Just a warning, things are about to get all sorts of intense. Spoiler alert: I LOVE The Purple Pig. It is definitely in my top three favorite restaurants, if not the favorite. So brace yourselves for some excitement on my end, but believe me, it's completely warranted.
I've heard nothing but good things about this restaurant, and it was one of the few repeat Chicago favorites amongst celebrity chefs listed in this article. Apparently, Chicago recently received the Munchies People's Choice Awards for "Best Food City." I wouldn't have guessed, to be honest. And if I had known earlier, I would've ventured out to the windy city MUCH more often.
Appropriately, the wait here is long. They don't take reservations so my party of three arrived at 6:30pm on a Monday and there was still an hour and a half wait. Conveniently, they serve cocktails in their patio so it wasn't all bad. I indulged in some scotch on the rocks, Pig's Nose Scotch Whisky (festive, I know), and waited as patiently as possible. It was a beautiful night in the city and the weather was actually pleasant, so I really couldn't complain.
Our name was finally called and we sat at a communal, bar height table spanning the unpretentiously pygmy (hah) restaurant. The place was packed, hardly able to hold the patrons and staff, and loud, yet comforting and casual at the same time. It felt like a family party, now that I think about it.
Right away, we started the night off with some foie gras and membrillo. And that's when we knew... when we knew it was gonna be a great night. I love foie gras, but I know there can be some really bad offerings out there. This is not that kind of foie gras. This is the melt in your mouth, tastes like butter, I-gotta-scrape-out-all-corners-of-that-ramekin, type of foie gras. It was sprinkled with some finishing flake salt and served with toasted bread slices. They accompanied the "smear" with membrillo, or quince preserves, evocative of honey or fruit with salty cheese. The membrillo was also delicious, but the sweetness took away from the foie gras. It did not, however, overpower the smear; we just wanted nothing but the smear [so help us god]. The perfect consistency–not at all gritty–the perfect amount of salt, not a hint of bitter aftertaste, and even its slight sweetness made for what we thought would be the meal's pinnacle. Fantastically, we were wrong.
Next up, the coppa and monte crudo. I swear, you all are going to grow quickly tired of me describing things as "melt in your mouth" but the phrase couldn't be more accurate. The coppa, mild and fairly fatty, is a cut of tender meat from the back of the swine's head, reminiscent of sopressata (but better). Their coppa was only one of the several house-cured meats available for delicious consumption. The only downside was there were only a few pieces served per order. Then again, if I had it my way, I could've then had the opportunity to order several of their options rather than just the one. womp womp
The monte crudo is an aged sheep's milk cheese very similar to the Spanish manchego: firm, slightly salty, and a perfect pairing to the fruit compote served alongside. Again, the serving is scant, but lends itself to another "variety platter" opportunity.
Get ready people, the next round of melt in your mouthness is coming atcha with the pork secreto with roasted red pepper, leeks, & pickled watermelon rind. Picking a favorite dish from this meal was incredibly difficult, but the table concluded that this dish was it (by an insanely minuscule margin). Our lovely waitress enlightened us with this suggestion, apparently her favorite dish on the menu. With such a strong statement, our order was inevitable. Plus, she described the cut of meat as endowed with the taste of pork belly (she had me at "pork belly," really) but with much less fat. Um, what?! How is that possible?! Apparently by cutting out meat from the inside of the ribcage. Sure? Let's just not question the great things in life. The said greatness was served with a sort of relish. The watermelon rind contributed a tart undertone to the sweetness of the peppers, and the slightly spicy-sweet-minty (prominent) taste of the basil. The relish also cut through the oil and fat in the meat perfectly. Watermelon rind! Who would've thunk it?? Geniuses; that's who.
Wait! There's more. You didn't think I'd be able to go to The Purple Pig and not get something off their "fried items" menu, did you? Please...
Holy moley, the pig's ear with crispy kale, pickled cherry peppers, & fried egg. Again, such a symphony of flavors. The fried pig's ear was like a fancy pants version of chicarones, julienned and crispy as hell. We broke the fried egg and mixed all the components creating the perfect bite of intense saltiness from the ear, mitigated by the creamy egg and kale, and cut by the sour-spice of the peppers. Overpowering individually, yet perfect together.
Okay, my friend requested this dish. Personally, I was disinterested in ordering anything that didn't have pig involved but I didn't want to be a party-pooper. So, we ordered the razor clams with oregano, lemon, & olive oil. This was good, but easily my least favorite dish. The clams were tougher than expected, but maybe this was because I was comparing them to all the melty pork options. Either way, the clams were nothing special. The flavoring was good, but nothing I couldn't have come up with myself. The lemon flavor was pronounced, actually tasting more like meyer lemon, and although lemon is one of my favorite flavors... I didn't love this. Oh well, there was more pork to be had.
Which brings me to the milk braised pork shoulder with mashed potatoes. By far the most substantial dish of the night. This cube of meat bedded in creamy potatoes was the ultimate comfort food. One of the most disappointing things on a plate is a gravy that's slightly curdled and over salted, and this dish was drenched in the best gravy I've ever had–intense with pork flavor, smooth, creamy, and perfectly seasoned. Hunk of meat, hearty starch, and thick gravy... what a way to end this idyllic porkfest.
There you have it, people: my favorite thing about Chicago as of now. Hopefully this culinary hub has comparable options, and I'm praying I find them.
Chicagoans: I'd love some suggestions for my next outing!