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Deep Fried Chicago: The Purple Pig

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[Photograph: Joe Roy]

Am I insane for being immediately reminded of Heaven on Seven when I first stepped into The Purple Pig? I don't think so. That slightly cramped, controlled chaos spills similarly, along with hunger inducing smoky cooking smells, from the kitchen at both places. And I could've sworn I spotted a wall of hot sauce. I'm exaggerating that last point (they're corked wine bottle lined walls, thank you very much), but apparently I can spot a Bannos—or his kin—when I see one.

Most restaurants of this caliber make a fried food enthusiast for hire work for it when trying to select dishes. When I'm lucky, that beautiful "f" word will be in plain print, but all too often, I'm left politely inquiring just what the menu means by "crispy." The Purple Pig makes it easy, though, with most all dishes of interest relegated to their own section, simply labeled "Fried Items." Working your way down the list is as good a strategy as any, and one I employed most successfully.

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Pork Fried Almonds, Rosemary, and Garlic ($5.00, and from the "Antipasti" section, I should add) arrive to the table warm and plenty salted, with whole cloves of roasted garlic adding welcome sweetness. Contrasting the crunch of the lardy almonds, the fried rosemary leaves dissolve instantly on the tongue. We made a table wide pact to never eat lesser almonds again.

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The technique on the Fried Manchego Cheese with Membrillo ($8.00) is perfect: just the right amount of crispy breading gently enrobes the slightly melty cheese. Said cheese is salty and assertive in a way regular mozzarella just isn't. Come to think of it, whether marinara or ranch, I'd dip these into just about anything, but the sweet membrillo sauce is the best choice. The slight apple flavor cuts through the rich cheese, and the all-too-soon empty bowl didn't know what hit him.

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One bite into the Salt and Vinegar Beef Tendon Chips ($9.00), and I feel mislead. I've been carrying on, assuming that the best rinds come from pork, when this dish has been patiently awaiting me the whole time. Am I allowed to prefer beef in this context? Do I need to turn in my credentials? In any event, the vinegar taste is strong, in line with the theme, and the chips themselves practically melt in your mouth after first crunch. The fried parsley sprigs are a nice touch too, distilling concentrated parsley flavor into the dish and then disappearing quicker then they came.

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The Pig's Ear with Crispy Kale, Pickled Cherry Peppers, and Fried Egg ($9.00) appears to be the restaurant's signature dish, and it certainly looks the part. But its place at the end of the meal, after all its intensely seasoned predecessors, is a handicap: it comes across rather bland. The slivers of battered pig ear taste of breading, and little else. A more assertive sauce would help matters: egg yolk is always appreciated, but the pickled peppers just can't stand up to the dish's overwhelming richness. Some sort of vinegary sauce would work wonders.

One visit in, and I'm already planning my return to The Purple Pig. I've barely scratched the surface of the expansive menu, and there are even more fried items to try. A man could get used to all this luxury, and I think it's safe to say that heaven just might be a bit more grounded than we thought.

The Purple Pig

500 N Michigan Avenue Chicago, IL 60611 (map)
312-464-1744
thepurplepigchicago.com

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