Less than a month old, this winter is shaping up to be a long one in the snow-capped communities northwest of Boston. No worries, though, as I have uncovered a few culinary hot spots boasting soups guaranteed to take a little chill out of the season.
Make plans to stop by The Village Forge Lounge, tucked in the back of Concord's landmark Colonial Inn (48 Monument Square, 978-369-9200, concordscolonialinn.com), before the snow melts. Dimly lit sconces along the windowless walls and a small stone fireplace near the full-service bar add a little glow to the otherwise tiny dark room crowded with well-worn wood furniture. Black wrought iron, aged-wood, and pewter accents provide the charm.
The menu is the real attraction, and you need not go beyond the appetizers to find the one to hit the spot. I recommend the mini Vermont grilled cheese sandwiches with creamy roasted shallot tomato soup, called a dipping sauce ($9). The toasted-cheese finger sandwiches were tasty alone with their sharp melted cheddar middles. Dipping them in the accompanying bowl of soup really brought them to life.
My friend was very happy with the black bean and ale beef chili ($7.50), a thick and spicy bowl of warmth, served with a thick slice of cornbread made with manchego, a sheep-milk cheese imported from Spain. The appetizers are part of the dinner menu available in all the inn's dining rooms. As a former waitress, I don't advise tying up a table in a main dining room for a check under $25, unless you are dining alone.
Many of us wrongly assume you can enjoy The Outlook's (Nashoba Valley Ski Area, Westford, 978-692-5700, dineoutlook.com) fine food only after spending a few hours on the slopes. The good news is you needn't hassle with stubborn ski boots and ridiculous wind-chill factors to sample executive chef Brian Diederich's culinary artistry.
Choose a seat in the corner by the stone fireplace or at the full-service bar with the four widescreen TVs. I found the best place to watch the steam rise from a bowl of Diederich's French onion soup ($5) was seated in front of the enormous picture window while watching skiers slalom down the slopes and the snow land on the trees. The clam chowder ($6), a warm, creamy, almost pudding-like texture of fresh clam juice, clam bellies, and applewood-smoked bacon, is another excellent choice.
The real show stopper is the Portuguese sausage soup, which is not part of the regular menu, but often the soup de jour. Like all of The Outlook's dishes, this soup features fresh vegetables grown on site, such as summer and butternut squashes in a simple tomato base. Generous chunks of sausage, fresh pasta twists, and celery round out a beautiful medley of flavors. Diederich's honesty is the best ingredient: This popular soup is a family recipe of his employee Adrianna Paula, who prepares it.
Sometimes the best place to savor the perfect bowl of soup is at home with family, especially if you're not the one deboning the chicken, chopping the vegetables, and cleaning up afterward. Grandma's Chicken Soup (30 Commerce Way, Woburn, 877-363-7687, grandmaschickensoup.com) a unique and long overdue mail-order soup service, has been turning this fantasy into reality for four winters now. Siblings Betsy Maselek and David Poritzky make their grandmother's recipe and ship it an average of 50 times a day as the ultimate get-well wish to cold and flu sufferers in the continental United States.
No one at my house was sick; I just didn't feel like cooking. You can order online or call, as I did, and a container of four bowls' worth of delicious, homemade chicken soup ($30) will be delivered to your doorstep the next day. We added matzo balls and a pound of challah to round out the meal ($51.50, including overnight shipping). The customer service woman who took my order was exceptionally efficient and true to her word; the soup was delivered by UPS in time for dinner the next night.
The soup arrives frozen in a refrigerated package and needs only a little stovetop simmering to come to life. The matzo balls were a generous 2 1/2 to 3 inches wide (I measured) and were firm and plump, and held their shape right up until the first bite.
There's no grease in this soothing broth. Healthy chunks of chicken, carrots, onions, and celery and wide egg noodles dress it up. The challuh, made by Cheryl Ann's of Brookline, was fresh and golden with a nice eggy flavor. Place an order for a sick friend or relative or for yourself to come home to after a tiring day of work. Illness not required.
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