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DISH: SAVOR The Purple Pig
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times by Noah McCarthy

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"Whoa, this place is literally famous. I heard about them back home!" Two tourists admired the sign hanging under The Purple Pig—"Cheese, Swine and Wine"—before snapping a selfie. After leaving, I was half-tempted to commemorate the occasion myself.

Located on the south end of 500 N. Michigan Ave., The Purple Pig opened in 2009 and features various dishes from around the Mediterranean. The restaurant itself is fairly cramped. Tables are packed to the extent that those sitting along the wall will almost certainly have to brush uncomfortably close to their neighbor's food. These sorts of close quarters are fairly common in Magnificent Mile restaurants, but increased elbow room would have been appreciated. Since the odds of having an empty seat next to your own are essentially zilch during one of the restaurant's bustling dinner services, the space becomes doubly appreciated. Luckily, the patio seemed more accommodating.

Service was excellent throughout the night, ever-courteous and approachable despite the brimming confines. There were certain moments when staff began to hover, standing hawk-like just a few feet away as we finished whatever plate we were working on. Despite being somewhat discomforting, over-attentiveness is a good problem to have.

Once inside, the decor emphasized the last item on its tagline: "wine." One side of the restaurant is dedicated to wine racks and another to various wine-barrel decorations. In fact, every item on the menu comes with its own recommended pairing from sommelier Alan Beasey. The decor, between the burgundy chairs and white tiling, is warm but not stuffy.

As for the food, if its eight straight years of Michelin recognition didn't cue you in, it is wonderful. Chef Jimmy Bannos Jr., a Chicago native, has drawn the menu's inspiration from Italy, Greece and Spain. The dishes are diverse but consistent. Highlights from the night include octopus a la plancha on a bed of green beans and fingerling potatoes, all served with a perfect salsa verde, and roasted bone marrow served alongside unspeakably good bread.

The Purple Pig's menu is ever-changing with the seasons. ( Offerings from this summer's iteration include duck fat-roasted radishes and lamb chop with sweetbread, dolmades and grapes. It might be worth a second visit to try these items. ) The table next to us ordered another seasonal dish, grilled broccoli in an anchovy vinaigrette with roasted garlic and breadcrumbs—and the smell alone made me want to sit down to begin the meal again.

The deserts kicked off with a Sicilian iris—a gooey ricotta-and-chocolate-filled brioche that's worth every calorie. Be warned, however: They only make a certain amount for every day, and regularly sell out. You owe it to yourself to arrive early enough to nab one of these Chicago classics. The final dish of the evening was a peanut butter-and-marshmallow mille-feuille; although it certainly recalled childhood, it also recalled why we eventually grow out of those sandwiches.

Though it has been a Chicago mainstay for some years now, The Purple Pig shows no signs of slowing down. Dishes are seasonal and exciting, and the constant bustle of people in and out make for a vibrant atmosphere. If you want a charming night out with top-notch food, but without breaking the bank, there are still few places on par with The Purple Pig.

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