Food Feature: Soup's on

Seasonal offerings show soup's liquid assets

With sweater weather comes a renewed interest in all things warming. But nothing compares to soup. From its reputed curative powers to the snuggly feeling of warmth and goodness it provides, soup has fall and winter in its grasp. From thin to thick, chunky to pureed, here's a smattering of local soup finds guaranteed to make the coming cold weather more bearable.

French onion soup, for all its simplicity — basically a little beef stock, some onions, butter, a hunk of bread and some melted cheese — is actually hard to execute with proper finesse. It takes time for the flavors to mingle and develop properly. At Babette's Cafe, they obviously take the time. The soup is served in a medium-sized crock with a thick, gooey layer of rich Gruyere. Break the seal and find below a sweet, tangy soul-satisfying onion broth. Go below the broth, and you'll find bread of just the right consistency — firm but yielding, with no disintegration. I just wish I didn't have to wait till 6 p.m. to get it. 573 N. Highland Ave. 404-523-9121. -- Jane Catoe

The beauty of chicken tom kha (coconut chicken soup) is in the tastebuds of the beholder. True believers in the traditional Thai offering — a hearty combination of coconut milk, lemon grass, lime juice, fish sauce, chicken stock, chicken chunks, lime leaves and Thai chile pepper flakes — swear that it was inspired by divine intervention. Ordering the soup at different establishments often yields wildly varying results. For example, the offering at Harry & Sons (820 N. Highland Ave., 404-873-2009) is a creamy yet light elixir teeming with sliced mushrooms and generous strips of white chicken. Served in a bowl you can almost swim in, the soup is a succulent side or an appetizing entree. Just around the block at Royal Orchid (931 Monroe Drive, 404-892-4345), a cup of chicken tom kha comes standard with every lunch special, though it can also be ordered by itself. We've noticed the soup grow a bit thinner over the past months and hope the chef sees fit to thicken it back up for the winter. Incredibly buttery and satisfyingly salty (saltier than many versions in the city), the Orchid variety has a devoted following around town. -- Tray Butler

For one of the quickest shots of soup in the city, head to Harry's in a Hurry, where typically two rows of steaming pots sit like a soup choir awaiting your arrival. Top among the soups is the Indian Corn Chowder, a cream-based soup with a bit of curry, plenty of corn kernels and an enticing aroma. Another star here is not a soup at all, but the thick, mildly spiced chili with ground beef and bits of tomato. Soups change occasionally, but the collection often includes chicken noodle, New England clam chowder and Manhattan clam chowder. 1051 Ponce de Leon. 404-439-1100, and other locations. -- JC

Guinness is good for you and so is hearty stew. Leave it to The Highlander, to come up with a double dose of goodness: Guinness stew. Chock full of carrots, potatoes, beef chunks and (yipee!) Guinness, this stout stew will keep you strong in the face of falling leaves and temperatures. Soups change almost daily at the Highlander. Whether it's corn tortilla, salmon and leek or some other yummy combination, the soup's always on at the Highlander. The chili rocks, too. 931 Monroe Drive. 404-872-0060. -- JC

Pho is to soup what a filet is to steak: You're getting the top of the line. The pho choices at Pho Hoa are fairly standard, but if you're a newbie, you get the benefit of pictures to help you choose. The basic concept is a thin broth filled with noodles and slices of meat. The traditionalists go for the fatty bits of beef or the even less Western tripe. If you're squeamish at the thought of ribbons of animal innards, then check out the chicken choices (they're also less fat filled). A large bowl arrives hot and brimming, but you ain't done yet. A plate of bean sprouts, Asian basil, jalapenos and lime wedges also shows up. Experiment with infusing the broth with the spices and other goodies. Squirt some of the Sriracha hot sauce, sesame oil or oyster sauce in the bowl and you're ready to go. 5150 Buford Highway, Doraville. 770-455-8729. -- Jerry Portwood

Don't expect to order soup at Penang and have room in your belly for much more. The kari mee noodle soup with spicy lemon grass, coconut curry, shredded chicken, shrimp, tofu chunks and potato arrives in a large bowl. It can easily feed three or four people when ordered as an appetizer. The soup can be enjoyed in warm weather, but as the thermometer begins to dip, this universe in a bowl becomes a tonic for whatever may ail you. Warm spices mix with the sweet coconut milk and tangy lemon grass. You get loads of meat and noodles. As with most Asian soups, don't be embarrassed to sip and slurp your way to the bottom. Once you wrestle the contents into your mouth, go ahead and pick up the bowl and drain it to the last drop. You'll ward off any sniffles, for sure. 4897 Buford Highway, Chamblee. 770-220-0308. -- JP

The concept behind Souper Jenny is deliciously simple — five soups that change daily, served with a couple of side salads or sandwiches. A good choice for the season is the butternut squash and sweet potato soup, a creamy combination served with spiced pecans on top. The soup is comforting filler for breezy fall afternoons. As the weather gets colder, opt for Dad's Turkey Chili. This hearty medley of beans and ground turkey manages to be spicy but not overbearing, full of flavor without starting a four-alarm. 56 E. Andrews Drive, 404-239-9023. -- TB??

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