Been a bit nippy lately, hasn’t it? Whenever the wind sends a chill right to the very marrow of our bones, Fort Smith Eats starts thinking soup. Mmm. Soup.
Have you ever known someone who didn’t like soup? We have. They were strange, unnerving, off-balance folks, the soup-haters. Coincidence? We think not.
Soup haters (started to make that one word, but then it’d be Souphaters, which does that phreaky PH thing and we pheared you might phumble over the fonetics, thus disrupting the natural phlow of the sentence, so we lepht it two words. You’re welcome.) might have a hard time hanging out with us. We eat a lot of soup. And one of our all-time favorite kinds of soup is French Onion. We don’t know why the onion has to be French. Maybe any nationality of onion would do. Canadian Onion Soup? Burmese Onion Soup? We’d try them. But since Ivory Coast Onion Soup isn’t on the menu anywhere in town — trust us, we’re the experts — when the weather got into the single digits we had a craving for some French Onion.
If there’s a better French Onion Soup in town than at Varsity Sports Grill, please let us know and we will literally drop everything and rush over to try it. Because Varsity may not be high-falutin cooking, but they do a reliable soup.
It’s reasonably priced, too. $4.99 for a bowl of soup or $7.99 for the Soup & Salad ($6.99 if you’re having something other than French Onion Soup, but why would you do that after reading this post?) for lunch or dinner since they have a the same menu all day. It may not be all-you-can-eat like at Olive Garden, but it’s a meal that at the same time seems light and hearty.
Varsity, if you don’t already know, is a popular bar, grill, and all-around restaurant downtown in a restored old building. It’s got a nice atmosphere that balances the requisite sports bar accoutrements with casual dining comforts. Big windows and period architectural details give personality to the spacious main dining area. There’s also a small ballroom upstairs, Adelaide Hall, for receptions, proms and other events that require us to think about our chosen ensemble before attending. We’re not big fans of having to think about what we wear, but we do what we must to blend into civilized society. Particularly at events involving free food.
But it’s cold and we’re hungry and French Onion Soup is needing to be in our belly. A $7.99 French Onion Soup & Salad is ordered. Maybe 10 minutes later, it arrives, looking so nice we had to take more than one picture.
That’s a fine enough salad, but let’s get a better look at that soup:
Being Wanton Cholesterol Fiends (WCFs), we love the melted, bubbly brown cheese and the way it’s baked on over the edges of the crock. Glad we aren’t the dishwashers having to scrub it off — though there usually isn’t much to be scraped off by the time we’re through scraping it with our own spoon. When it comes to melted cheese, we’re like piranhas.
But as anyone knows, just because a joint gets the browned melty cheese right, doesn’t mean it’s going to be a good French Onion Soup. Because what lies beneath is what’s a) best and b) hardest to get right. There’s the beef broth, the bread, and the onions. A miss on any of these core elements is going to be a strike out.
We took the plunge to find out.
Good news. It’s good. The broth is hot, rich and laden with distinctive beef flavor without being too salty (too much saltyness has ruined many others’ otherwise-fine onion soups). The onions are firm, medium slices, not overwhelming the soup with their vegetableness. The soaked bread is still identifiable as bread. Some French onion soups try to get too fancy with the wine flavors or the mushrooms or the spices. The French know, though, that simplicity is best. Good beef broth, good onions, good sturdy bread that doesn’t completely disintegrate into a gross slimy blob and topped with melted cheese (Gruyere, Swiss and Mozzarella all work for us), and you’ve got yourself a French classic.
Exhibit A. Just right French Onion Soup:
Sold yet? Let us know what you think in the comments.