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I’m a little bit in love with Hulu’s slam-bang, delightfully foul-mouthed new restaurant-centric series The Bear even though I’ve been plagued with bad restaurant nightmares since the day I did my last waiter checkout and turned in my greasy apron (“Restaurant nightmares never go away,” says my mom, somehow sadly and schadenfreudally at the same time).

The series does nothing to dispel her sage wisdom and there’s one episode—the seventh one—that is so precise in its observation about the true-life nightmare of a restaurant service gone wrong that I had to go lie down for a bit after I finished it.

Set in a Chicago sandwich shop—The Original Beef of Chicagoland—the show focuses on Carmy (Jeremy Allen White; you’ll recognize him from Shameless), a top-level chef who has inherited the shop from his recently deceased brother (I’m dancing around some things here) and returned home to run it. He also inherited the entrenched and initially-resistant-to-change staff, alongside the daily presence of  his incredibly loud-mouthed, hotheaded cousin Richie. I’ll tell you now: there’s a lot of 100% accurate restauranty shouting between these two.

There’s also a fantastically drawn female character: Sydney (Ayo Edebiri), who shows up in the first episode as The Beef’s new sous chef (I did have to pause and think about this. Do sandwich shops have sous chefs? Maybe?), and functions as a fantastically (mostly) centered foil for the twin tornadoes of Carmy and Richie.

The arc of the series is pretty small-scaled, though in its brief eight episodes, it manages to work in—and remember it’s a comedy!—suicide, cocaine, street violence, the mafia, familial resentment, hidden treasure and, well, short ribs and risotto.

Which brings me to the food. The food-porn factor is on the low side, but when they do show it, your lunch plans will immediately change. I watched the whole series in an afternoon and then spent two hours trying to figure out where the nearest decent hot beef sandwich shop was. The bad news: 400 miles away. The good news: I just gassed up the car.

The Bear streams on Hulu. You’ll have to hunt up your own hot beef sandwich.

Save it for later. Here’s how to tuck DG’s recommendations into your MDK account with one click.

About The Author

DG Strong took up knitting in 2014. He lives in Nashville with his sister, her rat terrier and a hound dog named Opal. He has a blog of drawings and faintly ridiculous rambling called The Psychopedia—there are worse ways to spend your afternoon.

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31 Comments

  • Come to Chicago and I’ll take you for an Italian Beef sandwich!

  • Now I need a sandwich at 6am…sigh.

  • The best place for an Italian beef sandwich… CHICAGO! Start your engines. It will be worth the gas prices.

    • I just happen to be visiting Chicago this weekend! Recommendations? We’re downtown.

      • I live downtown and recommend Portillo’s. And yes to their chocolate cake.

      • Al’s Beef on Taylor Street. Bonus, there’s an Italian ice stand across the street.

      • Al’s #1 Beef.

        • Al’s is THE place to go

  • We powered through this series within a week or 2. Lots of knitting going on during in… and I did love the food shots. And I was fascinated by the kitchen interactions which felt authentic and made me glad I was never in that industry.

  • You’re mother is so right about restaurant dreams. It’s been over 35 years since my last shift and My anxiety dreams still center around trying to get to the restaurant in time for my shift while searching for my car which has mysteriously disappeared.

  • I cooked in a bar my senior year of high school. Forty-five years later, I still spend some nights in my dreams….or nightmares….standing over a fryer smelling like grease! Thanks, DG!

  • Make sure to order your sandwich dipped and with giardiniera!

  • When in Chicago area go to Potillos for the BEST beef sandwich in town. When I saw my first, I thought, I’ll never finish this it was huge. We ate all our lunches there while in town. Chocolate cake is to die for. Don’t miss it!

    • Their chocolate cake!

      But

      OMG their strawberry shortcake and I don’t even like strawberries but OMG that strawberry shortcake is good.
      So. Damned. Good.

  • I binged this one pretty quickly, as well. I’ve been living in the South for a long time, and this one made me miss the North – the tightness of family there, the no beating around the bush behavior. There’s a lot of yelling, but it was a refreshing change from the usual.

  • This is one of the best shows I have seen in a long time. Great arc, writing is terrific and I am in love with each and every character. I worked in kitchens in NYC many years ago – Only wish Sydney had too!

  • DG, I pretty much watch, or have watched, everything you recommend and am always happy I did, Thank you. On this rec, Ruth Reichl agrees. In her current newsletter, La Briffe, she said “The Bear is moving, painful, exhilarating. I think it’s the best restaurant show ever aired on tv.”

