He Said | She Said: Digging into the <i>je ne sais quoi</i> of onion soup

April: Let it be said that Steve was très enthousiaste about trying this French soup-turned-American classic. In fact, his enthusiasm nearly blew our cover. “I heard you guys have French onion soup!” he told the manager on our first outing. Involuntarily, I shooshed him like a librarian.

Steve: Well, I do enjoy classic fare, and French onion soup always has punch. Can’t a fella articulate his zeal for a warm soup? Miss April, you were not able to hide your adoration of the brown potage either. Sometimes you even left a mess in your wake.

A: Hey, eating stringy cheese and slippery onions with a spoon can get tricky. At any rate, I’m not so sure I win the Untidiest Diner prize.

Steve’s French onion soup profile: Thick kick to the gut from a potent broth and a hefty wad of melted cheese.

April’s French onion soup profile: I like a light broth; soup should be soup and not gravy. Also, I aim to enjoy a bit of everything in each bite (i.e., hold the cheese wad).

1535 S. Eighth St., St. Louis
Lunch: Mon. to Fri. – 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Dinner: Mon. to Thu. to 5 to 10 p.m., Fri. and Sat. – 5 to 11 p.m.

S: I wrote down “YUM” after my first slurp. I hoisted my legal pad again to add an exclamation point.
A: Really, “YUM!” is as lip-smacking an endorsement as anyone could give. And the French onion soup at this Soulard spot deserved it.
S: Franco’s take on this classic soup seemed to be the most traditional.
A: Between the Normandy-style broth spiked with apple cider and the vigorous Gruyère gratin, this version was definitely very français. Franco does add a twist, though, by way of sharp red onions mixed in with the sweet, standard yellows.
S: Made on-site, the country French bread in the soup had a real thick crust. And magically, it absorbed the slightly sweet broth without getting soggy.
A: Even more magically, all the ingredients disappeared at the same rate. Yes, that means my dream of having cheese, bread and broth in each bite came true. If you’re a sucker for a happy end, you will L-O-V-E, love this soup. Just don’t get carried away and spill some on your tie. Right, Steve?

Papa Fabarre’s
601 Olive St., St. Louis
Mon. to Fri. – 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

S: Wait until you get a load of this cheese wad!
A: Don’t worry, he didn’t down the entire Swiss mass in a single bite.
S: Nope, I chewed it. A one, a two, a three. Three bites.
A: I couldn’t look. Good thing there was plenty of people-watching to do. Who knew this lunch-only place got such a robust crowd even though it’s somewhat tucked away?
S: This intergenerational community treasure is hidden inside Famous, er, Macy’s downtown store, and it is also inside the psyche of St. Louis. My grandmother took me here as a kid to buy new threads and we would always go to lunch. It is a tradition!
A: I have a hunch that whoever came up with this recipe was a big fan of gravy. The broth had so much flour in it, it was thicker than thick.
S: I know, just the way it is supposed to be. Wasn’t it great?
A: Well, I didn’t uncover the wedge of airy, soft-crusted French bread until almost the end.
S: Exactly. You had time to concentrate on the carefully caramelized onions for the first while.
A: And a mongo big, spoon-obstructing bay leaf. Where’d that come from anyway? I was also trying to figure out why the soup stayed tongue-burning hot for so long.
S: Hey, if you can’t say something nice –
A: You’re right; instead say that the service rocked.

La Bonne Bouchée
12344 Olive Blvd., Creve Coeur
Tue. to Sat. – 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

S: Oh, my stars! After we trekked to this Creve Coeur restaurant, I was assaulted by the sweetness of handmade cakes, cookies, pies and pastries in the French bakery. I came for the hearty gut check of the French onion soup, and all I had on my mind for the first 10 minutes was tasty crème filling and
cakey goodness.
A: For a small charge, Steve and I upgraded our sandwich-soup orders to include a very tasty French onion soup.
S: Well, I don’t know about the “very” part. I must say, I missed a punch.
A: The hybrid chicken-beef broth did lighten it up a bit. Plus, the sweated onions weren’t as kick-you-in-the-gut rich as the caramelized ones that you usually find a French onion soup. I’m sorry … this is a bad thing?
S: Yes, because I like punch-in-the-face richness. We all have our profiles, and mine is that soup should be soup and not drinking water.
A: You know, if you can’t say something nice –
S: You’re right; instead say that the accent of dry thyme was a pleasant complement to the Burgundy wine in the broth.
A: I thought for sure you’d be oohing and aahing over the cheese again. It was a perfectly broiled blanket of rippled Swiss with a handful of golden brown crunch spots. YUM!
S: Miss April, we should probably tell the nice folks about the flaky-crusted French bread now.
A: Sure, it’s all you.
S: I think you can speak from more experience.
A: Well, the flaky-crusted French bread in the soup and on the side could possibly produce a few crumbs –
S: A few?
A: – that might sorta, um, scatter all over your place setting and stick to your mouth.

Blueberry Hill
6504 Delmar Blvd., University City
Kitchen (regular menu): Mon. to Sun. – 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

A: If you combine the French onion soup at this Loop landmark with something else, you should ask for a separate plate. Otherwise, the broth could splash out of its dish and seep into your sandwich or burger.
S: Usually, I’m not eating at this institution – I am drinking something a bit strong and flipping a pinball up a ramp. We consumed the punchy soup at the bar instead of a table. This just seems like the right place to sit at Blueberry Hill.
A: Topped with a spirited Parmesan, the soup offered a deliciously sour punch in the first few bites. Its murky beef broth kicked too, keeping coarse pepper flakes afloat.
S: Yeah, the meal had the necessary meal-in-a-bowl quality. There’s nothing quite like onions that have taken a long soak in sherry, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco.
A: If you’re like Steve, you’ll also enjoy the serious globbiness of the Swiss.
S: Why are you always so down on the cheese wad? The wad is an essential part of French onion soup.
A: It’s just that I’d rather eat my food than wrestle it onto a utensil. Spoons don’t make good knives, you know what I’m saying? Speaking of which: Is it kosher to eat cheese you’ve scraped off the side of a ramekin?
S: The scraping of any foods, especially cheese, is the sign of a good dining experience. Dig in!
A: You, ahem, have a leftover shred of onion on your shirt.