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Q • When my in-laws visit from out of town, we always go to Big Bear Grill and would love the recipe for the pepper jack potato soup. — Terri Thompson, Wildwood

A • Pepper Jack Soup has been on Big Bear Grill’s menu for 15 of the 16 years since the late Arnie “Big Bear” Freed and his wife, Nancy, opened the restaurant in Wildwood. The Freeds’ sons, Jeff and David, run the place now and carry on the family lore that their great-great-great grandfather kept a trained bear named Ebeneezer, sharing meals and moonshine while performing across Kentucky.

Big Bear Grill is a neighborhood place, and Jeff Freed figures he and his family know 700 customers by name. Its homestyle comfort food is much like what he grew up eating every day. “We’re a friendly place with good old-fashioned stick-to-your-ribs food.” Customer favorites are chicken spedini and baked or fried walleye.

The Pepper Jack Soup starts with dark-roasted potatoes and holds a little heat. Jeff says that people wonder if it’ll be too spicy. “But it’s not, just a little bite and a nice finish.” Some customers order the soup with a little bacon crumbled on top, others as a cheesy nacho dip. It’s a favorite carry-out dish. One regular orders a quart, Jeff says, “and then we don’t see her for two weeks.”

Big Bear Grill cook Tyler Kutz has been making Pepper Jack Soup once or twice a week for five years, more often during cold weather. He says that the baked potato skins tend to fall off and suggests stirring the soup gently to avoid mashing the potatoes.

Special Request is written by Town & Country resident Alanna Kellogg, author of the online recipe column and “veggie evangelist” at the food blog about vegetables, A Veggie Venture.

Get the recipe here. 

Big Bear Grill

16524 Manchester Road, Wildwood


If you would like to request a recipe, email Include what you like about the dish, your name and where you live.