The pandemic gave birth to Instagram as an ordering platform for customers to connect with motivated cooks, bakers and bartenders selling food and drink using direct messaging. Like food trucks and food halls, it allowed entrepreneurs to create brands and test recipes without the expense of running a traditional restaurant. Henry Cai used this method to create a following for his Chinese restaurant, 3 Little Pigs, named after Cai’s signature fried rice which includes three types of pork.
Cai launched 3 Little Pigs as a one-man show in early 2020 near UIC. Its Cantonese and Chinese-American food was available sporadically, and customers had to be quick on the trigger when an Instagram post announced that orders were open.
But there’s good news for fans: Cai recently moved into a new commercial kitchen in Humboldt Park where he will be able to sell take-out food six days a week. Ordering on Instagram will continue for the time being with a truncated menu until additional kitchen equipment arrives later this month. A wok station and a smoker will allow Cai to cook fried rice, grilled meats, and other items including pot stickers, Mongolian beef, and sweet and sour chicken.
âEverything I did in the past is coming back,â Cai says.
Once the equipment arrives, look for 3 little pigs on Grubhub and DoorDash. Cai says he’s worried that if he immediately activates a third-party delivery service, new customers will rank his restaurant thinking it’s just a fast food sandwich shop.
Opening day was Sunday November 27 at Humboldt Park and Cai offered an abbreviated menu consisting of a salt and pepper chicken sandwich, crab rangoon, and mango smoothies. Her pickup orders ran out by 3:30 p.m.
Her father, Qi Cai, worked in various restaurants in Chinatown. Young Cai says his father apprenticed in China to award-winning chefs. One specializes in dim sum and the other in Chinese smoked meats, different from American barbecue. Cai points out that a good Chinese barbecue involves hanging the ribs and pork butts for an extended period of time. One of the reasons he couldn’t offer these items right away at Humboldt Park was because he was waiting for the right smoker: “It’s not like I can go to Walmart and buy it,” Cai says. .
Starting next week, the restaurant will gradually introduce items such as pork belly skewers and lollipop chicken.
The extra space will allow Cai to experiment, something he enjoys. One of his all-time favorite preparations is salt and pepper, which is used in chicken, pork chops, and fish: âEveryone loves fried foods, whether you’re American, Chinese or Indian. . “
Cai applies the salt and pepper technique to his sandwich but adds another wrinkle: mayonnaise. Growing up in a Chinese home, he only tasted mayo in high school: âI went to public school, I tried this white sauce,â he recalls. “Dude, this sauce is amazing.”
He quickly applied the sauce to a variety of items, including pizza. To his knowledge, walnut shrimp, a classic Chinese-American dish popular in the Midwest, is the only Chinese dish that uses mayonnaise. I have (It has been adopted elsewhere: for example, the team of Stephanie Izard at Duck Duck Goat in West Loop serve egg rolls and dumplings with a variety of aioli.) Cai adapted the recipe for shrimp with walnuts. from his father and created a mayo-type frosting for the chicken and added some heat. The sandwich also adds fried garlic and jalapeÃ±os sliced ââbetween a brioche bun.
Three little pigs will stay in Humboldt Park for at least a year. Cai, a Chicago native who attended high school at Jones College Prep in the Loop, planned to expand his operations to a full-fledged restaurant with a dining room. He threw up a few real estate deals before signing a lease at Humboldt Park. The goal remains to open a restaurant with dining area and Cai says he will resume his search for a new space early next year with plans to open in late 2022. Until then, he will have reinforcements soon. . His father will join him in the kitchen, as will his wife, Kaewalin Sukpornchaikul.
3 little pigs, 3220 W. Grand Avenue, open 11:30 am to 6:30 pm or while supplies last, Tuesday through Sunday; order via Instagram.