    • The only thing I think it’s a little skimpy on – and the thing that keeps it from being 100% accurate – is customer-related-nightmare-issue scenes. My suspicion is that because it was filmed during the pandemic, keeping the cast small was essential. There are very few scenes with more than the core cast in them (though there are a few; one during a video game almost-riot, and at least one later, though both of those do take place out-of-doors, noticeably). Also, it could probably be argued that it’s not THAT exciting watching someone complain and throw a hissy fit over a sandwich – though as someone who has watched countless hours of disgruntled Wendy’s diners completely losing it on YouTube, you’ll never hear that out of me.

  • Listening to people swear at each other is no longer brash, rule breaking, or titillating; it’s hackneyed and old hat. I never found it creative or amusing but now listening to people with one track minds yell the same four words at each other endlessly is several stops beyond boring.

    • I agree Mary Lynne. I watched 3 episodes, love the cooking scenes and the storyline. However, the amount of yelling and cursing at each other was too much for me. I’m not a prude, I can swear with the best of them. The yelling at each other, and sometimes in front of customers was more than I could handle. I disagree DG, I worked in the restaurant world for about 6 years. There may have been cursing, but never did I ever encounter screaming staff as portrayed by the actors. I was disappointed that it caused me to stop watching the show.

      • Thanks.

    • It is, however, exactly how the people in every kitchen (all eight of them) I’ve ever worked in talk. So in that respect, it’s completely accurate. Anyway, they use way more than just four in “The Bear.” Bring a notebook!

      • Love your answer! Exactly my experience cooking in Boston. Never mind the level or type of cuisine, an unimaginable number of swear words filled the afternoon prep and swelled as the night progressed. You get used to it- almost.

  • “Schadenfreudally” made me giggle delightedly. I’m going to try to work it into conversation on a regular basis…

  • Oh, my!! I need this! My son is a Cordon Bleu trained Chef who began his career as a dishwasher in high school, then line cook, grill cook, etc. and the stories he brought home about Life in the KITCHEN……well, it was astonishing to hear. Combination Schitt’s Creek and Yellowstone. And it is my humble opinion that every living being should wait tables for six months; they would never be rude to another living being. Thanks for your wonderful view of Life. I love every word!

  • Awesome show. Great to binge and knit.

  • Re cursing, et al – Maybe it’s the type of restaurant? I’ve waitressed in 3 different restaurants – fine dining, family-run, and chain hotel – and never heard one curse word. Of course I’ve never worked in a sandwich shop but I do have a favorite one, and will have to compliment the sous chef the next time I order a meatball sub.

  • 25 year BOH restaurant veteran here. No, sandwich shops- at least the kind with jerseys for sale and a self-serve soft drink cooler (and no shade, here, either. I love a lot of those shops) do not have sous chefs. They also don’t have pastry chefs- I hear one of those makes an appearance, too. Every restaurant I’ve ever worked in (except Blue Hill, where I staged but didn’t take the job, Dan Barber is really lovely but the place was just too fancy for me) has plenty of shouting and swearing (Blue Hill was so quiet during service- except for necessary, terse, one-word communications- you could hear a ticket drop). Even just communicating the necessary stuff (behind! Sharp! Corner! Hot! Hot behind!) is shouted, because if someone doesn’t hear you they might get speared on a knife or plastered with screaming-hot reduction or something. Really, it’s not generally as offensive as some of you seem to think. It’s just the way it is in that world. You get used to it.

    • The “pastry chef” character – Marcus – isn’t really that; he just makes the chocolate cake that they sell. But he’s definitely an *aspiring* pastry chef and since the show sort of resolves the central “problem” of its first season of plot, I wouldn’t be surprised if Marcus’ aspirations don’t move more toward the center of the main plot. To say why might be a bit of a final-episode-spoiler, though.

      • And to be fair, for all I know sandwich shops these days *do* have pastry chefs, I suppose (chocolate cake! Have you noticed it’s always chocolate cake? Now I want to go find a sandwich shop, just to try their chocolate cake). I’ve been baking solo at my tiny bread bakery for about six years now, so I’m a bit out of the loop. But I did get a bit crusty at the idea that yeah, sando shops totally have sous chefs, that’s, you know, a thing- it felt to me like a not-realistic thing that got put into an otherwise totally-realistic thing just for plot reasons, or because Joe in development got it into his head that there’s a sous chef in every sandwich shop and nobody could dissuade him.

  • We (unexpectedly) binged this show and it is SO GOOD! Can’t wait for Season 2!!!

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