At Topeka Country Club, a cup of soup is never enough.
While soup has long been a standard menu starter, club chefs are now simmering up new, more inspired choices and seasonal selections to go along with traditional favorites.
“Soup is typically one of the most underrated items on the menu,” says Shawn Hartwig, Executive Chef of Topeka (Kan.) Country Club (TCC), who grew up in the Midwest but trained in France as a saucier. “Not here! I love making soup. It can be both elegant and comforting in the same bowl. It allows us to showcase the seasons, too.”
TCC counts 422 member families on its roster and does about $1.75 million in annual F&B. Soup is served in both the club’s casual mixed grill as well as the men’s grill, with the selection changing daily.
“We have everything from homemade chicken noodle to chili to roast red pepper bisque to vichyssoise,” says Hartwig; in total, he says, TCC sells gallons of soup every day.
“Our membership knows that we’re a mostly scratch kitchen,” he says. “And with our selection changing so frequently, they’re always eager to try whatever is new.”
Soup commands its own course during the club’s 1905 dinners, which are similar to wine-dinners, named for the year the club was founded, and held on Saturday nights for a small group of members by reservation only.
“We typically do a six-course chef’s tasting menu,” says Hartwig, who has been with TCC for about a year and a half. “For one of the courses during these dinners, I take members into the walk-in freezer for a chilled appetizer with a martini pairing. We give them big parkas to wear to stay warm. When we come out, we serve soup.”
The course even comes with a clever name: “A Cup Isn’t Enough.”
For these upscale dining occasions, Hartwig features in-season produce—and for the 30 1905 dinners that have been held to date, he says, the same soup has not yet been repeated.
“We have a soup calendar that we follow in the kitchen, to make sure we don’t duplicate them in either the grill or during a 1905 dinner,” says Hartwig. “The most popular soups are usually the most comforting ones, like New England clam chowder, or the bisques, like the roast red pepper bisque.”
To encourage members to dine at the club as often as possible, Hartwig never menus a soup for more than two days. “We have some members who ask to be e-mailed when certain soups are going to be available,” he says.
With such demand, TCC has even decided to begin offering “soup flights” in 2016.
“We’ll plate three small bowls of different soups in some attention-grabbing china,” says Hartwig. “The flights will challenge us, because we’ll have to have at least three different soups available every day.”
Even so, Hartwig is committed to maintaining the from-scratch quality and variety he now offers.
“We will continue to push the envelope and come up with creative applications that are seasonal, delicious and interesting,” he says.