I grew up in the Chicago suburb of Des Plaines, and ate like most suburban Chicago kids. Lots of Chicago dogs, Italian beef, plenty of Greek-owned family-style restaurants (we need an Artemis or an Omega here), and for a treat—the Olive Garden.
Now when I go back to Chicago to visit friends or family, my wife and I always try to sneak away to the city to eat. I know many of you take weekend trips to Chicago, so I thought I’d share two great places we ate at this past weekend. Both are winners of the 2011 Michelin Bib Gourmand status, defined as “Inspectors’ Favorites for Good Value.” Bib Gourmand restaurants offer two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less, “are often of most value to a city’s residents, who regularly dine in neighborhood restaurants.”
The Purple Pig: It’s such a shock to find a killer restaurant in the heart of the city. You usually expect to sneak away to trendy neighborhoods, but if you’re planning a day of shopping on Michigan Avenue, you have to stop at The Purple Pig. Lots of housemade charcuterie, cheeses, and Mediterranean-style small plates.
The fried pig’s ear with crispy kale and pickled cherry peppers was unbelievably delicious: salty, crunchy goodness paired with the peppers and topped with a fried egg. They served it in a ceramic pig that was missing one ear. Brilliant and just $9.
The pork neck bone rillette with mostarda also is a can’t-miss dish. It tasted meaty, not overly fatty, and the brightness of the mostarda really made what should have been a heavy dish taste somehow light.
And the turkey leg confit was magic: juicy inside, crispy caramel skin, topped with these addictive crispy lentils. Oh my.
The wine was great, too—served by the glass, half-bottle, or bottle. We had a blast. The was a giant family table in the middle of the place, it was jam-packed at 2 p.m. on a Friday, but the service was spectacular. Attentive, quick, fun, informed. Really impressive.
The Purple Pig
500 North Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611
Smoque BBQ is a counter-service, BYOB restaurant in Chicago that makes some killer barbeque. Love ribs that fall off the bone? Smoque isn’t for you: they make ribs with an eye toward nailing the right texture. The meat still tastes like meat, not like fatty mess falling off the bone. The St. Louis spare ribs had a nice caramelization to their skin, a nice spice to the rub, and a hint of smokiness. They were great. ($14.95 half-slab with slaw and two sides)
The brisket was even better. Fourteen hours in the smoker. Sliced. The most tender, juicy brisket I’ve ever had. So beefy, so smokey, sauced with a nice spice, just incredible. ($12.45 with two sides)
I know Smoque didn’t make everyone in my family happy (we brought a party of 14). You can’t order until you’re all there, and you can’t sit until you’ve ordered. But I love that we got to bring our own beer into the restaurant, and I loved the simple, honest goodness these guys are serving up.
3800 N. Pulaski
Chicago, IL 60641