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Food Critics: The Best Soups and Stews In Kansas City

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It's definitely soup and stew season. And there are plenty of both on local menus.

Whether you're in the mood for a hearty bowl of burnt end chili or a brothy pho, you can find something lovely and warm to ward off the frigid temps.

Of course, don't forget the bread (or savory doughnut) for soppin' and dippin'.

On Friday's Central Standard, KCUR's Food Critics searched out the best soups and stews in and around Kansas City.

Here are their recommendations:

Mary Bloch, Around the Block:

  • Hogshead — Hogshead stew. Also known as Brunswick stew, a Southern specialty, it’s spicy and delicious. Each spoonful is laden with pork cheeks, smoked tomatoes, corn and potato. Served with grilled bread.
  • Woodyard Bar-B-Que — burnt end chili. It’s got a lot of beans and chunks of burnt ends. I love it. It’s been featured in Jane and Michael Stern's book, 500 Things to Eat Before It’s Too Late.
  • Danny Edwards Blvd BBQ — Mexican chili. Made on a seasonal basis. Instead of the more typical beef, it’s filled with pulled pork, green chile and beans.
  • Port Fonda — pozole verde. It’s awesome. It’s essentially a Mexican stew with hominy that’s made with pork shoulder and a spicy tomatillo poblano broth.
  • Café Provence — French onion soup. Piping hot under a blanket of cheese with a rich beef broth of caramelized onions.
  • Columbus Park Ramen Shop. Any bowl of ramen that chef Josh Eans whips up is worthy of your attention. My favorite is the kimchi ramen. With chicken broth, pork sausage, a marinated Campo Lindo egg and more.
  • Novel — any soup. My favorite is the velvety corn soup (served in the summer), though I also love the butternut squash soup that’s currently on the menu. Made with coconut, kaffir lime and pepitas, it has a Thai profile that will warm you from head to toe.

Jenny Vergara, Feast Magazine:

  • Parker at The Fontaine Hotel— beef and farro soup. The former Rosso Restaurant at Hotel Sorella has now been transformed into Parker at The Fontaine (named after KC’s own Charlie Parker). The beef and farro soup has a rich beefy flavor that comes from caramelizing bits of beef in a pan with oil before adding vegetables, beef stock and herbs. The cooked farro added at the end soaks up all the flavors in the soup. It feels luxurious because it is slow-cooked, but it is quite inexpensive to make at home.
  • Gram & Dun — gumbo stew. Tender shredded chicken and slightly smoky chunks of sausage are cooked down with celery, onion, garlic, carrots and spices (including file powder) to create a thick, flavorful gumbo. It’s served over rice and is warm and filling, and it comes with a piece of crunchy bread to sop it all up.
  • Soiree New Orleans Bistro in Smithville — gumbo.
  • West Bottoms Kitchen — gumbo.
  • The Bite — pork pozole stew. It eats like a soup. Chef Carlos Mortera has my favorite pork pozole in Kansas City right now. He also makes a fantastic vegetarian version of it with mushrooms that is equally good at his internationally-influenced sandwich/soup shop located inside The City Market. This lovely Latin favorite is a hot, sour, tangy, spicy, brothy version chock full of love, hominy, and slow-cooked pork. It is served with traditional garnishes: fresh slices of radishes, cabbage, pickled onion, cilantro, limes and avocado. Chicken pozole is also available.
  • Bun Mee Phan — beef pho soup with a savory doughnut. I don’t live up North, but if I did, I would be a regular here. The beef pho is made from a fragrantly-spiced beef broth that is cooked for over 14 hours from beef bones, marrow, ginger, cinnamon, star anise and onions. The bowl is filled with a heaping portion of noodles, which are topped with slices of raw and cooked beef and meatballs, and then the broth is poured over the top to cook the meat. It is served with white and green onions, with sprouts, basil and cilantro served on the side. The final piece of good news: for a dollar, you can purchase a long piece of Vietnamese fry bread to dunk in your bowl, which is how people eat it in Saigon. That’s just how they roll at Bun Mee Phan.
  • French Market— soup. This lovely little store in the Prairie Village Shops has an amazing grab-and-go counter, where you can easily grab some food to quickly cobble together a delicious gourmet meal at home. The treats come from Café Provence (has the same owners). So, if you have enjoyed the soup of the day at Café Provence, you might be able to find it at French Market. The soups are usually smooth purees based on a specific vegetable. Most are creamy, but so fresh and vibrant. Recent flavors have been carrot curry, cauliflower, mushroom, vegetarian lentil, potato leek and basil.
  • Genessee Royale — Italian wedding soup. The soups created by chef Todd Schulte change on the regular here, but they are all excellent. And you might even find some favorites on the menu from Uncommon Stock (Schulte’s former soup company), like his Italian wedding soup. It’s made with shredded chicken, meatballs, escarole, white beans and ditalini pasta.
  • Pirate’s Bone — pinto beans and nopales soup. Zaid Consuegra, the owner of this groovy East Brookside coffee shop with a Latin vibe, has added a full vegan breakfast and lunch menu. For the soup, he shaves the spines of the cactus, then he grills them with a blend of seasonings and coffee grounds for flavor. The grilled cactus is then added to the beans and they cook until the beans are soft. It is a little thicker, with a grassy flavor from the cactus leaves, and the richness comes from the beans. The soup is topped off with fresh radish slices and parsley. Super simple, but vegan deliciousness.

