Friday, January 2, 2009

European Street Style Beer Cheese Soup

When I was in high school, classmates Andy and Margaret Z's parents owned a cool deli in the mall in Jacksonville, Florida.  It was called Mr. Dunderbaks and it had an old world feel to it with imported European foods and music piped in that made you feel like you were somewhere in the Alps. Later on it was renamed European Street but it was still the same place. They also had an expansive line of high quality, hard to find beers that filled the length of a wall.  If you drank one of each kind (tracked on a card), you won a free beer a week for a year or something like that.  I don't remember because I never got close.  It wasn't easy to do because this was a cafe not a rowdy bar and you were limited to 4 beers per visit. 
My friend Carson worked there for a while.  Sometimes I'd hang out there and have a beer or two as he closed up.  My wife and I would love to sit in the "outdoor cafe" part which was really just the store front in the mall which was made to look like an outdoor cafe.  Great place to eat, have a few beers, and people watch.  Ahhhh good times.

The Park Street location where we would eat for lunch near our office.  Photo credit:
European Street also had inventive sandwiches, some were triple deckers.  They weren't cheap but they loaded about 1/2 pound of thin sliced meats, fixings, and hot German mustard on them.  The Smokerschmidt, Blue Max, and Pizzaroni were some of my favorites.  Their desserts were decadent pies like Snickers pie and Reese's peanut butter pie.  If you ordered a dessert at the bar the deli ferried it over via a wicker basket with brass bells attached to a swing line.  You'd hear the bells clanging and look up to see a basket scooting overhead to the bar, memorable and cute.  

But my absolute favorite thing that they made was their Beer Cheese Soup.  It was thick, creamy, and luscious.  When we moved to Knoxville, it was one of the things we missed the most about "home" so I tried making a few recipes that I found on line but none of them really hit the mark.  So I stole from this one, borrowed from that one, added a thing or two and this is what I ended up with.  This isn't a clone recipe, it is more of a clone of how I remember it.
This soup is smooth, rich, and will warm you to the core on the most frigid of days. Use a good quality beer as it is one of the stars of the dish.  For the cheese blend, you can use whatever you want but you want 2 cups to be some kind of cheddar (orange, not white), 1 1/2 cups of some type of "melty" cheese (provolone, fontina, gouda, edam), and the last half cup can be a flavored cheese (something smoked, sun dried tomato havarti, or something like that).  For the bacon you want something thick and smoked.  Finally, if you want a thinner soup, just up the broth to 4-5 cups.

Beer Cheese Soup Clone

European Street Style Beer Cheese Soup
servings:  10 bowls

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (one stick)
  • 1 cup finely diced onion
  • 1/2 cup finely diced carrot
  • 1/3 cup finely diced celery
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 12 ounces beer
  • 3 cups of chicken broth
  • 1/2 tablespoon Hungarian paprika
  • 3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 3/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 cups shredded cheese 
  • 1/4 cup minced cooked bacon
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 1 teaspoon hot sauce
  • garnish:  popcorn, ancho chile powder or more paprika
  1. Preheat a stock pot or other large pot over medium high heat.  Add the butter and saute the onions, carrots, and celery, lightly seasoning them with a few pinches of salt and pepper.  Saute the onions until they are soft and translucent, about 7-8 minutes.
  2. Make a roux.  Reduce the heat to medium low and while stirring continuously, shake in the flour until combined.  Cook until a blonde roux forms, about 3-4 minutes.  You can tell when the fragrance becomes almost nutty.
  3. While constantly whisking, slowly pour in the beer and broth.  At first it will seize up but just keep whisking and adding liquid and it will turn into a smooth soup base.  You can use this for many other soups.
  4. Stir in the paprika, chili powder, dry mustard, and Worcestershire sauce.  Increase the heat to bring to a simmer.  Maintain a low simmer for 10 minutes once it starts.
  5. Optional - If you like a chunkier soup, skip to step six.  If you like a smoother texture, use an immersion blender for a few minutes to further break up the veggies.  If you want a velvety texture, then run it through a blender until completely smooth.  I prefer the middle ground with the immersion blender.
  6. Stir in the bacon.  Then stir in the cheese in small batches until melted.
  7. Remove from heat.  Stir in the hot sauce and half and half until blended.
  8. Taste for seasoning and add salt and white pepper as needed.
  9. Serve garnished with popcorn and a light dusting of ancho chile powder or paprika.
There is a good bit of prep for the mise en place but it is smooth sailing after that.

I like ours smoother so I give it the "motorboat" treatment with an immersion blender.

This will do a soul good on a cold winter night.

European Street moved out of the mall decades ago but you can find them all over Jacksonville, Florida.  If you are ever there, be sure to check them out.  They have fantastic food, exceptional beers, and live music events.  If you can't get there, at least try this soup.