a l’Oignonat Bartolotta’s Lake Park Bistro.
What can be said
about French onion soup that hasn’t been said before? Well, lots.
Especially since versions of this great dish have been around since
the ancient Romans, so there is always more to add to the story. The
soup started humbly, because onions were easy to grow and subsequently
plentiful in the good old days.
The 18th century
French elevated this once-lowly broth to a marvel topped with cheese
and served with croutons. Traditionally, a beef stock is used, but
chicken stock makes a great alternative, resulting in a lighter
chefs add a pinch of herbs, garlic and other condiments for their own
special twist on this familiar tale.
But why keep
talking, let’s sup.
Lake Park Bistro
3133 E. Newberry Blvd., Milwaukee
Look under Les
Soupes selections on the Bistro menu to find "Soupe a l’Oignon,"
the restaurant’s signature baked onion soup, topped with a toasted
baguette and melted Gruyère cheese. Prep for the soup is
time-consuming, made in 15-to-20-gallon batches. The process of
caramelizing Spanish yellow onions takes for three to four hours. A
house-made chicken stock is augmented with thyme and bay leaf for
subtle flavoring. Among its most popular dishes, the restaurant serves
upwards of 3 to 4 gallons daily. The soup makes a perfect opener for a
dinner overlooking the wintery Lake Michigan.
1022 S. 1st St., Milwaukee
irrepressible Jacques Chaumet hails from Le Puy, a south-central
French city famous for its shrines, green lentils, Verveine herbal
liqueur and lace-making. Chaumet arrives early each morning, even
before his staff, to quietly make his secretive soup concoction, one
that brings in diners from throughout the area. Croutons are made from
fresh baked French bread drizzled with olive oil, flavored with
pepper, salt, garlic and the ever-glorious "Herbes de
Provence" and then toasted. To locate Jacques, seek out the
signage with the French national symbol, the rooster, in the shadow of
the Allen-Bradley clock tower. Sensationnel!
316 N. Milwaukee St., Milwaukee
Four things are
de rigueur when making exceptional French onion soup, according to
cafe chef-owners Chris Hatleli and Nick Burki: utilize a sharp knife,
take time for proper onion caramelization, create a rich homemade
chicken stock, and go naughty with Swiss-imported Gruyère by adding
two 1/8-inch slices of the cheese per serving. Pastry chef Hector
Reyes performs double duty as head onion slicer, using an initial 300
pounds of onions in a caramelization process that extends at least
two-and-a-half hours, to get the final 50 pounds of flavorful product.
Coquette’s team prepares some 20 gallons of soup at a time, enough
for three days’ supply. A special twist is adding sherry and white
wine to the soup. Croutons are made in-house from scratch.
W15841 Main St., Germantown
Owners Kerry and
Teri Turner enjoy bragging about what they rightly can call their
"world famous" baked French onion soup. They have an
undisclosed formula for improving on the traditional way of doing
things. But the result is great enough to draw raves from dinner
guests from as far away as Paris and New York. After purchasing the
restaurant seven years ago from previous owner Gerald Grosenick, who
had opened the comfortable suburban getaway in 1978, the couple
adapted and tweaked his original recipe. Today, executive chef Mike
Genre makes the soup fresh daily, which is served in 10-ounce crocks.
Patisserie & Cafe
7610 Harwood Ave., Wauwatosa
Soupe à L’Oignon
Gratinée is a specialty of the house. Chef Andrew Schneider prepares
12- to 15-gallon batches at a time, which lasts only a mere two days
at the cheerful, airy Wauwatosa cafe. He makes his own beef stock,
which he says "is 40 percent of the battle" in the
preparation, and uses superior quality Gruyère cheese from Saxon
Homestead Creamery in Cleveland, Wis.; top-grade Spanish onions; and a
"little smidge" of sherry. Accompanying sourdough croutons
are made from French baguettes.
Bistro & Wine Bar
3001 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., Milwaukee
Engel knows his onion soup. It’s one of his favorites. Engel used to
add a small amount of roux to give body to his soup, but with
gluten-intolerant diners these days, he now uses tomato paste that is
caramelized along with the onions, adding a richness to the soup that
he couldn’t get with roux. He seasons the stock with all the usual
suspects; thyme, bay leaf, peppercorns, a few cloves and a pinch of
marjoram. Engel also likes to little caraway seed for the flavor when
it is combined with Gruyere cheese and the crouton. He puts two slices
of Gruyere crosswise across the top of the crock and crouton, then a
small handful of shredded cheese on top of that. It’s then browned
under a high heat broiler and sprinkled with shaved chives prior to
Milwaukee’s Grand Cafe
1758 N. Water St., Milwaukee
chef Lucas Wenthur learned his French onion soup techniques while
studying at Le Cordon Bleu and training as a master chef at the fabled
La Rouche Le Roy. The Michelin star-rated chateau restaurant is a
prime dining locale in Tours, south of Paris. In a three-step process,
Wenthur caramelizes yellow Spanish onions to bring out the flavor and
tops his presentation with fresh Wisconsin Gruyère cheese. This is
not ordinarily on the regular menu, but is a soup of the day, so call
ahead to be sure it is being served.
W31320 Highway 83, Genesee Depot
The Union House
is famous for its Sweet Spanish Onion Soup, served
"three-topped," which means not just one, not just two, but
with three cheeses. Chef John Mollet includes 1/4-inch thick slices of
Swiss or Gruyère cheese carefully cut so they seal the dish. The
preparation is then topped with shredded cheddar and Monterey Jack for
extra deliciousness. Hearty servings arrive tableside in a 12-ounce
crock or a 6-ounce cup. For value-added, freshly grated Parmesan
cheese layers the accompanying croutons.