* Spoilers for “The Bear,” Season 2, Episode 7, below
The binge began at 9 p.m., about 20 minutes after the toddler nodded off. Yes, two brave parents embarked on a courageous journey to watch all 10 episodes of the second season of The Bear in one night.
That math wasn’t in our heroes’ favor. Season 2’s episodes range from 25 minutes to the one-hour “Seven Fishes” Christmas episode. But there was a certain thrill, the feeling of being alive — the possibility of being up at 2 a.m. due to a personal choice, not because of a crying child.
And so the journey began. But it wasn’t until around 12:30 a.m. that we were truly shocked. It was Episode 7, the episode filmed at Ever, the two-Michelin-starred restaurant in Fulton Market. It’s one of the most luxurious restaurants in the world. Servers dote on customers with precise care, right down to synchronizing water pours. It doesn’t exactly hold the same beauty as Niagara Falls, but it is an oddly relaxing sight.
The surprise came as the show made a trip to the city’s gold standard for deep dish, Pequod’s Pizza in Lincoln Park. Nope, I’m not going into the logistics of traffic, and how Richard “Richie” Jerimovich (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) — the former operator of the Original Beef of Chicagoland — making a quick trip to Pequod’s would only make sense if Ever possessed a teleporter, or the character used some mode of video game-fast travel mechanic (I feel the same way about Wayne’s World when Wayne and Garth are at the Interstate 90/94 junction in Chicago, and seconds later arrive in two-hours-away Milwaukee).
Richie brings back a deep-dish pizza from Pequod’s and places it in the care of Ever’s chef. He does this to appease a table of tourists who don’t have time to taste the famous Chicago dish. Then, without warning, the kitchen nightmare starts. The chef holds up a cookie cutter and the carnage ensues.
Chicago deep-dish pizza is often the target of ridicule — a thick buttery crust topped with layers of cheese, mixed with more toppings and more cheese. A layer of tomato sauce is added. The Bear attempted a makeover, the type seen when a Midwestern native moves to the East Coast and discovers fashion. This was the She’s All That of pizza, a makeover to make deep dish cheffy and presentable for a coastal elite’s cocktail party.
Richie, now drunk with hospitality Kool-Aid (it’s certainly not fernet), cheers on the mutilation. He screams for micro basil akin to watching Roman gladiators fight to the death. The dismembered pieces go back into the oven and are elegantly placed on a plate with sauce dots. Pequod’s famous caramelized burnt-end crust is nowhere to be found. Richie then brings the dish out to the diners as a sign of good hospitality.
While the diners on TV were wowed, this Chicago household felt betrayed.
“What’s the point?” my wife asked with a gasp. As a Detroit-area native, she’s familiar with the ring of crust that makes Motor City pizza special, something that it shares with Pequod’s and other versions of Chicago-style pan pizza.
I needed answers. I asked who was responsible for the alterations. Was it Ever chef Curtis Duffy? Ever’s PR team responded, saying it was Courtney “Coco” Storer’s work. Storer is a Chicago-area native who’s worked around the world as a chef. Her brother, Christopher Storer, created The Bear, while she created most of the dishes seen on screen. At Ever, Duffy wanted control over what the kitchen put out. He worked with Coco Storer on the other dishes featured in the episode. But apparently, this twisted version of Pequod’s was all Storer.
I asked FX for more information. While Chicago doesn’t want to be solely known for deep dish, the city still retains pride over the creation. It’s one thing if Virtue chef Erick Williams wants to stuff fried green tomatoes into a pie; it’s another thing if an outsider has other plans.
Storer responded with a statement of her own.
“It was a collaboration of Pequod’s Pizza x Curtis Duffy at Ever and myself,” the email reads. “We wanted to do our spin on it that transformed the dish into something of our own and an elevated take on a Chicago classic. I can assure you that it was hot, crispy, and delicious still.”
Still puzzled, I visited Pequod’s to get the staff’s take on the situation. Several staff members were excited to say they were at the restaurant when The Bear crew filmed. But they didn’t know what happened to the pizza once it left the premises. I showed Pequod’s general manager Sean Asbra a photo of the transformed pizza and a clip from the show on my phone: “That’s cool!” he said. He promised to get me in touch with the owners for additional comment. But as a manager of one of the city’s busiest restaurants, he has yet to connect me.
So, after a week of waiting, it was time to take matters into my own hands. Surprisingly, this editor of Eater Chicago doesn’t have reliable access to micro basil. But I didn’t let that snarl my quest for truth. And this time, I brought in a trusted party who wasn’t colored by our reaction to the crustless Pequod’s pizza bites: my son.
The child watched impatiently as I opened the pizza box and selected the perfect slice. We had ordered jalapeño, pineapple, and sausage (I can already hear the purists cracking their knuckles, ready to fire off social media missives about having pineapple on pizza). I used the cookie cutter to put the circular slice under the broiler. I brought it back to cool and sprinkled on some minced basil harvested from our garden.
I offered it to the child. He took one glance and made no other movements. I waited a minute or two until the fussing began, and then offered him a portion from a regular triangle slice. He gobbled that up. He wanted nothing to do with the cookie-cutter slice.
The cookie-cutter piece reminded me of a Bagel Bite, Ore-Ida’s classic frozen snack. I imagined the swarm of elation I would have felt if mom offered this to me as an after-school snack in the ’90s. In my head I heard horns, or at least the trumpet from a delightful ska band, celebrating the snack as a win.
I took a bite. I definitely didn’t follow all the steps that Storer and company took, or make the basil gel. Andrew Rea at Binging With Babish dusted off his chef’s tweezers to attempt it, and even though he calls it “damn good pizza” he felt it was missing... something. I grabbed the strip of blackened crust — chewy, cheesy, and salty. Yeah, that’s the stuff. Sometimes, just because you can, doesn’t mean you need to. With great pizza power, there must come great pizza responsibility... or something.