A shortlist of places serving thicker autumn stews, bisques, chowders, chilis, and gumbos
Published: October 5, 2011
Yup, it's that time of year. We're moving away from the lighter stews, consommés and gazpachos of summer and into the thicker, heartier chowders, bisques, gumbos and chilis of the colder months. When it comes to soups, the addition of starchy ingredients and an extra hour of simmering is sometimes all it takes to thicken things. Chowders and stews often rely on a pinch of flour here or there for that pleasing creamy consistency. Gumbos use both the starch of their rices and the depth of a good roux. Japanese soups employ rich umami flavor and thick udon noodles. And those bowls of chili? They're surprisingly diverse, with convincingly smoky veggie versions, meatier types that pile on the beef tips, and even a few unexpectedly careful renditions in places you wouldn't expect them. We did the research. All you have to do is read on and learn how, sometimes, great meals come in small bowls.
Ajishin Sushi & Noodles 42270 Grand River Ave., Novi; 248-380-9850: Ajishin's udon soup is extraordinary. The base broth is developed from seaweed and fish and has so much umami flavor going on it's like a black hole for hangovers or the common cold. The namesake of the soup, the udon noodle, is a thick, wheat-based noodle; along with a bit of briny seaweed, imitation crab and green onion, it makes up the basic, or plain $5 soup. You can add all sorts of other tasty stuff for a heartier bowl.
Bastone Brewery 419 S. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-544-6250; bastone.net: When it comes to how our soups thicken as the weather chills, Chef Robert Young of Bastone knows his stuff. "Summer soups are generally a lot lighter," Young says. "You have your gazpachos and soups that are more broth-based, as well as also a lot of puréed soups, in the summertime. And then you notice that with the fall vegetables and things like that, soups generally get a lot heartier." He also notes that, though many soups are thickened with the addition of flour, sometimes natural starches in the ingredients can do the job, as with simmering rice in a gumbo, which imparts natural starches and absorbs liquid, adding to the thickness. Perhaps the cleverest thick soup at Bastone, however, is the "potato, leek and bacon" soup. Young explains: "It's a chicken-stock based soup, and the natural starch is in the potatoes, and certain gelatinous products are in the leek, to thicken the soup without the use of flour." This makes it a shoo-in for diners who've gone gluten-free, "because there isn't any flour used as a thickener in the soup." And the addition of shallots, onions and garlic only adds to the hearty fall flavor.
Big Fish 700 Town Center Dr., Dearborn; 313-336-6350; muer.com: This Chuck Muer Restaurant, billed as a "high quality, moderately priced, casual seafood" restaurant, has two open dining rooms and what could be the largest cocktail bar in town. Among the fruit of the sea that fills their bill of fare, you'll find the "Big Fish Chowder," a pleasing mélange of smoked fish, salmon, Tasso ham and fresh diced tomatoes.
Bookies Bar & Grille 2208 Cass Ave., Detroit; 313-962-0319; bookiesbar.com: A downtown fixture for more than seven years, a few years ago Bookies moved into a new spot on Cass Avenue, out among the tailgaters' lots on the west side of downtown. But don't let the remove fool you: On game days, it's right in the heart of things, sporting enough plasma screens to warm the heart of any sports fan. If you need more warming, you could do worse than their white chicken chili, chicken base made rich with chicken, red and green peppers, white beans and red onion. It's a Bookies staple, from the original menu, and going for just $2.50 a cup, $4 a bowl.
Cheli's Chili Bar 47 E. Adams Ave., Detroit; 313-961-1700; more locations at chelischilibar.com: Owned by former Red Wings star Chris Chelios, hockey fans are likely to enjoy this place best, as "hockey agnostics" are immune to the psychological effect of red-and-white hockey-ness. The menu includes burgers, steaks, salads, soup, sandwiches and a host of fried appetizers: cheese, calamari, wings, chicken fingers, potato skins and coconut shrimp. Strangely, the chili isn't given top billing, but it's a mild, slightly soupy version, often served in bread bowls. Hours of operation are event-based: open for home Red Wings and Lions games, and Friday and Saturday night from 5 p.m. until midnight.
Claddagh Irish Pub 17800 Haggerty Rd., Livonia; 734-542-8141; claddaghirishpubs.com: One of 15 Claddagh Irish Pubs in the Midwest, this is the only Detroit-area outpost of the Irish mini-chain. And it's not chain-standardized fare, as amply proved by the joint's "Claddagh Chowder." Made from Claddagh's own house recipe, it's a New England-style seafood chowder, loaded with clams, potatoes, onions and celery, thickened with wheat flour. It comes at $2.99 a cup or $4.99 a bowl.
Fishbone's Rhythm Kitchen Cafe 400 Monroe St., Detroit; 313-965-4600; fishbonesusa.com; other locations in Southfield and St. Clair Shores: Fishbone's has earned its reputation for doing things in a big way. Belly up to one of the two bars for drinks and the sushi bar for "the freshest nigiri and sashimi dishes available in the city," or sit in the spacious main dining area. Its Cajun and Creole dishes go beyond jambalaya and fried catfish. But the main event is their huge Sunday brunch. And then there are those rich soup choices, including such specials as clam chowder (Fridays) and lobster bisque (Saturdays). But the Cajun choices naturally include that richest of soups, gumbo. The "Gumbo Ya Ya" fuses chicken, Andouille sausage and rice for $4 a cup, $6 a bowl. Even richer is the seafood gumbo, a five-star recipe gleaned from the Louisiana back roads where they still cook with cast iron, featuring "shrimp and crab meat simmered in a dark roux and served with rice," yours for $5 a cup, $7 a bowl.
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