I grew up in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. When I was in my late 20’s I moved with my then husband to Raleigh, North Carolina where we lived for 10 years and had a family, my children Emily and Lauren. We moved from Raleigh to Denver, Colorado where I’ve lived since. I’ve been away from St. Louis for such a long time that home is no longer there but I’m not sure we ever get beyond some memories that resonate with us forever from our hometown. Maybe it was the fact that a St. Louis icon, Steak & Shake, just opened near me that I’ve been taking some food trips down memory lane.
One of my favorite memories has always been the French onion soup that was served at the Famous & Barr department store. St. Louis had two well known department stores. One was Famous & Barr and the other Stix, Baer & Fuller. Both stores had restaurants in them and they always had great food; some of which is still synonymous for me with the city. My fondest memory from the downtown Stix store was a Gold Brick Sundae and for myself and many…nothing is as reminiscent of Famous as this iconic French onion soup.
My first job after college was with Western Electric (eventually AT&T) in an office building in Clayton, MO. It was sort of a mini downtown area but more upscale and I loved working there. My friends and I would walk somewhere close most days to grab lunch and not a week went by that one of those trips wasn’t to the Famous & Barr store for this soup. How long ago; hmm, think lunch was about $1.25 – that long ago!
The soup was thick and rich, and came from the kitchen in a McCoy pottery brown drip soup bowl bubbling with melted cheese atop two slices of French baguette. As the stores closed their restaurants, it was fortunate that many years ago the St. Louis Post-Dispatch published the recipe in their Food Section so fanatics of this soup could recreate their obsession at home!
Famous Barr may be no more, but I’m grateful this recipe still exists. Although it is certainly edible the day it is made, it is well worth planning and letting it sit overnight so the flavors have time to meld together. I’m certain it’s one of the reasons this particular French onion soup is so stellar and remains coveted by residents near…and far!
Update 2017: I first published this article in 2012 so I thought that I thought I would send it out again. We had a burst of summer weather recently but it’s been more seasonal the last couple of days and a bowl of this soup really hit the spot. It’s one of the favorites on my blog; I hope if you haven’t seen it before that you will enjoy it this second time around!
A truly iconic soup from St. Louis and the old Famous and Barr retail store.
- 5 lbs. med white onions
- 1/2 C butter
- 1 1/2 tsp. pepper
- 2 Tbsp. paprika
- 1-2 bay leaves
- 3/4 C flour
- 3 - 32oz containers (8cans) of beef broth (I've also used a combination of beef (64 oz) and chicken broth (32 oz) and it has actually been my favorite result.)
- 1 C white wine
- Salt to season
- 16 oz. Gruyère cheese (can substitute Swiss which I typically do), shredded
- 1 French Baquette, sliced
- Olive Oil
To Prepare the Soup:
- Slice the onions 1/8" thick. Melt butter in a large pot and sauté the onions over low heat for 1 1/2 - 2 hours.
- Add seasonings; pepper, paprika and bay leaves. Mix well and saute on low for 2-3 minutes; stirring frequently.
- Add 2/3 of the broth to the pot and stir well. And the flour to the remaining broth and mix thoroughly and then add to the pot, stirring in. Add wine and simmer 2 hours.
- Refrigerate overnight.
- Turn on oven to broil.
- Brush bread slices with olive oil and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Lightly brown bread using the broiler watching very carefully so not to burn.
- Heat soup on stove top.
- Layer soup, then Parmesan toasted bread, then cheese in ovenproof bowls.
- Broil until cheese melts; 3-5 minutes. Watch carefully!
- Let cool for a couple of minutes before eating.
Some readers have asked for smaller portions. These proportions will produce half as much soup; follow same directions for cooking.
2 1/2 lbs yellow onions
4 Tbsp butter
3/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 Tbsp sweet Spanish paprika
1 bay leaf, broken in half
1/3 cup flour
6 cups prepared beef bouillon
1/2 cup white wine
8 oz Gruyere or Swiss cheese
1/2 French Baquette
From the St. Louis Post Dispatch