Nothing warms the soul -- and stomach -- like a hot bowl of soup on a cold winter day. Many local restaurants serve at least one kind of soup, in addition to chili, year-round.
Here are a few good choices:
n Two Olives and a Pepper -- In addition to an impressive list of sandwiches on its Italian-inspired menu, this restaurant in Vinegar Hill Mall (107 W. Cook St.) offers some of the best soup in town. Four soups are served daily. Menu items include Italian wedding soup, chicken and wild rice soup, minestrone, and baked French onion soup -- a rich, hearty beef broth filled with large chunks of homemade croutons and topped with Provolone cheese.
n Magic Kitchen -- If you're looking for soup with a tangy twist, try a bowl of soup that's actually not soup at all. Confused? One of my favorite dishes at this Thai restaurant (4112 Peoria Rd.) is the bume noodle soup, which may be ordered wet (with broth) or dry (without). The dry version is a delicious blend of noodles, bean sprouts, herbs, and your choice of tofu or meat, topped with lime and crushed peanuts. The lemongrass soup is a wonderful spicy, slightly sour option.
n Robbie's -- The cheese-broccoli soup at Robbie's (4 S. Old Capitol Plaza) is a creamy, thick, rich cheese stock filled with chunks of tender broccoli.
n Augie's Front Burner -- The lobster bisque at Augie's (109 S. Fifth St.) is the perfect prelude to a salad or entrée. It's rich, so a bowl of the flavorful, slightly sweet smooth soup can be shared by two.
n Soirée Bistro -- For a decadent bowl of soup, try the lump-crab and corn chowder, which is a mainstay of the menu at Soirée Bistro (2824 Plaza Dr.). The rich concoction -- a perfect blend of corn and spices -- is topped with a mound of fresh crab.
n TheFeed Store -- For nearly three decades, the Feed Store (516 E. Adams St.) has been serving up bowls of mushroom bisque, cream of broccoli, French potato, and beef-barley soup for lunchtime crowds. Six soups prepared daily are made with cream, fresh vegetables, and seasonings. Many are puréed instead of being served chunky like chowder. The blend of Cheddar and white sauce, beef broth, and beer makes the Wisconsin cheese soup a winner. Another good choice is the zucchini chowder, a hearty blend of zucchini, corn, celery, mushrooms, green pepper, tomato, onion, and garlic.
n Panera Bread -- People may wait in line for loaves of freshly baked sourdough, but this bakery chain (3101 W. White Oaks Dr., 3019 S. Dirksen Parkway), offers a rotating list of tasty soups, including cheese and broccoli and chicken and wild rice. The vegetarian vegetable and black-bean soups are the best bets for those watching their waistlines, so good you won't miss the calories. Soups are served with a chunk of bread, but you can substitute a slice of low-carb rosemary-walnut bread to make the meal completely guilt-free.
n Joe Rogers' Original Recipe Chili Parlor -- For the old-fashioned, traditional version of chili, go to Joe Rogers' (820 S. Ninth St.). You can order it with or without oil or beans, firebrand-hot or mild. Owner Marianne Rogers still uses the recipe her father did when he opened the original eatery in 1945.
n Cook's Spice Rack and Chili -- For a different twist on the city favorite, try Donna's Mean Green with pork, white beans, and green chiles. Cook's (910 W. North Grand Ave.) sells the hottest chili in town and 99 varieties of hot sauce for those who need some heat at home. It's a great alternative for health-conscious diners and for those seeking something other than beef, oil, and beans. Other homemade soups, such as vegetable-beef and turkey and rice, are also offered daily.
Class of wine
If you don't know the difference between Merlot and Chardonnay, the Corkscrew Wine Emporium is offering two classes just for you.
Wine 101, an introductory wine class, will be held at the Corkscrew from 5:15-7:15 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 23 and 30.
Reservations, which are required, may be made by calling the Corkscrew at 217-698-1112. The cost is $25 per person.