Charles Ferruzza, food writer:

  • Bun Mee Phan — chicken curry soup. The word curry may frighten patrons afraid of “spicy” food, but this fragrant soup is a mellow, comforting blend of chicken, bamboo and onions in a coconut red curry served with a French baguette (optional substitute steamed rice).
  • Le Monde Bakery— chicken curry soup. Also served with a French baguette.
  • Tasty Thai in the Northland — tom yum soup. This is truly a restorative soup when one is feeling flu-ish. A broth with a glorious fragrance of lemongrass, onion, kaffir lime leaves, crushed chilies and cilantro. (When I’m sniffly, I always order it with chicken).
  • Lemongrass Thaiin downtown Overland Park — hot and sour soup. Hot and Sour soup is an acquired taste. For one thing, it’s visually a bust: swampy brown with stringy cooked egg stirred in as a last minute touch. It’s never really hot enough (as in spicy) or sour enough (too many restaurants use white vinegar, which is astringent). And too many local kitchens are stingy with the ginger in this soup. The best soup is the peppery, gingery suān là tang — the official name — at Lemongrass, where they use black Chinese vinegar, red pepper, bits of pork, tofu, bamboo shoots, scallions and egg.
  • Houlihan’s — French onion soup. It’s been on the menu for decades. A truly comforting, sexy soup.
  • Niecies Restaurant— ham and beans stew. A confession: I rarely get a craving for this bland, salty stew, but when I do, it’s like needing heroin. I have to have it and it has to be good, hot and served with cornbread or cornbread muffins (for the crumbly texture and the sweetness). Niecie’s version is so hearty, you don’t need to eat again for 48 hours.
  • Niecies — oxtail soup. One of the best oxtail soups I’ve had in the city. It’s not on the regular menu; it’s on special.
  • Jack Stack Barbecue– burnt end stew.

Listener recommendations:

  • Wrap it Up Tex Mex — Mexican soup. This restaurant is in the food court in City Center Square at 11th and Main. The Mexican soup is served only on Wednesdays. You start off with chicken and broth (which is spiced up a little bit). As you go through the line, you can add roasted vegetables, beans, rice, cilantro – you name it, you got it. The lines on Wednesdays are long because it’s so good and very inexpensive (about $8). Served with tortillas.
  • Bonito Michoacan (KCK and Olathe) — caldo de res (beef soup). Served on Wednesdays. It’s a really hearty soup and I love the fact it comes in a big Jethro-style bowl. Big chunks of meat and vegetables (like half of a corn on the cob, carrots, cabbage). The broth is really flavorful and meaty.
  • El Maguey (various locations) — caldo de pollo.
  • The Bite — pozole. My go-to lately!
  • Chuy’s on the Plaza— tortilla chicken soup. It’s excellent. Made with bone-in chicken, fresh avocado, roasted corn, chiles and tomatoes, and topped with house-made tortilla chips. Yum!
  • d’Bronx — chicken pozole.
  • Anita’s Cuisine— pork and hominy soup. Anita’s is this tiny Latin-American restaurant on Merriam Drive. I was delighted to find it; I thought it was a Christmas dish, but apparently Anita’s serves it all winter. It was lovely!
  • Vietnam Café in Columbus Park — beef and noodle soup. (Also known as item P4 on the menu). To me, it’s my cold-weather comfort food. It includes sliced eye of round, meatballs, tripe, flank – just a perfect soup, especially with Thai basil, cilantro and some extra jalapenos for a kick.
  • Vietnam Café in Columbus Park — beef pho.
  • Café Vie — beef pho.
  • Ma Ma China in Raytown — egg drop soup. It is always piping hot and good. It’s nice and thick and has the perfect amount of eggs.
  • Blue Koi — vegetarian noodle soup.
  • Boru Ramen — mushroom ramen.
  • Choga — soondubu jigae (spicy Korean tofu stew).
  • O Café in Lawrence — soon tofu soup. The soft tofu is sweeter than the usual kind, and it’s floating in a hot and spicy broth. It’s strangely comforting. It’s on the menu at most Korean restaurants and it’s usually served vegetarian.
  • St. Luke’s Hospitalcafeteria — kale soup. It’s creamy and spicy and the best soup you’ll ever taste. Served on Wednesdays.
  • St. Luke’s cafeteria — shrimp chowder. It’s very good.
  • Charleston’s — kale and chicken soup. Served on Sundays.
  • d’Bronx — chicken noodle matzo ball soup.
  • Anna’s Oven — chicken noodle soup.
  • Aladdin Café— lentil soup.
  • Sahara Café — lentil soup.
  • Providence — butternut squash soup (seasonal).
  • Missouri Mud Company in Raymore. My hidden soup gem. Amazing homemade soups that sell out fast.
  • The Rieger — pork soup. My favorite to order in a restaurant.
  • Affäre — wild mushroom soup. Pieces of wild mushroom in a tomato-based soup with basil foam on top.

Jen Chen is associate producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to her at jen@kcur.org and follow her on Twitter @JenChenKC.

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