The Vegetarian Option: The Purple Pig
Pigs' tails, pigs' ears, pork neck, pork sweetbreads. Marrow and foie and shoulder and thigh. For the meat eater, the menu at The Purple Pig reads like poetry—if not the pages of an anatomy textbook. So should the vegetarian diner keep his distance? The short answer is "no." The only slightly longer answer is "hell no." Because there's far more to feast on than just flesh.
Take, for instance, the surprisingly veggie-friendly antipasti menu, the burrata Pugliese, acorn squash, portobello mushroom and balsamic ($11), an alpine foothill of milky-soft Italian cheese crisscrossed with tangy balsamic reduction and accented with blackened mushrooms and roasted squash. When it comes to the restaurant's three clearly stated pillars—cheese, swine and wine—The Purple Pig doesn't mess around, and this burrata says as much with its addictively delicate flavors and supple texture. The drizzle of balsamic, which perhaps borders on being heavy-handed, provides the acidic punch to complement the cheese's savory caress.
That classic play of richness and bright acid is a common sight on the menu; it may be safe to say it's the restaurant's calling card...to which I have no complaints.
The charred cauliflower, toasted breadcrumbs, cornichons and parsley ($7), also off the antipasti menu, is one of several solid demonstrations that The Purple Pig has more to offer the vegetarian diner than just cheese, fine as those offerings are. In this case, the thinly sliced cornichons (miniature pickles) are the kick of acid that gives depth to the smokier flavors of the charred cauliflower. This little dish has a terrific, fibrous crunch that, after enough languid burrata, is a welcome texture.
To have your cheese and crunch it, too, the whipped feta with cucumbers ($9), served alongside thick slices of toasted crusty bread, is a worthy choice. Off the smears menu, the whipped feta comes topped with herbs, diced cucumber and olive oil. Salty, bright and creamy all at once, this feta is not one of those faint-of-heart cheeses that's subtle to a fault. More bread, please.
Another take on the tasty potential of when cheesy meets crunchy is the eggplant parmesan balls ($6). A crude but effective way of thinking about these is as mozzarella stick upgrades. Perfectly melted cheese lives inside these golf-ball-sized breaded morsels, just waiting to get out and stretch. A thin layer of tomato sauce covers the bottom of the bowl the balls come in. Too thin, really; it's a great-tasting sauce but runs out fast after a few laps with the parm balls.
I do wish The Purple Pig came in at a lower price point, given the relative simplicity and rustic nature of its dishes. (That said, it is, after all, a Michigan Avenue restaurant.) Some plates are indeed shareable, others are small for the cost. But for a restaurant that, from a distance, appears focused mainly on catering to carnivores, the chefs know how to treat and elevate vegetables. Attention is paid to seasonality, making The Purple Pig worth a check-in every few months or so. Or perhaps sooner, if you fall under the spell on that knee-weakening whipped feta.