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Ten Soups to Warm Up With This Fall

Oct 9, 2013
Ten Soups to Warm Up With This FallI love soup. In a cup, in a bowl, in a thermos, in a ladle straight from a steaming stove-top cauldron, soup’s delivery device makes no difference to me. It’s the ultimate comfort food. And its genius is its simplicity. People have been cooking it and eating it for as long as they have been complaining about the winter and its cold weather, unflattering puffy coats, and suspect folding chairs that claim all the parking spots. As fall descends on Chicago, our team of food writers sought out some of the best soups our city has to offer. From traditional chicken noodle and tomato bisque, to inventive Caribbean pumpkin and congee, here are the 10 that had us wanting to sneak some home in a thermos. – John Flaherty 1. Hot Corn Soup and Biscuits at Elizabeth Restaurant (Lincoln Square | 4835 N. Western Ave.) This soup was technically eighth in an innovative 20-course tasting, the only menu length that Chef Iliana Regan offers in order to fully showcase her seasonal “new gatherer” cuisine. It ended up being one of the most memorable courses of the evening. The creamy soup, with a balance of broth and roasted kernels, was served with a sturdy wheat biscuit and three spreads: thick honey, sweet tomato jam, and smoky pancetta butter. Rotating between spreads and bites of soup, the flavors at once felt incredibly comforting (I’m from central Illinois, after all) and transported the corn to a more elegant place. – Hillary Proctor 2. Tomato Bisque at Petterino's (The Loop | 150 N. Dearborn St.) Though Petterino's menu is stocked with solid options, I come back to the tomato bisque—a liquid—every time. Order a bowl ($4.95) and one of the formally dressed servers will pour it from a small metal pitcher into a dish preloaded with croutons and parsley. (You can also opt for a cup for a modest $3.95.) The croutons rest on the purée's placid, orange surface, adding a meaty texture to the savory-sweet bisque. Pair it with a roll from the complimentary breadbasket for a meal that's surprisingly substantial. – Molly Metzig 3. Congee at Furama (Uptown | 4936 N. Broadway St.) There are a lot of delicious dishes available at the Sunday dim sum brunch at Furama, but none are quite as comforting as congee. We call the cart over whenever a member of our party has a cold or a hangover. The server ladles the piping-hot rice porridge into a big communal bowl, which you then scoop out into small cups for each person (visible at the upper left). Green onions and small chunks of pork lend additional flavor, but the best part is the croutons. They supplement the thick, almost creamy texture of the soup with a satisfying crunch and scratchy mouthfeel. – Nathalie Lagerfeld 4. Cabbage Soup at Podhalanka (Wicker Park | 1549 W. Division St.) Cabbage soup, honestly, doesn’t sound very good. It sounds like something you’d eat toward the end of winter when food supplies are running low. I fully plan to spend much of the winter eating the stuff at one of Podhalanka’s tables, though. For starters, the cabbage in the soup isn’t really cabbage; it’s sour and tender kraut that lends acidity to the fatty bits of meat in a broth that might otherwise be too rich. It’s best when you’re in no hurry to get back outside into the cold. The decor (portraits of Princess Di and JFK that are quite possibly from their lifetimes) is well worth lingering under, and your busy hostess/waitress/chef/cashier/Polish translator will more than likely have some friends in the shop that she’ll need to chat with at length. Consider me converted to cabbage soup. – Cody Braun 5. New England Clam Chowder at Glenn’s Diner (Ravenswood | 1820 W. Montrose Ave.) “Best damn New England Clam Chowder west of the Atlantic Ocean,” Glenn’s Diner proclaims on its website (and in person, if you ask them). Bold, yes, but I’m not going to argue with the revered Ravenswood eatery. Where most chowders are thin and watery, Glenn’s is thick enough to stand a spoon in. A healthy dose of butter and cream helps, sure, but the sizable smattering of clams and bacon—yes, bacon—peppered throughout are what elevate the soup to entree status. Though it’s one of the restaurant’s flagship offerings, the chowder isn’t the only dish that Glenn’s