It’s been a long march for Brad Newman and Jesse Lee, the duo behind Brasserie C&C, a tasting menu restaurant in Edgewater where Cookies & Carnitas stood. The two ditched the casual concept for a more refined atmosphere. Now, perhaps taking a page out of Elizabeth’s playbook, where chef Iliana Regan immersed diners with pop-culture-themed menus, Newman and Lee have a trick up their sleeves.
When FX series The Bear first hit screens in June 2022, Lee, a suburban Libertyville native, was reluctant to tune in. He’d been let down by movies and TV shows about chefs before.
“A lot of the [hospitality] industry is always disappointed in how things get portrayed because it doesn’t seem very realistic,” he says. Both chef Lee and Newman, who owns the restaurant, had reservations about the show, concerned that it would fall into the trap of slick Hollywood fantasies like 2015 Bradley Cooper vehicle Burnt.
In short order, however, the fanfare around The Bear grew so ubiquitous that the pair couldn’t ignore it any longer. To their surprise, the show told a story that reflected their own experiences both as Chicagoans and independent operators flying without the safety net of a moneyed restaurant group.
“Coming from a small business standpoint, it’s enlightening to see all the struggles of a restaurant that don’t have to do with cooking because a lot of the time, making food is almost the last concern,” says Lee. “We’ve been having trouble with our frier this week, we’re paying bills, and trying to attract [diners] to a low-traffic area. Brad grew up in Chicago and his family was in the culinary industry... we were like, ‘Holy shit, that’s us!’”
Newman, a chef who’s worked at Charlie Trotter’s and Tru, grew up in suburban Buffalo Grove. He founded Cookies & Carnitas (thus the “C&C” in the restaurant’s name) in 2011 and earned legions of fans over more than a decade at Chicago’s Green City Market. As time passed, he felt the urge to put down roots and announced plans for the brasserie in March 2020 just weeks before pandemic restrictions began. Undaunted, Newman forged ahead, and in early 2022 he and Lee began serving tasting menus, slowly unfurling components that by January would come together as a final, fully realized Brasserie by C&C at 5939 N. Broadway.
Lee and Newman’s enthusiasm for the tale of Carmy Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White) and his quest to transform his late brother’s sagging Italian beef stand into a modern, upscale restaurant, extends to Season 2, which debuted in late June. The show’s return prompted them to bring back a pop-up menu themed around the show that varies weekly and runs through the end of August.
As of Monday, August 21, patrons can identify plenty of Season 2 inspiration in dishes like oysters Rockafeller (inspired by the harrowing Christmas dinner in “Fishes”), The Consommé & Frozen Grapes (a la the chaos menu in “Pasta”) with short rib agnolotti, and The Minty Snickers, the fruit of Marcus’s Copenhagen labors in “Honeydew.”
Previous iterations have included show staples like Marcus’s decadent chocolate cake (the brainchild of Loaf Lounge’s Sarah Mispagel, who was inspired by Portillo’s) as well as lamb ragout with fresh fettuccini — a reference to TV sous chef Sydney and her retelling of disastrous catering gig when she was forced to serve the labor-intensive stew with King’s Hawaiian rolls instead of pasta. “It’s a great story of working in a kitchen because you have to make choices and pivot,” says Lee. “You do the best you can to make delicious food in what is sometimes not the most ideal situation.”
Tapping into the fervor around popular media can be a tricky proposition for restaurants that must garner attention in a crowded market without devolving into a theme park cafe. The gravity of The Bear’s story and its deep roots in Chicago hospitality allow Brasserie by C&C to carefully toe that line, and if the menus have their intended effect, introduce a new group of patrons to the eclectic yet sophisticated spot in Edgewater.