light-yellow bread topped with crumbles of feta and mizithra cheese served over drizzled honey. The bread was dense yet broke apart easily; the cheese delivered a sharp contrast and was sweetened by the honey.
Fried brussels sprouts topped with lemon and chili flakes along with charred cauliflower also made an appearance. The cauliflower was mixed with sliced cornichons which elevated the taste of cumin and smoke from the dish. The brussels sprouts were devoured in an instant — you can’t go wrong with fried food.
I was in shock when the bottle of wine shed its last drop into Sami’s glass. We decided to order cocktails in anticipation for our main course: lasagna. After sifting through the cocktail menu, we landed on one called the Aragon Sour — a bourbon cocktail mixed with carpano, cider and a wine float on top. The marriage between the crisp cider and sweet carpano antica elevate the rather robust bourbon; allowing for the charred whiskey cask to effortlessly float down my gullet. A pinch of sweet and a little citrus zest make this one hell of a cocktail. The Aragon Sour passed through my mouth time and time again as sunlight dwindled into darkness.
Following immediately after our libations, patatas bravas — fried Spanish potatoes topped with different salsas — danced off the plate to the tune of our forks scraping them up. Since Sami is a vegetarian, I ate the foie gras by myself. Foie gras is goose liver that’s compounded in various seasonings and melts in your mouth like ice cream on a hot day. Delicious.
Hissing from the freshly poured brown butter and popping sage stimulated all my senses and sent shivers down my neck; the lasagna had arrived. Topped with crisp sage and beige butter sauce, the butternut squash and spinach was a sight to behold. My fork sliced through the layers upon layers of pasta. I hit the back of my seat and nearly tipped over in disbelief. This was the best pasta I had ever had — and I studied in Rome.
Ending our night, a plate of brown sugar cheesecake topped with raspberry and chocolate chips was devoured. This dessert was paired with a dessert wine that I can’t recall the name of. Adam was kind enough to share the wine with us; it was sweet and had a slight hint of raisins and apricots. The wine paired perfectly with the cheesecake; thank you, Adam.
The Purple Pig is no cheap affair. Our meal cost $300 with seven dishes, one dessert, a bottle of wine, two shots of Malört, two cocktails and two dessert wines. That being said, having a big party is the idea with The Purple Pig. Every dish is meant to be shared, and so is the bill. If you’re a Loyola student who has yet to try out this culinary gem, it’s a must. Check out its website and learn more about the story of my favorite restaurant at thepurplepigchicago.com.