exalts. Everything scrawled on the sprawling blackboard is worthy of adulation, from the crab and lobster plates to the 18 varieties of fresh, sustainably sourced fish featured on the day of my visit. See, Glenn’s seasonal menu changes daily, but the chefs know better than to deprive their customers of the chowder, which is available every day. –  Randall Colburn 6. Chicken Soup from Endgrain (1851 W. Addison St.) at the Chicago Food Social It was a cold and cloudy Saturday at the Kendall College parking lot, where a couple dozen restaurants and food trucks set up during the Chicago Food Social (9/21). That’s one reason this piping-hot chicken soup from Endgrain’s booth tasted so good. The other reasons included buttery, perfectly soft cannelloni beans (my favorite) and a thick, orangish broth flavored with ssamjang, a spicy paste used in Korean cooking. It may have been the paste that gave the broth its deliciously umami beef-tallow flavor, or it may have been actual beef. I am not sure. All I know is that this dish had me thinking of how Endgrain—whose physical location I have never visited—might be a good place to cozy up on a cold winter night. – Nathalie Lagerfeld 7. Mushroom Brie Soup at The Goddess and Grocer (River North | 901 N. Larabee St.) For me, The Goddess and Grocer’s soups usually take a backseat to their sandwiches—I’m borderline obsessed with the Magic Mushroom, which pairs thinly sliced portobellos with a layer of soft, warm brie on ciabatta bread. But on a cool fall day, I saw mushroom brie soup on the special board—my favorite sandwich in liquid form—and decided to try it. I didn’t enjoy it as much as the Magic Mushroom sandwich, but this soup is enjoyable. It’s creamy, rich, and forward on the brie flavor. You also get Westminster oyster crackers on the side. These are a definite bonus; crisp yet tender, and saltier than the bland oyster crackers I’m used to. – Halley Lawrence 8. Matzo Ball Soup at Dillman’s (River North | 354 W. Hubbard St.) Delis really aren't my thing, but Chicago restaurateur Brendan Sodikoff’s reputation was enticing enough for me to give them another chance. Though not quite a deli, the upscale Dillman's does have plenty of traditional delicatessen eats—meaning, of course, matzo ball soup. Directly in the center of the steaming bowl was one perfectly round, monstrous matzo ball roughly the size of an orange. It dwarfed the sizable bowl of broth—which was perfectly seasoned with fresh herbs and dill—and a generous helping of tender carrots that would, in any other dish, have seemed rather hearty. The matzo itself was light and fluffy, and there was so much that I almost couldn't finish. But finish it I did, and it left me feeling like I'd just left a loving grandma's warm embrace. – Michelle Schuman 9. Chicken Noodle Soup from Tony’s Finer Foods (Irving Park | 4137 N. Elston Ave.) I have plenty of reasons to love Tony’s and this chicken noodle soup is just one. The veggies still had a little bite to them, which means they were fresh, not frozen, and the broth is hearty and complex. Crumbling up some saltine crackers into the broth amped up the comfort level. The only thing missing was chunks of chicken, but it’s nothing that buying one of the tasty rotisserie chickens can’t solve. When I remembered I’d bought the soup, it was already 11 p.m. But I couldn’t go back to bed without having it for a nighttime snack. – Aimee Algas Alker 10. Caribbean Pumpkin Soup at Lucky Platter (Evanston | 514 Main St.) As a precursor to a barbeque salmon, I ordered the Caribbean pumpkin soup with homemade cream soda and cornbread. This starter was the highlight of my meal because Lucky Platter specializes in simple flavors that blend together well. What appeared to be an unassuming bowl of broth became an addictive experience. The cornbread was rich and crumbly and the pumpkin tasted like pumpkin – not like one out of a can, but the carved kind. The soup itself wasn’t too sweet, plus it had sizeable chunks of vegetables and a spicy aftertaste that made me want another bowlful. Every single bite had personality and a powerful kick. It also reminded me of a similar soup I used to eat in Edinburgh, Scotland – so the nostalgia factor, plus the solid flavor, make it my favorite soup in town. – Stephanie McDaniel Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Restaurant