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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Feb. 29, 2024

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Food crawl with Lionel Boyce from ‘The Bear’

Actor visits his favorite eateries in hometown of Inglewood, Calif.

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Lionel Boyce as Marcus in "The Bear." (Frank Ockenfels/FX)
Lionel Boyce as Marcus in "The Bear." (Frank Ockenfels/FX) Photo Gallery

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Lionel Boyce hates Guy Fieri.

He elaborates on his discontent on a bench outside the Serving Spoon restaurant in Inglewood, a foam container of salmon croquettes, French toast and scrambled eggs on his lap.

He takes his time spreading butter onto the French toast, cuts each slice into bite-sized triangles, then drenches them all in syrup before taking his first bite.

“Since I was a kid, I watched his show Triple D,” he says, referring to “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” “I hate him because he has my dream job!”

Fieri may have everyone’s dream job, but Boyce, 32, is riding high on a culinary television wave of his own, playing Marcus, the doughnut-loving baker on the FX series “The Bear.” The show chronicles the struggles of a chef and his crew at an Italian beef shop in Chicago.

10:48 a.m. The Serving Spoon

The Serving Spoon is Boyce’s first stop on a restaurant crawl of Inglewood, highlighting his favorite hometown haunts. He grew up not 15 minutes from where he’s sitting now, near the Forum. He played football for the Baldwin Hills Pop Warner team with Jerry Jr. Johnson, whose siblings Justin and Jessica now run the nearly 40-year-old restaurant.

Boyce has the presence of a linebacker, with a solid, commanding frame. Despite his size and speed, Boyce says he never wanted to be an athlete. Instead, he fell in love with making people laugh. He got his first big break on the Adult Swim sketch comedy show “Loiter Squad,” which he created and wrote with high school friend Tyler, the Creator.

“I used to come here with my dad,” Boyce says in between bites of French toast. “This place always delivers. L.A. is so big and there’s not a lot of places where you have that like small, hometown feeling of knowing people at a place.”

In addition to the French toast, flecked with cinnamon and encased in a delicate layer of egg, the salmon croquettes are another of Boyce’s favorite dishes. The golden brown patties are packed with well-seasoned salmon that just barely holds together.

“Usually I eat here and at like the same four places,” Boyce says. “But the show like opened my palate. I have more appreciation for things, and I’m willing to try stuff that five years ago I would have said was insane.”

To prepare to shoot the pilot of “The Bear,” Boyce observed a day at Tartine bakery in Los Angeles.

“I was nervous because it’s a top bakery, they deliver all these breads to places, they need to uphold that quality, and I’m like, I don’t know what I’m doing,” he says. “But I got the hang of it.”

He also spent two weeks staging at Hart Bageri in Copenhagen.

“I ate at Noma, and that’s really what kicked the door in,” he says. “The first dish is like deer brain. I’m like, ‘OK, the whole kitchen is looking at you, I’m just going to try this.’ It wasn’t what I imagined it to be.”

There are still ingredients he won’t eat. He hates fennel seeds “more than anything.” Olives of any kind. Avocados are a hard pass. Eggplant is also a no. The rest is fair game.

11:45 a.m. Dulan’s Soul Food Kitchen

Dulan’s Soul Food Kitchen co-owner Terry Dulan seats us at a table in a private dining room, next to a mural that outlines his family’s more-than-50-year history in the Los Angeles restaurant industry. He proudly shares his father Adolf Dulan’s story with Boyce, tracing the roots of the soul food restaurant back to Adolf’s burger stand and the now-closed Aunt Kizzy’s Back Porch soul food kitchen in Marina del Rey.

“Aunt Kizzy’s!” Boyce says at the mention of the name. “I used to go there when I was a kid with my dad. And you had all the photos of the famous Black people on the wall. I remember that!”

Dulan’s is where Boyce tells people to go if they want soul food. Especially if they’re from out of town.

We order the baked fish with mac ‘n’ cheese, yams and greens; the short-rib plate with greens and cornbread dressing; a peach cobbler and slice of yellow cake with chocolate frosting for dessert.

“This is a restaurant where you just try everything on the menu because I know at the base level it’s at least a 7.5 out of 10,” he says.

The baked Swai fillet is both moist and flaky, just the way he likes it. The mac ‘n’ cheese is creamy, with enough cheese that it stretches when he pulls away his fork. He adds a little bit of the yams to the mac before taking a bite.

