FX’s new hit drama The Bear has seemingly taken the TV world by storm — earning a second season within weeks of its finale’s airing, a 100 percent Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, and countless hot takes. And now its fanfare is making its way to a local restaurant in Houston.
Houston bar Better Luck Tomorrow, for one, is putting its spin on the show’s signature dish — Chicago’s Italian beef — after recognizing the dramedy’s growing buzz among its employees and patrons.
Chef Justin Yu said he heard multiple cooks, bartenders, and friends discussing the show before he decided to watch what he called an overdramatized but also “pretty good representation of the pressures of kitchen life.”
“I actually lived in Chicago for two years [while working as] a line cook, so I have a lot of really great memories of Italian beef,” says Yu, who heads the restaurant with his partner Bobby Heugel. “It was one of the things that I could afford.”
Now the restaurant has been serving and humoring its guests with its rendition of Italian beef since mid-July, adding to what Yu calls its “hypebeast” of a menu that changes often, with new additions that are “sometimes funny, sometimes heartwarming,” and often a lot of fun for the cooks. In this case, nodding to The Bear’s storyline, which focuses on the inner workings of a Chicago Italian beef joint, seemed to be a fun departure.
But with this Italian beef, Yu offers a disclaimer. Nothing about it is classic. “We’re not in Chicago,” he points out, “so we’ve put our own unique spin on it.”
Typically, a classic version of the sandwich is fairly simple but flavorful, with sliced roast beef and optional add-ons like giardiniera — a spicy pickled relish — and sweet peppers that are piled on freshly baked French bread before being dipped in an au jus or gravy.
Instead of using the typical beef round for the meat, Better Luck Tomorrow uses thicker slices of tri-tip, which have a higher fat content, and thus, a beefier flavor and a texture with more “chew,” Yu says. The restaurant also enriches the jus that they use to braise the beef and then serves the sandwich “hot and wet,” topping it with smoked provolone cheese, giardiniera, and Chinese chile crisps before dunking the entire sandwich in the jus (hence the “wet”).
The response to the sandwich has been encouraging, according to Yu, who (warning: semi-spoilers) said the restaurant nearly had a Bear moment reminiscent of episode 7 when they sold a lot more than they had originally planned. (Yu said he expected to sell just 20 Italian beef on a Tuesday, but had to prepare at least 35.)
“I really apologize to my Chicago friends for messing up their classic sandwich,” Yu jokes. “It’s just very different, although very delicious.”
Still, Italian beef is on the menu, but only for a limited time — at least through the weekend, or until the restaurant runs out or cooks get bored, Yu says.
Catch the sub on BLT’s evening menu starting at 3:30 p.m, and don’t forget to thank the chefs in true Bear style.