Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I Love Soup! A Blog Post in Three Courses

I was poking through the cookbook section this weekend and came upon Anna Thomas's newly released Love Soup. Being a pain, I brought the book over to Jason and whined, "How come this book is called Love Soup, when it seems to be filled with recipes for salads and sauces, breads and spreads?"

"I don't know," he replied, "but Johanna the rep told me it was a soup cookbook." OK. Well, I listen to ANYTHING Johanna says, so if she says it's a soup book, that's what it is. To be fair, there are almost 400 pages of soups in this book. Soups are the star--the rest is bonus. There's arugala and apple, roasted squash, sweet potato bisque, nettle soup, pickle soup, and chestnut soup. As it's a Norton cookbook, it's edited by Maria Guarnaschelli. That means you'll likely see it nominated during awards season.


I love soup. I love it at restaurants, and I love making it, though I haven't made it much lately. Takes too long. Working at the old Schwartz offices, I was lucky enough to be surounded by soup places--TLC, Soup's On, Soup Brothers, and Soup Market. There's also Uncanny Soup Company, that used to be called Soup Ladle. Let me just say this concentration of soup cafes is rather unusual for a city.

So it's been a bit of a harsh awakening to move to Downer Avenue. Sendiks has one selection a day, Hollander has two, but I'm used to six. There's more variety on North Avenue (and it's really not that far all you pedestrians on North), but it's a bit tough to do in the half an hour we usually allot for lunch.

I've been aching to do a post on my favorite varieties of soup in Milwaukee, but I couldn't figure out how to put it in this blog. I was going to cook a chicken tortilla out of one of our cookbooks, but who has time. I'm afraid that by the time I get around to it, one of my favorite places will either close or change their recipe.

So soup. Today I'm going to talk about chicken tortilla soup, I love it, and in particular, I love three varieties in Milwaukee. They are all so different, that you could rotate among the three for breakfast, lunch and dinner and not be bored. (Soup for breakfast is not a bad idea. When I visited my sister in Beijing, we ate in a traditional breakfast spot, where we were served broth instead of tea as our beverage, chicken or duck!)

So let's start with my tour of chicken tortilla.

Oh, TLC Soup, how I miss eating there three days a week. I still am able to stop by when I'm working a closing shift, but it often means eating lunch at 10:30. Doesn't phase them. They are at the corner of Michigan and Milwaukee downtown, and are known for having very long lines and selling out of many varieties by 12:15. Renee tends to spice aggressively, so you should always ask beforehand if your sensitive to that sort of thing. She also notes vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options, and usually has some gluten-free bakery. Her son Dan works with her, and Ruby's also been there quite a while. Everyone is as friendly as Renee, who knows many, many of her customers by name. (Note that I am reading John Eisenberg's That First Season; he's appearing at Boswell on October 15th. Yes, I am reading a book about football.)

Their chicken tortilla is a staple of Thursdays. It's a chicken and cornmeal-based soup and packed with vegetables too. They'll top it with chili fixings, though it works very well plain, thank you. It's hearty, meal-sized, and just delicious. If you take out, they'll give you the tortillas separately (make sure they include them), but I like them mooshy.

It's a really great place, and I highly recommend it for anyone visiting Milwaukee. It's great for kids too, and once she opens for Saturdays in the fall (if she does so--every year I think it's going to end), you won't have to deal with crowds.

Head a few blocks south into the Third Ward for Water Buffalo. It's on the corner of (wait for it) Water and Buffalo. It's a restaurant, not fast casual like TLC, but prices are moderate and I think they do a decent bar busines, and in nice weather, you've also got riverside seating.

Their chicken tortilla is cream based, and not quite enough for a meal. But hear's the thing--order the large, not the small! The small is missing something, and that is a skewer of roasted vegetables that accompanies the top, pepper, onion, and...I think tomato. Maybe not. I love deskewering things, but aside from my interest in playing with my food, it really adds a lot to the dish. Very yummy. I must head back there soon.

And then there's Riviera Maya in Bay View. Yes, I'm sure you were a bit skeptical--he's talking about chicken tortilla soup and he's not including any Mexican restaurants? Well, I am. Almost weekly, Kirk and I head to this restaurant on the KK-Howell triangle (alas, where the last Bay View Schwartz was located), generally on Sundays, and indulge.

It's tomato based. They have a vegetarian option, but I always include their shredded chicken and rice. And I almost always get a large. They give a small soup instead of the traditional chips and salsa here. You can order them off the menu, but really, what you really want to do is order their chips with their mole sampler. That's six moles--traditional chocolate, plus pumpkin, almond, tomatillo, peanut, and sesame. It's a great appetizer for a large group, and don't let them tell you what each one is. Guess for yourself--it's not easy. If folks so desire, they can get one of these sauces on their enchilada later.


Well, this is way too long a posting. But I had another angle in talking about soup. It's Empty Bowls season, and my ex-coworker Nancy Quinn is once again volunteering her time to make this event a great fundraiser to ease hunger in the Milwaukee area.

A whole bunch of chefs and restaurants get together on Saturday, October 10th, at the MATC South campus in Oak Creek. For $20 donation per bowl, you get to pick from a delicious soup, and have a beautiful handcrafted bowl to take home. I've gone several times and have always enjoyed it. Your dollars fund local food pantries so that others can eat soup too. And they are always looking for volunteers.

I don't know if my favorites will be there, so now you've got four places to go. And please consider opening a soup place on Downer Avenue. Fast casual is fine, but please include a decent amount of table space. I know the Soup Brothers Outpost on Prospect and North didn't work, but though I love their soups, the place never looked liked it was quite open, and certainly didn't have the charm and humor of their Walker's Point home base.


Steve said...

Daniel, check out this video of Anna Thomas preparing the Roasted Turnip and Winter Squash Soup recipe from Love Soup

Anonymous said...

Daniel, if you love soup you must go to Amaranth Bakery on 34th and Lisbon Ave. Two selections a day plus fresh made breads, scones, cookies, pastries, oh, and the salads are wonderful too. They use locally grown as much as possible and ingredients are organic. Delicious, healthy, and local!

Karen said...

I'm a huge soup fan too and used to enjoy stopping in at Soup's On when I worked in the Third Ward. Following is a link (if this works) to a super-fast soup you can throw together any time. It's basic, but it's a fave!