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Where can you find the best French onion soup? Answering that question has been my quest for the last ten years of my life. I was first introduced to French onion soup when I was a young boy at a restaurant located a block from my house in Basking Ridge, New Jersey. While seated at our local restaurant, “The Store,” my solicitous father ordered a bowl of French onion soup, and as an impressionable son, I followed suit. At that time, I did not have much affection for the popular French appetizer, but as our visits to The Store increased, so did my fondness for the soup. I soon thought the soup was tasty, but I had not experienced any other versions of it, so I had no other comparisons. That would soon change.
About five years ago, my family traveled out west for my uncle’s wedding. When we landed in Arizona, the perfect father-son quest began. After a five-hour flight to Phoenix and an interminable drive north to Sedona, we arrived in the wee hours of the morning, famished and exhausted. Immediately, we ventured to the nearest restaurant (the only one open), ironically named the Brooklyn Café. We journeyed over 2,500 miles from home only to eat in a restaurant named after a borough 40 minutes from our house. My weary eyes brightened when I discovered French onion soup on the menu. “We’ll have two French onion soups, please.” Within seconds, my father and I concurred that the soup was mediocre and had room for improvement.
Two summers later, armed with iPods and granola bars, our family returned to Colorado to greet the babbling and teething additions to my uncle’s family; at least I thought that was the reason for our visit. Secretly, I knew it was a golden opportunity for my father and I — an exclusive club of connoisseurs on a mission — to continue our quest, only to conclude with the perfect combination of herbs to satisfy our pseudo-sophisticated palates. After passing the newborn twins around, we hit the road and traveled to Washington, snaking though the geysers of Yellowstone and the plains of Idaho. Our route dotted with Zagat Guide suggestions of the best appetizers, my father and I enjoyed French onion soups against backdrops of the Rocky Mountains, Old Faithful, and the Space Needle. We compared each crouton, broth, and onion to the soup that had begun our quest in New Jersey. After visiting the four corners of our delectable country — from the rainy streets of Seattle to the dry air of Sedona, from the humid atmosphere of Fort Lauderdale to the historical countryside of Lancaster — I discovered that French onion soup is as different as the people who eat it.
Was it the journey I relished? I’m not sure. Perhaps I enjoyed the distinctive rating system my father and I created while describing the consistency of the cheese or the absurd facial contortions he made while tasting foreign spice. At some point I realized that it was not the French onion soup that I loved, but rather the bond with my father that evolved during our endeavor. Our father-son relationship strengthened with each soup we tasted. As we continue to hunt throughout the United States for the best bowl of French onion soup, we have yet to discover one that compares to The Store’s popular dish. After traveling over 10,000 miles from coast to coast, the greatest soup is still just yards from my house. Often, it seems, the best things in life are right around the corner.
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