Chef Jimmy Bannos Jr. has a new fast-casual concept coming to the Wells Street Market, the upcoming food hall arriving this spring at 205 W. Wacker Drive. Aimed at those looking for a quick, healthy, and hearty lunch, Piggie Smalls will serve traditional Greek gyros. Bannos shared more about the restaurant and his take on the gyro, where they got the name, and what it’s like to be one of People’s sexiest male chefs.
First off, how did you come up with that name?
My wife came up with the name — 100 percent it was all her. The name did not come easy, we were thinking about a lot of different things. Some of the other choices were different Greek-sounding names, but you know what, this needed to have a more approachable name. A lot of people see like Italian restaurants with Italian names and they get it, but Greek words were harder to pronounce. I didn’t want it to be like, “what is that place’s name again?” We wanted it to be more fun and have somewhat of a connection to the Purple Pig. She just said it one day, and I was like “woah.” I get zero credit on that name.
Did you know there’s a Hawaiian restaurant with almost the same name?
Yes! When we were looking to see if the name was taken, that was on the list. I think we worked it out legally so there shouldn’t be an issue as far as trademarking is concerned. Editor’s note: The team at Piggy Smalls in Honolulu was contacted for comment but they didn’t immediately respond. Their restaurant is a smaller spinoff of a larger acclaimed restaurant, The Pig & The Lady. It’s much like what Purple Pig is to Piggie Smalls.
What’s different about Piggie Smalls and The Purple Pig stand at Soldier Field?
So, this is kind of a spinoff, being more specifically to Greek-style food. It’s what our take on Greek street food would be. I really I wanted to do a gyro, but do it in an authentic and delicious way. There’s a void for authentic gyro shops in Chicago. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of places in Chicagoland that are doing hot dogs, beefs, and gyros — and nothing against those — but they aren’t really gyros. They’re an American version of what a gyro would be. There’s a lot of stuff in there that I don’t want to eat. i want to do it right and do it in a way that you know, it’s going to be really delicious, it’s going to be healthy.
So it’s going to have a traditional rotisserie?
Traditionally, in Greece they just do it with pork, a slab of pork shoulder, the belly or the leg, then marinate it and put it on the vertical rotisserie and slice it off. You’ll see chicken as well, and we’re going to to do both. With these gyro, we’re going to be cooking them all day, so people can see the rotisserie. For consistency and the best amount of flavor and char and caramelization, we’re going to cook it all the way — a 70-pound batch of meat at once and not cut it all. Then we’ll cool it down, wrap it, and cut it on a meat slicer so it gets nice perfect cuts. This eliminates human error of cutting it on the spit. It’ll eliminate any weird pieces of meat or gnarly pieces of fat. I want it to be all melt in your mouth, so the collagen will have broken down — cooling it down will make it so it has a perfect char and seasoning. The sandwiches will still be hot — we’ll heat up the pita bread, you’ll have the tzatziki sauce on everything, and ours is the best. We’re also going to do some shish-kabob with beef and chicken on a skewer as well. And then mix it up a little bit with — people are definitely conscious about not having gluten and bread, so we’ll do couscous or quinoa Greek-style, and add chicken or gyro meat on top. At the Pig we have our smears on top, Piggie Smalls will have Greek spreads, too. And then we’ll have some vegetables and a vegetarian pita as well. The vegetables will change a lot, but we’ll have a vegetarian option. I want to keep it small and straightforward.
What about the price point?
Everybody wants value for their buck for lunch. The whole goal is to create something that is under $10 but also makes people say, “wow I got a lot for that.” I don’t want people to feel like they paid $10 and only got two tiny sandwiches and aren’t full. But, we’re still bringing quality to the game. We’re sourcing out our animals from local farmers, and adding all the bells and whistles while still being competitive. I feel really committed to execution on a time level. We want people to feel excited about what they get — “I spent $8 and look at what I have for it.”
And finally, the most important question, what’s it like to be one of People’s America’s sexiest chefs for 2017?
You know, somebody told me about it and I was like “what are you talking about?” I mean, it’s great — it’s a great honor. It’s good to be recognized for it. My wife is giving me a lot of crap about it. I’ve taken a lot of shots from my friends about it. They were like “dude, if you had your shirt off you would have won” It’s fun, it’s all fun I like it.