The soul food twist on ‘The Bear’-fueled Italian beef craze
Here’s where to eat — and what to order — right now.
Jerk Italian beef sandwich
You won’t find the jerk Italian beef sandwich anywhere on the printed menu at Bernie’s Soul Kitchen, the new restaurant next to the Wendy’s in downtown Culver City. Instead, it’s listed on the dry erase board of daily specials on the counter. But owner Jay Betts says it’s always available, he just wants you to eat it there.
“I didn’t want to do it to-go or on the apps,” he said during a recent visit. “If you get the sandwich, I want you to come in here and get the sandwich.”
He’s familiar with the Italian beef sandwich on everyone’s mind since watching “The Bear” on FX. But his version has been around much longer. Betts is from Joliet, Ill., a city about 35 miles southwest of Chicago. He runs Tha Kitchen there, and had Bernie’s Jerk Kitchen restaurant on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles before opening Bernie’s Soul Kitchen in May. The sandwich is something he served at the Jerk Kitchen, and it followed him to Culver City.
There’s a reason behind the dine-in sandwich rule. You’ll need to eat it before the bread falls apart.
The soft French roll cradles rugged slices of beef drenched in a densely flavored broth that smacks of allspice; and a blanket of pale orange cheese sauce. The resplendent mass of meat and cheese is crowned with chopped pickled carrots and cauliflower versus a full giardiniera. It’s a sandwich in the throes of an identity crisis, somewhere between a Philly cheesesteak and an Italian beef with a cup of jerk sauce (a thick red sauce with a punch of chile, paprika and cumin) on the side.
“The jerk is the flavor,” Betts explained. “If you put the sauce on it, it’s spicy but the jerk in there is the flavor. The regular Italian beef is not spicy.”
Three bites in and 10 napkins later, the sandwich made perfect sense.
Croquette Monsieur from Mr. T
When restaurateur Guillaume Guedj was getting ready to open an L.A. outpost of his Parisian bistro Mr. T, he told chef Alisa Vannah that he wanted a croque-monsieur, the classic French grilled ham and cheese. Only he wanted a vegetarian one on the menu.
“I made a couple of versions with mushrooms, but when I plated it, it never looked good,” Vannah said on a recent call. “And I didn’t want to serve a sandwich at dinner.”
She decided to transform the sandwich into bite-sized croquettes. The chef starts by sweating portabello, white button, chanterelle and shimeji mushrooms with garlic, onion, thyme and bay leaf. She combines the mushrooms with a bechamel sauce, lets the mixture cool then adds Mimolette cheese. She forms the cheesy mushroom mixture into balls, coats them in panko and parsley then deep fries them in rice bran oil.
The crunchy, almost falafel-like exterior gives way to a molten middle of cheese and mushrooms, colored orange by the Mimolette. Think cheese-stuffed arancini but with a medley of earthy mushrooms in place of the rice. Its unabashed richness is cut only slightly by a lemon crème fraiche and some parsley oil. The crunchy balls are not even vaguely reminiscent of a Croque Monsieur sandwich, but that doesn’t matter. I suggest renaming them crunchy mushroom cheese balls. But that wouldn’t be very French now, would it?
Egg salad sando from Katsu Bar
Egg salad sandwiches, the kind squeezed into plastic containers, waiting for you on the shelf at the many convenience stores around Japan, were an everyday indulgence during a pre-pandemic trip. Our dinner reservation isn’t for another hour? Let’s get an egg salad sandwich. Too many drinks at the robot bar and you need something to soak up the alcohol? Egg salad sandwich. We’re leaving in three days and I’m not even hungry but I’m worried no egg salad sandwich will ever stack up? Egg salad sandwich.
Since Konbi opened in Echo Park — and the new location in Culver City — it’s easier than ever to get an egg salad sandwich that does indeed stack up to the many I consumed in Tokyo. And I’m enjoying the version at the Katsu Bar chain, too. The new location in Koreatown mimics the streamlined convenience of the stores in Japan, with the sandwiches on display at the counter and a kiosk where you place your order.
Every hungry friend and travel food writer to visit Tokyo comes back with the same not-so-secret secret tip: Eat the meals between your meals at a convenience store.
The filling is roughly chopped, nestled between slabs of soft milk bread with an intact slice of soft-boiled egg in the middle. It’s all sort of piled into the center, and you need to give your sandwich a squeeze to spread the filling to the edges. It’s sweeter than many others I’ve tried but heavy on the mayo in a good way. And most important, it reminds me of roaming around Tokyo.
Where to Eat
Bernie’s Soul Kitchen, 9032 Venice Blvd., Culver City, (424) 283-1269, www.instagram.com/bernies_soulkitchen
Mr. T, 953 N. Sycamore Ave., Los Angeles, www.instagram.com/mrtlarestaurant/
Katsu Bar, 3801 West 6th St., Los Angeles, (213) 352-4060, ilovekatsubar.com
Konbi, 1463 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles and 10000 Washington Blvd, Culver City, konbi.co
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