“I like the mac ‘n’ cheese and the yams to touch,” he says. “It’s like the heavens overlap.”

Terry arrives with an extra order of cornbread and two fried chicken wings. He pauses to ask Boyce what his show “The Bear” is about.

“It’s a cool thing where it’s like season one was showing people how hard it is to work in a kitchen,” he says. “Season two is like how hard it is to run a restaurant. Even if it’s popular, it’s just slightly above water at all times. The show goes into that and why every moment is sink or swim.”

“Oh, I can relate,” Terry says with a laugh. “I’ll definitely check it out.”

Boyce reaches for a bite of the cornbread dressing, sweet, slightly grainy and heavy with the taste of cornbread. He eats it in quick succession with the short ribs, which seem to melt under a cloak of thick, rich gravy.

Next, he analyzes the slice of yellow cake, then plunges a fork into the side. Cake is one of the desserts his character Marcus is known for, having served up a chocolate cake so enticing on the show, I felt like I could taste its richness through the screen.

“I love this cake,” he says, gesturing to the now half-eaten slice. “It’s dense. The frosting is not overpowering. The moisture. And I was born a cake expert. Way before the show.”

12:56 p.m. Randy’s Donuts

To prepare for his character making doughnuts on “The Bear,” Boyce made a list of 20 doughnut shops around Southern California to visit. He drove as far as Carlsbad for fried dough.

Under the giant, doughnut-shaped sign at Randy’s, he orders a box of his favorites: glazed buttermilk, chocolate old-fashioned, glazed twist and a chocolate raised. He remembers coming to Randy’s as a child, eating doughnuts with his family after church.

“I like both cakey and yeasted doughnuts,” he says, taking a seat on the bed of his truck to eat his doughnuts. “A good one is not too dry, with the right density and moisture.”

First he samples the buttermilk, closing his eyes as he takes a bite.

“I think they have the best buttermilk doughnut I’ve ever had in my whole life,” he says. “You can taste the butter. I remember having this when I was like 7 years old.”

The butter flavor is pronounced, bordering on buttered popcorn.

Next is the chocolate raised, with a thin sheet of frosting over the top.

“The texture is like bready but not dry, and the milk chocolate doesn’t taste too fake,” he says. “But I like when it’s a little fake. Not when things get too gourmet.”

He cracks himself up at this and lets out a boisterous laugh. He eagerly rips apart the twist and pops a chunk into his mouth. It’s reminiscent of good milk bread from a Taiwanese bakery, sweet and soft.

The chocolate old-fashioned is chocolate on chocolate, with a thick layer of icing glopped over the chocolate cake doughnut.

“It’s an insane thing to do,” he says. “This one is like crazy. It’s like eating cake.”

1:42 p.m. American Deli

If Boyce had to choose a favorite food, it might be wings. He has a running list of places to try in Los Angeles, but he can’t seem to quit the garlic-parmesan and hot wings with lemon pepper sprinkle at the Inglewood branch of the American Deli wing chain.

He orders a 10-piece, with five wings each devoted to his two favorite flavors. The garlic-parmesan are coated in a sweet Italian dressing, while the hot wings are dusted generously in lemon pepper seasoning. The chicken underneath remains crisp.

“I’ve never had garlic-parmesan like this anywhere else,” he says. “It’s like sweet and savory, which is my favorite overlap.”

He skillfully strips the meat from a drumette, ignoring the cups of ranch and blue cheese dressings on the side.

The tang of the lemon pepper on the hot wings is immediate and sharp.

“A zing!” he says, his eyes a little watery. “These are so much warmer than I thought they were going to be. I’m just going to enjoy the pain.”

Franchise owner Van Shemirani asks Boyce if he can take a picture with his staff when he’s finished eating. He’s about halfway through season one of “The Bear” and says he’s a big fan.

As we finish up our wings and compare the cleanliness of our bones, I ask Boyce if he’s surprised by how much the show resonates with people both inside and outside the restaurant industry.

“I always thought the show was good and super specific because Chris (Christopher Storer, the show’s creator and writer) is so good, and that maybe like by season 3 or 4 it would catch on,” he says. “I wasn’t expecting it out the gate. But a lot of people come up to me and point out specific things that remind them of a story and connect them to it. I’m just happy to be a part of something that means something to people.”

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