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Cup of Comfort

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Photo courtesy of All Seasons Coffeehouse

As the weather turns colder, it’s not uncommon for people to grab their favorite mugs and curl up with a spoonful of steamy soup. While chicken noodle is a time-honored mainstay, there are plenty of other recipes outside the norm that are ready to bowl you over at Fox Cities restaurants.

“Certainly in winter we sell a lot more soups,” says Peter Kuenzi, chef and owner of Zuppas — Market, Café & Catering in Neenah. “More of a comfort, warming.”

“You want a winter soup to taste like winter,” adds Kevin Woods, executive chef at Village Hearthstone in Hilbert. Soups are Woods’ favorite foods because they can be elevated in flavor, are coupled with substance and can be light, yet rich and powerful, he shares.

He also enjoys highlighting “one star flavor,” like a root vegetable, in his recipes. A recent offering was Roasted Cauliflower Soup garnished with a cured egg yolk and rye crouton. This month, turnips, carrots, rutabaga, cabbage and potato likely will appear in his concoctions.

Doing more with less pushes Woods to reinvent dishes, but he admits he’ll “probably be making asparagus soup until I’m done.”

“With the right touch and energy, you can coax really amazing things out of the things people don’t expect,” he notes.

Serving selections that you can’t find everywhere has become the specialty of some Fox Cities eateries.

For Veda Stuck, cook and head baker at All Seasons Coffeehouse in Appleton, coming up with creations in a small kitchen with two burners is bit more challenging, but Harvest Chipotle Chili with sweet potatoes, apples, chipotle peppers and ground beef, along with Mexican Chicken Noodle have been a hit with customers. Everything, with the exception of the stock, is made by Stuck.

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Photo courtesy of Paninoteca

“I know the Mushroom Barley is one of the standouts. It’s one of my favorites, too,” she says. “I’ve heard people say that they haven’t had that same flavor profile since their grandma made it.” The combination of soy sauce and tomato paste creates a deeper flavor, says Stuck who spends time on food blogs finding ideas. Often she will tweak soups while they’re still in the pot based on customer feedback.

All Seasons has 10 to 12 rotating soup selections with two soups offered daily from about September to April. Typically, a soup will stay on the menu for a week in order to give customers time to come in for a taste, Stuck says.

“In this area there’s a lot of German influence,” says Donny Orozzo. “People get tired of the same chicken noodle, chili and something with broccoli.”

Since Orozzo and his brother, Freddy, became owners of Paninoteca in July, a Dominican influence was added to the Appleton restaurant’s adopted menu. More soups also have been incorporated, including additional gluten-free options. As head chef, Donny Orozzo prides himself on being able to offer more choices to customers with health concerns who are searching for safe and affordable options.

“I put a lot of passion and creativity into creating those soups,” he shares.

Paninoteca patrons will continue to find not only the unusual Dill Pickle Soup, but also Country Chicken, Caribbean, and Cream of Italian Sausage soups to name a few.

IL Angolo Restó-Bar in Appleton also is drawing customers in with their Garlic Soup.

“It’s not a soup that you can find everywhere, but if you can find it, it’s different,” explains Conrado Lopez, manager and co-owner of IL Angolo. Whole garlic is cooked, peeled and added to a vegetable base, which also is made in house to create the soup. “We take every step to make it,” Lopez says. “You cannot compare freshness to canned.”

The Garlic Soup is available roughly every other week as a special, Lopez notes. The restaurant serves Tomato Basil daily with two to three other soups that rotate from a selection of roughly 20 options, including Lemon Orzo, Toscana, Potato Cream and Lobster Bisque.

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Photo courtesy of Zuppas — Market, Café & Catering

Also serving Lobster Bisque, a signature soup that has been served since opening in 1999, is Zuppas. The restaurant receives live lobster twice a week. The lobster is boiled, shocked in cold water and the meat is taken out to create the soup, explains Kuenzi who adds the stock is made from the shells. Zuppas goes through about 3-4 gallons of the soup each day. The secret to the Lobster Bisque is that it’s made from scratch with love and in small batches which are constantly being tasted, Kuenzi says. Zuppas also serves Tomato Basil daily, along with two other special soups that rotate.

With a day’s notice, Kuenzi is usually able to put a customer request on the menu, he says.

Paninoteca also has a soup club of sorts and makes a point of calling customers who they know enjoy certain soups, Orozzo shares. All Seasons will text loyal patrons when their favorites are served as well. And, area restaurants try to post the day’s soup lineup on Facebook and Twitter.

Any soup left from the day’s service at Zuppas ends up in the freezer in quarts for take-home meals. According to Kuenzi, customers enjoy this option for easy dinners that pair nicely with a piece of crusty bread, roll or sandwich.

“It certainly is a healthy dinner, I think,” Kuenzi says, adding that it’s also less calories, filling and economical.

He likes to experiment with seasonal flavors and is influenced by his own cravings as well. A Pumpkin Tomato Bisque with toasted cumin recently appeared on the menu, along with Carrot Ginger, and Potato Kale and Kielbasa soups. For those who may be unsure of certain flavors, samples are always available at Zuppas.

“When it comes to soup, they need to be more open,” says Lopez who encourages customers to discover what’s included in the flavors of the soups served at IL Angolo. “Behind that soup is something else, it takes time.”

Woods says he tries to “help them (customers) to see this really simple soup can be just as good as any other.”

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Photo courtesy of IL Angolo Restó-Bar

Customers also will find made-from-scratch mainstays like Minestrone, Chicken with Wild Rice, and Chicken Dumpling at Zuppas. The difference, however, is fresh vegetables — which come from the restaurant’s garden and surrounding farms when possible — and dumplings made in house.

Woods also believes in utilizing what’s in season by letting “all the growers and farmers do the work for us.” By going with simple and clean ingredients, Woods believes there is no mistaking quality.

He would like to branch off into consommés, a clear type of soup typically created from meat broths, and also experiment with well-executed infusions. Woods has been paying close attention to the work of Scandinavian chefs who utilize forest ingredients such as moss in their dishes.

“We definitely try to include what’s in the area as much as possible,” he says. “One of my goals is trying to paint a picture of what the local area is providing. … I feel like the more we focus on what’s around us, the more will come out of the woodwork.”

—FC

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