The edits on the streaming hit “The Bear” are sharper than the kitchen knives that cost the lead, Chef Carmy, some flesh and a shaky truce with his ambivalent line cooks.
Roaming cutaways reveal that Carmy, played by Jeremy Allen White of the U.S. “Shameless,” is newly returned to Chicago from the famed kitchens of the French Laundry and Noma to clean up his family-run Italian beef sandwich shop after a tragedy. No one really asked him to stay.
Epicurean shots of a raw cuts of beef, salted and massaged, and the gurgle of simmering stocks are almost too beautiful, truly, for the griminess of the lunch counter, but the show would be less without them. The food imagery gives viewers a palate cleanser from a story paced with the anxiety of meal service. The language is spicy and so is the house-made giardiniera, the pickled vegetables that are a must to top any Italian beef on a perfectly chewy roll, regardless of how drenched you can stand it.
The half-hour streamer from Disney’s
FX on Hulu deserves its generous portion of praise. Credit is heaped on the examination of aggressive professional kitchen dynamics, including for women and people of color, but also how family dysfunction can be its own love language.
Chicagoans, on the other hand, may watch simply for the food. And they may be hopeful that “The Bear” single-handidly, once and for all, 86’s a touristy obsession with deep-dish pizza as the city’s culinary must.
All right, at least once in your life take your knife and fork to a slice of Chicago deep dish with its heirarchical blasphemy of tomato sauce over cheese, especially if you skip the chains. Or ask locals about square-cut tavern-style pizza and any of the handful of Midwestern crust preferences on offer. And it must be said that “The Bear” gives the Chicago hot dog and its divisive condiments a mini arc. Have one of those before you die, too.
But if you’re a meat eater, need a quick bite, aren’t afraid of a little chin dribble and want a taste of Chicago? Go for a beef. (The Italian is implied.)
You might try one of the originals: Johnnie’s Beef (technically in Elmwood Park), Mr. Beef, or any of Al’s #1 locations. There’s also Jay’s and other establishments to ponder on this short list from Eater. Even the expanding made-to-order fast food chain, now publicly-traded, Portillo’s
has a beef on its menu.
There are a few ordering specifics to know:
- Dipped: The sliced beef is pulled from the juice, put in the roll and then the entire sandwich is dipped into the jus/juice. This is the soggy version! Dress accordingly.
- Wet (not at all a synonym for dipped): Means the beef is pulled from the juice and placed into the roll. Some places will also add an extra spoonful of juice on the beef before closing the sandwich.
- Dry: Most of the juice is dripped off from the beef before putting in the roll and no juice is added to the sandwich.
- Sweet: Top with roasted green bell peppers.
- Hot: Top with hot giardiniera (plus peppers).
- Cheese or no cheese: A somewhat controversial addition, of either mozzarella or provolone, and territory that can get awfully close to Philly cheesesteaks. Old-schoolers at Johnnie’s ignore a dairy addition altogether.
Now, if you’re in Chicago or pretty much anywhere on the planet, consider adding giardiniera to beefs, deli sandwiches, omelettes, even, yes, to top a slice of pizza once out of the oven. The trace of vinegar and the barely crunchy, oil-bathed peppers, carrots, cauliflower and more stand up perfectly to gooey, salty cheese.
In fact, deepen your condiment bench with a jar on hand in your fridge; you can get mild to very spicy. Show off those knife skills and make your own, or hand over the chopping to the pros. More grocery stores now carry giardiniera or you can order a Chicago-based jar from Amazon.