Soup’s On!

Thu. February 28, 2013 12:00 AM
by Rick Karlin

There's nothing like the cold of winter to make you yearn for a bowl of soup. My mother, not the best cook in the world, only knew how to open a can of Campbell's. Not that there's anything wrong with that, I still love me a bowl of plain old cream of tomato. But, my grandmothers both made soup from scratch. From the Eastern European-Jewish side we'd get matzo ball, kreplach and mushroom barley. From the Gentile Western European side we'd get czarnina (duck blood soup), liver dumpling and goulash.

For a taste of the Western-European tradition, check out Chicago Brauhaus , (4732 N Lincoln, (773) 784-4444, chicagobrauhaus.com) or Mirabell (3454 W Addison, (773) 463-1962, mirabellrestaurant.com), both make a pretty decent liver dumpling soup. Brauhaus charges $8 and Mirabelle offers two sizes for $4 and $6. If you're adventurous enough to try czarnina, The White Eagle (6839 N Milwaukee in Niles, (847) 647-0660, whiteeaglebanquets.com), offers a decent version for $3.50.

There are a number of delis in Chicago serving up delicious versions of my Jewish grandmothers creations. The Bagel Restaurant (3107 N. Broadway, (773) 477-0300; and 50 Old Orchard Center, Skokie, (847) 677-0100; bagelrestaurant.com), is probably the best known. Chicken broth with noodles, rice or kasha ( buckwheat grain) is $4 a bowl, $5 for kreplach or matzo balls. If you're really hungry, or want to serve a few people, check out the mish-mash, a half gallon of chicken broth with matzo ball, kreplach, noodles, rice and kasha for $10.

Equally good (if not a tad better) is Manny's (1141 s Jefferson, (312) 939-2855, mannysdeli.com) where a regular sized bowl ruins less than four bucks, and a quart less than $7. Chicken broth with matzo ball, kreplach, noodles or rice is available daily. Other soups, such as navy bean, split pea, mushroom barley and sweet & sour cabbage are available on specific days. I'm not a big fan of Eleven City Diner (1112 S. Wabash, (312) 212-1112, elevencitydiner.com), but their soups are pretty good and fairly priced at less than five bucks a serving.

Every ethnic group has its version of soup that is a comfort food. Here's a list of some of the best in the city.

You can find the Latin American staple menudo, on most restaurant menus on the weekend, but Pozoleria San Juan (1523 N. Pulaski, (773) 276-5825) every day. Another great spot for a variety of Mexican/Latin American soup favorites is Xoco (449 N. Clark, (312) 334-3688, rickbayless.com). If you can get in (the lines snake down the block at lunchtime), the short rib red chile and chicken pozole: are but two of the half dozen menu offerings. The fact that these dishes come from a name chef and the higher end ingredients means that the soup will cost you more than $10 a bowl.

You don't have to be French to love French onion soup. The rich broth and gooey cheese are loved by everyone. Le Bouchon (1958 N. Damen, (773) 862-6600, lebouchonofchicago.com) is legendary and runs about $8 a serving. For that price, I prefer the version served at La Crêperie (2845 N. Clark, (773) 528-9050, lacreperieusa.com) which uses imported Emmenthal to top its crock.

When I'm sick I don't crave chicken soup, I crave hot and sour soup from Sun Wah (5041 N. Broadway, (773) 769-1254, sunwahbbq.com.) Sun Wah offers soups in a number of sizes, anything other than a small will feed a small village and most are priced less than $10. Wonton, chicken noodle and egg drop are good for the timid. However, if you are a bit more adventurous, you'll be richly rewarded if you try the shredded duck with dried scallop, minced chicken and corn or fresh clams and pork. If you're feeling brave, try the congee. I've never been able to acquire a taste for the slimy rice porridge, but my Chinese friends rave about it.

Of course, any discussion of soup would not be complete without a mention of Vietnamese pho (pronounced "fuh"). The soup as a meal dish arrives at your table with a rich broth and various ingredients such as chicken, beef, seafood, and the traditional mixture of organ meats, with a plate of side garnishes, such as cilantro, lime bean and sprouts that the diner adds to the dish according to his or her taste. Tank Noodle (4953 N Broadway, (773) 878-2253, tank-noodle.com) is always cited as the best in the city, but one walk down Argyle will let you know that not everyone agrees. Tank Noodle, however, is the best place for a newcomer to try out this highly nuanced dish.

If all of this is a little too exotic for your taste, there are a number of places to enjoy homemade versions of the Campbell's classics. Soupbox (2943 N. Broadway, (773) 935-9800 and 50 E. Chicago, (312) 951-5900; soupbox.com) offers up delicious versions of such comforting fare as beef stew, chicken noodle, cream of chicken with wild rice, New England clam chowder, Italian wedding soup and vegetarian chili for between $7-$12.Spicy Monkey (131 N. Clinton, in the French Market, (312) 454-2991, thespicymonkey.com) offers up tomato vegetable, Hungarian mushroom, gumbo and clam chowder, among other seasonal faves for $4 a cup, $5 a bowl. Get a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich to accompany the soup for $6-$9.

Soups in the Loop food truck (312) 694-526, soupsintheloop.com), ladles out creamy tomato, wild card chili, chicken tortilla, black bean and split pea. While soups are the specialty, the truck also features sliders, salads, and desserts. You'll need to check in at their web site to see where the truck will be located. Oddly enough, Capt'n Nemo's (3650 N. Ashland, (773) 929-7687; 7367 N. Clark (773) 973-0570; 38 Greenbay Rd. in Winnetka, (847) 446-6406; capnemos.com) is more landlocked. Daily specials include navy bean, barley, minestrone, lentil, vegetable, as well as the daily offering, split pea. Prices are a bargain at $1.59 a cup, $2.79 a bowl or an entire quart to go for $4.39. Leafy Greens (2468 N. Clark, (773) 525-2244, saladmix-chicago.com) may be better known for its salads, but the honey roasted butternut squash and grilled portobello soups as well as the delicious corn chowder, are wonderful and fairly priced at $3.50-$4 for small and $5-$6 for large.

Wherever you opt to get your rib-warming soup, I'd suggest getting the biggest size you can and heating it up for a meal the next day. Everyone knows that soups better the next day.