There are many worthy reasons to patronize Rowdy Hall, which has nobly provided casually delicious food for two decades in a tucked-away corner of East Hampton. But the best reason — and consider this my biased opinion — is the French onion soup, which is, by far, the best onion soup east of the canal. I say this with roiling anticipation. Fall is here, friends. And while some of you may be mourning summer, I’m looking onward and upward, toward the next best thing. Here’s what’s great about fall, food friends: It’s soup season. And no one does soup season better than Rowdy Hall.
I make the same mistake every time. I order too much. Convinced that a soup is merely an appetizer, I sully the waters with other equally delicious fare. I love Rowdy Hall’s Buffalo wings, which are crispy and saucy and buttered, but I also love the signature Mr. Smith’s salad, a compelling mix of iceberg lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and bright vinaigrette (named, of course, for the only Mr. Smith that counts, Mark Smith, co-owner of Rowdy Hall and the Honest Man Restaurant Group that operates La Fondita, Coche Comedor, Nick & Toni’s, and Townline BBQ).
The thing is, you don’t need more than the soup, a fact I never seem to recall when I’m hungry and under the gun. That’s because it arrives in a giant crock, one far larger than most. The cheese is inches thick. I’m not exaggerating here. It melts down the sides of the white ceramic container, forcing you to pick at it until it disappears. That’s a mandatory move, by the way. There’s no getting around it. There is a wedge of bread and a stock made from something dense and meaty. Are the onions the star attraction, or is it an amalgam of starch and fat and stock? I can’t nearly tell.
You will probably burn your mouth with your impatience. There is something unholy about waiting. The cheese is molten when it arrives, brown-black with the marks of the salamander. That is onion soup at its most appealing, its most pleasing, its most palate searing. I don’t care. I’ll eat it anyway.
Somewhere toward the end of the bowl, I will realize my fatal mistake, which is that I have ordered other things to eat, too. Either I have ordered them first or ordered them second. Either way, I have overcommitted, filled my dance card with too many partners. It’s a sin to leave a bowl of onion soup unfinished, you know, and I try not to, even if it means rolling out of Rowdy and skipping dinner entirely.
I have spent long, languorous afternoons there, near the fireplace that is nearly always roaring when the weather gets even a little bad. If a snowstorm threatens, it’s the first place people flock to, with its wooden motif and rustic bar and regular beer-drinkers. On any given Sunday afternoon, you’ll find a host of happy locals, beverages in hand, toasting to the off-season. Do they order the onion soup? I have no idea. Whatever their pleasure, no one seems unhappy to be here.
Don’t be sad that the days are growing shorter. Consider it entrée into something else. Tomato season doesn’t last forever, and that truth does seem sad, yes. But there is so much to look forward to, still! If the beginning of fall has you down, even a little bit, consider the crock of onion soup, too hot even to touch, its crust so firm you must break it with the back of a spoon. Such delights are reserved not for summer, but for fall. Dive in, friends. Dive in.