Kreplach from Max's Delicatessen & Restaurant
Kreplach at Max’s Delicatessen & Restaurant

When it comes to authentic Jewish cooking, good or bad food is often a matter of what you grew up with. If Dad served his potato latkes with a side of applesauce, only a putz would taint them with sour cream. So it wasn’t without prejudice that I entered into a careful study of one of winter’s delights: chicken soup with kreplach. (For the uninitiated, kreplach are dumplings typically filled with meat.)

For me, kreplach soup was defined by my late grandmother, Ida Isackson, who made everything from scratch, creating a comfort-food flavor bomb of salty meat, chewy dough, sweet vegetables, and a rich chicken broth. Sadly, no one remembers how she did it, and Grandma didn’t share her recipes. I decided to fight nostalgia and give some other kreplach soups a chance.

3107 N. Broadway; 773-477-0300
The kreplach: Large, tender dumplings crowd the bowl, and they’re the highlight of the dish. The filling, however, is a bit mealy, with a tangy flavor and aftertaste.
The soup: A bright yellow broth with a salty, ordinary chicken flavor. Some may find the taste similar to canned soup.
What Grandma would say: The combo significantly improves both elements—less bite to the broth, less tang to the meat—and the deli clearly knows what it’s doing. But a dumpling this impressive deserves a better filling.

1112 S. Wabash Ave.; 312-212-1112
The kreplach: A generous, carefully rendered dumpling with a surprising twist: a mildly sweet filling. The dough, unfortunately, is soft and gritty, like a tamale.
The soup: A delicious broth, filled with carrots and celery, harbors the right amount of requisite flavors: chicken, vegetables, and salt.
What Grandma would say: The sum is less than its parts. The sweet filling doesn’t quite mesh with the exceptionally savory broth.

1141 S. Jefferson St.; 312-939-2855
The kreplach: One bite of this wrinkled spoon-size dumpling is a reminder that looks aren’t everything. This ugly dumpling has the right amount of fat and seasoning, and the dough is tender.
The soup: Like the dumpling, the broth doesn’t skimp on seasoning or fat. A bit greasier and saltier than some might prefer, but that comes with the territory at this Chicago icon.
What Grandma would say: This isn’t the chicken soup the doctor ordered. It’s more of a guilty pleasure or hangover cure, sort of like a juicy hamburger.

461 Waukegan Rd., Northbrook; 847-272-9490
The kreplach: Bland meat filling packed into a picture-perfect and sizable dumpling.
The soup: Cloudy, modest broth that no one will accuse of being too salty.
What Grandma would say: The end result is light and clean—but a little seasoning would go a long way. The filling and the broth are too tame.

191 Skokie Valley Rd., Highland Park; 847-831-0600
The kreplach: A near-perfect bite. Compact and firm, these peppery, dense dumplings look more like tortellini.
The soup: Not much nuance here, only strong chicken flavor. But there’s none of the fatty aftertaste that so often sinks deli soup.
What Grandma would say: This kreplach, potent and satisfying, is the standout in an impressive group. One kvetch: Do they really need to be so tiny?


Photograph: Anna Knott