If you have any food-world adjacency, you’ll know that Hulu’s summer smash hit The Bear is being touted as the most realistic restaurant industry show since, well anything, because most of the others have sucked.
If you need a synopsis of what this show is about, the trailer is below.
Count me among the obsessed. I loved it. I loved the hot and stressful moments that I almost had to turn off (the single take that is episode 7, basically), I loved the honesty (f*ck brunch) and the regret of heated words and a trashed donut masterpiece. I dug the all-day effort of just trying to be a better version of yourself, because a kitchen measures everything (tickets, coverage, sales, wins/fails) in moments, so there’s always another chance coming. I loved that the clock is like another character. And I felt that, for the first time, a show understood the importance of the small humanities that weaves a crew of people together enough to bind them to one of the hardest jobs to task the body and soul. It’s Richie and Syd’s exchange in the car after the hardware store, it’s the moment Tina appreciates her own work on the potatoes, the ribbing that happens at family meal. It is as Nina Metz of the Chicago Tribune wrote:
Author and activist Dean Spade once said: “What do I want to spend the rest of my life doing? Being fully alive, being with other people, being in it together, taking risks, being really, really caring (and) learning to love people even if they annoy me.”
That’s “The Bear” in a nutshell.
But this is not a think piece. This show has already been dissected by nearly everyone. It’s a Study of Masculinity in Crisis. It also Mauls the Wild Male Genius Chef Myth, while the Kitchen Staff is Nearly Eaten Alive. It’s both a Chef’s Kiss and a story whose Depiction of Trauma is Painfully Real, while also showing that Food is the Language of Love and Grief. And to be fair, not everybody loves it. My big question is: Why aren’t we talking more about the Molly Ringwald moment?
So I can honestly say I’m not hungry for one more hot take on The Bear. What I am hungry for is a Chicagoland hot beef sandwich. When I was opening restaurants in the ’90s and lived in Chicago for six months, it was all about the beef-tallow fries and hot Italian beef sandwiches from Clark St. Dog at 1am. Here are our closest shots:
Uncle Franky’s / Quincy Street-ish in NE + Blaine
These crazy kids know the value of sport peppers as a side. Their Chicago Italian Beef is a winner, starting with the proper Gonella bun, rolling into that 1/2lb. of thinly sliced beef, and sticking the landing with a healthy dose of hot or mild Giard. PS, for $2 more you can add on Italian sausage, making it a Gut Buster. And then, get the Maxwell St. Polish to go.
Chicago’s Taste Authority / S. Mpls.
Chris and Rob’s, as it used to be called, once had a few metro locations, but CTA now stands alone in Minneapolis. They’ve got an Italian beef and a cheesy beef, either of which you can make “King” for an extra $3.
Frankie’s / New Hope
Most people come here for the very deeply delicious stuffed or deep dish pizzas, but there’s also a saucy Chicago Style Italian Beef on the menu. Thinly shaved roasted beef with hot peppers or sweet peppers, topped with provolone. Dry or dipped, your call.
Portillo’s / All over
Yes, this is a national chain, but it has source code from Chicago. The Italian Beef can get pretty saucy if you get it dipped in the “gravy”, and there’s a Big Beef option that takes it to Chicago Party Aunt status.
Pappy’s / Mpls. + St. Paul
I know people who dig the Chicago dog combo options at Pappy’s, so why not give the Italian beef combo, with fries and a drink for $14, a go?
Chicago’s Very Own / LynLake
These guys are fresh, like just opened up in the last few days kind of fresh. But that just means that they still have all the gusto. They are more of a chopped beef shop than the sliced beef traditionalists. The CVO Steak Supreme Sweet is chopped steak with melted American cheese, grilled onions, sweet pickles, tomatoes and special sauce. Charlie’s Steak Special swaps in Swiss cheese, fresh basil and “Charlie’s Special Sauce”, so. Feels like that could scratch an itch.