Brian McCarley, owner of The Other Side Bistro in Bonita Springs, knows and loves soup. Two decades prior to opening the bistro, he operated a restaurant called Good Soup, where his reputation solidified for crafting outstanding bowls of savory potions.
A Southwest Florida native, McCarley grew up in the restaurant business and received a formal culinary education from The Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago. From this classical training and an interview he viewed with renowned French chef Jacques Pépin, his wildly popular baked five onion soup was inspired.
The key to McCarley’s popular soup is his use of five different varieties of onions. “People said it was stupid for me to use scallions because they disintegrate,” McCarley states. “But, to that point, those onions go into the ester of the soup.”
He also uses red wine to help break down the onions. The soup is served in a crock topped with melted Swiss cheese—and it’s pure divinity. Since there is no beef broth, it’s also a vegetarian favorite.
Another beloved option is McCarley’s mushroom soup. It’s not cream-based but still quite rich, thanks to the amount of butter used in its preparation. It pairs wonderfully with a glass of Pinot Noir.
For a chef, soup is a fantastic way to operate a more sustainable kitchen. For instance, unused pieces of strip steak are used in McCarley’s hearty beef barley soup. He recently made a classic borscht, an ancient sour soup, using beef and beets.
“Soup is something everyone makes, but not everyone makes it well,” McCarley quips. “You have to start with good ingredients.”
What is it about soup that is beloved by so many? Having trouble putting his answer into words, McCarley cites the animated film Ratatouille.
“Remember when [Anton Ego] sat down to a simple bowl of ratatouille and it blew his mind?” he asks. “It brought him back to himself. Good soup does that.”