I find myself in the beautiful city of Chicago yet again…what is it about this place that keeps drawing me back? This time I was here with my daughter as she competed in the North American Irish Dance Championships. Imagine a world where there are thousands of girls in big curly wigs, wearing big fancy dresses and a fair amount of make-up. This is what you would see at any congregation of Irish dancers.
This trip has been a culinary whirlwind full of wonderful wine, delectable treats and one really great dessert! Our last stop on our 6 day tour ended at The Purple Pig. A small bistro/patio restaurant nestled between two office buildings on the famed Magnificent Mile in downtown Chicago. The patio is long with plenty of sitting if you find yourself in a 1.5 hour wait (as was the case a few nights ago). We opted out that night but once we got a look at the fare, we attempted to eat there again on our last day for lunch. Fortunately, there was no wait and we were seated right away.
The menu reads much like a traditional tapas-style selection but the food choices were much more exquisite. I managed to keep a copy of the menu just so I could share it with you. Here are some of the delectable choices:
Braised Baby Artichokes, Fingerling Potatoes, Asiago & Salami Toscana ($8); Burrata Pugliese with Peas, Radish, Celery, Spring Micro Greens & Aceto Balsamico ($11) Sardines with Shaved Fennel Salad & Lemon Vinaigrette ($9) (see photo above); a large selection of cured meats and cheeses (a variety of prices); Greek Salad with Heirloom tomatoes, Feta & Kalamata Olives ($9); Pig’s Ear with Crispy Kale, Pickled Cherry Peppers & Fried Egg (honestly, this dish looked delicious…although we did not have the courage to order it ).
There were a few dishes that were larger portions and definitely offered you more bang for your buck. Don’t get me wrong, although a few of the dishes would have been better for sharing with one or two people (not the four that we were), they all had wonderful flavours and were well worth the price. There were a few that I saw on other people’s table that did not seem very big at all but the ones that we chose were very shareable.
We started with the deep fried sardines with the fennel salad. Delicious but not one I would order again. The second dish was the Burrata pugliese salad. The burrata is a fresh mozzarella cheese ball with a soft, gooey centre. It was wonderfully spreadable and the accompanying salad had a perfect balsamic dressing. Just so you know, you will need to pre-order the bread as they toast it (or burn it…in our case) to order, but it does compliment the soft cheese well.
We moved on to our third dish: Chicken Thigh Kebabs, fried smashed potatoes & Tzatziki. The chicken was grilled nicely but the smashed potatoes were THE big hit of that dish at our table. The chef cut the potatoes in wedges, roasted them & then pressed or flattened them (there is some culinary tool and technical term for that but I don’t know what it is). The cucumber dipping sauces was well seasoned although it lacked some garlic to give it that punch which one usually associates with Tzatziki.
As we moved along, we received what I thought was the “piece de resistence”, as they say in fancy food reviews…the Turkey Leg Confit with Crispy Lentil, Treviso, Endive & agro dolce. Why was this the best? Well first of all, it WAS a whole turkey leg and it was sooooo tender that the meat just fell off the bone.
Our last savoury dish was a Greek Salad with Heirloom Tomatoes, Feta and Kalamata Olives. It was a mixed greens and arugula salad with yellow tomatoes and plenty of feta but only a few olives. The mix was light but I think from now on, I am going to make Greek salad like that – forget those big chucky pieces of green peppers and onions – bring on a melange of flavours by tossing traditional ‘Greek salad’ ingredients with peppery arugula and smothering it with delicious dressing (with more olive though).
If you thought by now we were full and ready to order the check, you would almost be right. At the suggestion of the young women seated next to us, we ordered dessert and opted for the Panino con Nutella – a sweet Panini sandwich of Nutella, marshmallow and banana. If I knew better, I would say the bread was a rye bread – without the caraway seeds – it had that kind of texture. I am uncertain what the bread was but when it is toasted and sprinkled with powdered sugar, it became a super sticky and yummy treat you could easily make at home! We also shared a chocolate tart swimming in a citrus (super-concentrated) lemon sauce. Good but not exceptional. Get the hot panino instead as it is much more tasty with the gooey, chocolaty marshmallows and warm banana slices (besides, there were two sandwiches so easily shared by the four of us).
All in all, I thought our visit to The Purple Pig was an adventure in texture, colour with a bold choice of ingredient combinations and all in all truly exceptional food (wow, you’d think I wrote for a fancy food magazine with that sentence). My father was a French Chef in Montreal for most of his adult life and my mom was quick to comment that the Chefs of The Purple Pig were the real deal. They know how to make flavourful combinations and seasoned and cooked our dishes to perfection. We will be back…if only to savour the pig’s ears and pork shoulder and the number of other dishes we haven’t tried yet!