Get ready to pig out. Scott Harris (Mia Francesca) and Jimmy Bannos (Heaven on Seven) (plus a third well-known chef who wishes to remain anonymous for now) are at work on The Purple Pig (500 N. Michigan Ave.), a Mediterranean “cheese, wine, and swine” spot. Bannos’s son, Jimmy Bannos, Jr.—a veteran of various Mario Batali places in New York (Esca, Lupa, Del Posto) for the past five years—will be the chef at the 65-seat Mag Mile spot on the ground floor of what some people know as “the Bob Newhart building.” “This is his first exec chef job,” says Harris, who is also collaborating with Bannos Sr. on T-Bone’s in St. Charles. “Jimmy and I are going to guide him through it. It’ll be some charcuterie but also some serious cooking.” When the place opens on or around September 15th, expect a couple hundred well-chosen wines. Also, expect the place to be good.
“I was asked by a waitress, ‘Would you care for an orange juice?’ I said, “‘If it needed me.’” –Carl Barron (b. 1964), Australian comedian
Pollack’s Quick Hit
The phone is not in service yet but unless you are a party of six or more you can’t make a reservation anyway at Nightwood (2119 S. Halsted St.; 312-562-3385), Pilsen’s hot new boîte from the Lula Café team. That annoyance aside, Pollack’s early dinner report came back decidedly mixed: Grilled ramps were a simple pleasure from the ever-shifting menu, but the cornmeal soup, despite its creamy base and a load of smoked ham hocks, lacked zest. Loved the juicy wood-grilled burger and herb-flecked crispy fries but was dismayed by the amount of fat on the pork loin. Whipped ricotta is an inspired topping for the house-made strawberry sorbet, so the evening ended on a high. Quietest seats in the house are the stools at the back bar, and the adjacent covered patio looks nifty if summer ever comes. FYI: Another trusted FOD who visited also drooled over the burger and crisp/pillowy fries, and describes the place as “woodland haven-meets-The Violet Hour.”
5 Questions for Sean Sanders
Browntrout (4111 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-472-4111), Sanders’s organic-minded contemporary American spot in North Center, opened last week.(Note: Pollack slipped in for an early visit and was impressed with the orange vinaigrette–spritzed pea salad, the pan-fried golden trout, and a creative spin on strawberry shortcake that included lime mascarpone–stuffed berries and almond brittle.)
D: First things first. What is your background?
SS: I was born and raised in Elmhurst. Live in Logan Square now. I went to CHIC [Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago] about 15 years ago. My first job was at Green Dolphin Street, and then I bounced around a lot: Rhapsody, Bin 36, Atlantique, started my own catering business.
D: So how did Browntrout come about?
SS: My wife and I went to New Zealand for our honeymoon, and we caught this beautiful trout. Cooked it up with walnuts from the trees, English peas, mint, and butter that I picked up from the local farmers’ market. It set forward the notion that every meal in a restaurant can be this way. Life and the products we use can be so positive for the earth. I wanted to be a positive part of society.
D: Is brown trout on the menu?
SS: I wish. It’s a very sustainable fish. Can’t be netted. The trout will go right around it. Has to be a line-caught fish.
D: So what’s on the menu?
SS: We are doing house-made gyros. House-made waffle chips with a Gouda fondue. We are making our own “spam.” And using Tallgrass Beef from Kansas for our house burger and our steaks. We have a smoked fish trio as a special appetizer: cured Tasmanian sea trout; Idaho rainbow trout; and pan-seared Lake Erie yellow perch with a mustard cucumber sauce [$13].
D: And the space?
SS: It’s 80 seats. We’ve done a lot to help us be green. Low VOC [volatile organic compounds] paints. Efficient hand dryers. We’ve used high-efficiency light bulbs wherever possible. And all to-go containers are made from corn-based or potato products that break down quickly.
The Fried Piper
Square Bar and Grill (2849 W. Belmont Ave.; 773-267-0123), a laid-back 50-seat spot opening on June 5th, proffers craft beers, organic liquors, and all kinds of bar food made in-house by Jason Noel, formerly of Elliott’s in Edison Park. That’s all well and good, but the place may become known for something else: deep-fried candy bars ($5). “Snickers, Milky Way, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups,” says Nick Daoud, the owner and a former hot-dog vendor for the Park District. “We funnel-batter them and fry them and serve them with ice cream.”
We thought the recent menu evolution at Nacional 27 (325 W. Huron St.; 312-664-2727) sounded suspiciously like the concept at Fogo De Chao, Zed 451, and the rest of the all-you-can-eat boys from Brazil. Tim Hockett, a corporate chef for Nacional’s Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, corrected us. “This is not similar to what they’re doing,” Hockett said. “They usually have large skewers with meat. We are calling ours ‘gaucho barbecues.’” Each of Nacional’s four 30-inch skewers—tenderloin medallions, fire-roasted skirt steak rubbed with green mole, shrimp and scallop, or chimichurri roasted vegetables—feeds two people. They are not all-you-can-eat, but each dinner skewer includes tomatillos, roasted poblanos, red onions, some chayote, and three salsas ($14 to $20 per person).
Things to Do
- Go on a roving “tapas tour” in Lincoln Square from 6:30 to 9:30 on June 4th, when Provenance, Bistro Campagne, Café Selmarie, Fiddlehead Cafe, and The Book Cellar will proffer Spanish nibbles and wines. ($35; RSVP at email@example.com.)
- Adopt a dog on June 6th and get a free pizza. “Pets at Paulina," a street-wide event involving Sam & Willy’s pet boutique and Frasca Pizzeria and Wine Bar (3358 N. Paulina St.; 773-248-5222) may be the goofiest pairing ever, but if you’ve been thinking about getting a dog, hey, free pizza, too.
- Become a fan of We Eat Chicago, Chicago magazine’s new one-dish-at-a-time Facebook page. (Sign in and search for "We Eat Chicago").
- Eat dinner at Monastero’s (3935 W. Devon Ave.; 773-588-2515) Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, and your kids eat free. (Don’t even try it, Nadya Suleman: only two kids per table.)
- Indulge your irrational fear of clowns.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Café 36 (22 Calendar Ave.; LaGrange), after getting a temporary shot in the arm courtesy of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, has closed. . . . Inovasi (28 E. Center Ave., Lake Bluff; 847-295-1000), the experimental spot from John des Rosiers, opened on May 28th . . . Streeterville’s Cafe Shino morphed into Murasaki Lounge (211 E. Ontario St.; 312-266-2280), a saké lair with small Japanese plates and a private sound-proofed karaoke room. . . . Wolfy’s (2734 W. Peterson Ave.; 773-743-0207), the prominent hot-dog joint whose massive fork has loomed over Peterson for more than 40 years, plans to open an offshoot in Northbrook (873 Sanders Rd.; 847-272-1177) on June 4th. . . . Cocodrilos Grill (1758 W. Grand Ave.; 312-846-6650), a lively Mexican spot, opened last month in West Town. . . . Main Street Smokehouse (536 N. Milwaukee Ave., Libertyville; 847-247-4330), a promising ’cue joint that we first anticipated last November, has finally opened.