A sampling of the borough’s winter warmers
Change may be a constant, but these past two years have been a doozy. In addition to normal changes—which are often difficult enough—we’ve contended with a worldwide pandemic and the subsequent illness, death, denial, and political upheaval that have accompanied it. It’s a wonder we haven’t all stuck our heads in the sand.
Like any catastrophe, Coronavirus has us counting our blessings, from the biggest to the smallest. One such item worth counting? Soup.
We admit that soup might not be the equivalent of other potential blessings, like “healthy family” or “wild financial success,” but stay with us here because soup isn’t just soup. It’s comfort. It’s familiarity. It fills you up, warms your tummy, and in some cases, tastes like home.
In a world full of changes, soup is a constant. According to NPR, the “tradition of making soup is probably at least 25,000 years old,” making it truly a food that has stood the test of time. And though it’s been around for millennia, our devotion to it hasn’t waned. For those of us in the borough, we’ve got plenty of mouth-watering soups to keep us warm and thankful all winter long.
At Love Again Local, customers can dig into vegan deli sandwiches like Reubens and turkey clubs, cheesesteaks, and BLTs, as well as piping hot bowls of soup, without worrying about dairy, eggs, or animal by-products in their comfort food.
“Our customers—especially our vegan customers who have more limited choices—like to come here and get the comfort foods that they miss, like their deli sandwiches and their soup they can’t really find anywhere because every place you go there’s cream or chicken broth in there,” says Love Again Local owner, Elena Masherino. “They know they can come here, and they can get their good old-fashioned comfort foods, and they’re all going to be vegan.”
Though soups do rotate, the most frequent soup customers will find at Love Again Local is the tomato bisque. A completely blended elixir, the bisque includes a little bit of coconut milk to make it delightfully creamy.
It’s our standard, we almost always have the tomato bisque,” says Masherino. “I have to say, our grilled cheese and tomato soup? Getting them together and dipping that grilled cheese in the soup, it’s so good.”
In addition to the tomato bisque, some of their special soups include chili, corn chowder, and potato leek. “With the special soups, we get a little bit creative. And that’s what’s nice about soup—you can do anything,” says Masherino. “We tend to have creamier soups, blended soups that are more hearty—our corn chowder is really good. That one has corn pieces and potatoes. It’s thicker. The clear broths don’t do as well for us. People tend to like the creamier ones, ones that are a little more comforting.”
And though winter sees a prevalence of hearty soups, come spring, customers can find things like the super popular Green Goddess Soup. “It’s a blended spinach soup, but it’s not a creamy blend. It’s just broth, sautéed spinach, onions, seasonings, and it’s got a little pepperiness in there,” says Masherino. “It’s really nice.”
“For me, soup is more of a subjective thing,” says Stove & Tap owner and restaurateur Joe Monnich, who oversees all the culinary aspects of multiple kitchens. “People seem to love things that trigger a memory of comfort. Things like French Onion Soup. It’s more than ‘I’m going to eat something.’ It’s comfort, in my mind. It’s not just fulfilling your hunger; it’s fulfilling your soul.”
Monnich, who can remember his own mom making him steaming bowls of chicken noodle soup when he was sick as a kid, considers soup to be good for both your physical and mental health.
“It’s a happy thing. Eating soup triggers a warmth. It’s a positive experience. They say that soup is soulful, and it is.”
At Stove & Tap, the menu is ever changing. Currently, guests can find all sorts of delicious rustic American options from squash and goat cheese flatbread to brisket dip and fried Brussels sprouts—perfect winter fare. They can also find a particularly tasty mushroom soup.
Made with Kennett Square mushrooms, this concoction is a multi-process endeavor—it’s about as far from opening a can as you can get. Monnich creates a mushroom stock made with mushroom trimmings and scraps, carrots, onions, celery, black peppercorn, bay leaves, water, and oil. The soup starts with a hot skillet full of butter-sautéed shallots and garlic and continues with adding mushrooms, a sachet full of herbs, and a deglazing wine. Only then is the mushroom stock—as well as chicken stock, cream, roux, and seasoning—added before the whole thing is simmered and pureed. The soup is served with sautéed mushrooms, a drizzle of white truffle oil, and topped with truffle Brioche croutons. If you’re drooling, count yourself among many others—this soup has been wildly popular.
“This is our first winter with it on the menu,” says Monnich. “It’s been very successful. It will probably make another menu.” Available on both lunch and dinner menus, in a cup or in a bowl, this mushroom soup is just what we need this winter.
Katrina Lehr, a full-time server at The Mediterranean, agrees that soup is a comforting meal, but is most impressed with the creativity that Chef and Owner Joseph Andraos utilizes while making it.
“Something specific with The Mediterranean is that we get all local fruits and vegetables. So, when it comes down to him making a soup, he adds in what he has available to him,” says Lehr. “Creating with what’s available and making it an awesome flavor in different ways. I think it’s a creative thing as well as a comfort thing.”
At The Mediterranean, a BYOB that specializes in the infusion of Lebanese and Italian cuisines, the focus is on local, seasonal produce, much of which comes from the Amish and other local farms. Additionally, The Mediterranean includes lots of vegan and vegetarian options on their menu.
“Joe normally always tries to make a soup that is vegan, where there’s no cream, there’s a vegetable base, and there’s no meat in it, because we have a lot of people who come into our restaurant with dietary restrictions,” says Lehr. “He also tries to make things gluten free. So, when Joe makes a minestrone soup, normally that has a pasta in it, but instead, Joe will do it with a Napa cabbage to create that extra texture, that extra crunch, and will also keep it gluten free.”
The results have been both creative and delicious, including things like a carrot ginger soup made with coconut cream; Mediterranean Minestrone with Napa Cabbage; and a French Onion made with the leavened sourdough bread from Mediterranean Bakery as the crostini, then topped with fresh mozzarella. In the summer, customers may find a vegetable gazpacho, made with a bunch of veggies simmered just long enough to maintain a little crunch, as well as a cucumber and yogurt gazpacho that Lehr describes as similar to a tzatziki.
“A lot of the soups are like, ‘Wow, I wouldn’t expect those things to be paired together’, says Lehr. “I feel like when I explain the specials to people, you can see their eyes light up in the sense that the flavors and the differences are not your regular soups.”
‘Personally, I always love soup in the winter, as a comfort meal,” says Tonni Hill, General Manager of Rams Head Bar & Grill. “For me, it’s nice to have something warm, sort of hearty and filling. So, I always look forward to when the season changes and soups start coming around a little bit more.”
For Hill, that perfect soup is French Onion. Whether she’s dreaming about the French Onion her mom used to make or grabbing a bowl of the Rams Head French Onion before a shift at the bar, it’s her favorite.
It’s also a customer favorite at Ram’s Head, where they see a huge uptick in soup sales from December through February. In addition to the French Onion and vegan chili that are always on the menu, Ram’s Head rotates out seasonal and creative concoctions, from a Pot Pie Soup to a Farmer’s Soup made with ham, carrots, corn, and a cream chicken stock that was originally made simply to make use of good leftover ingredients.
“Right now, we have a vegan butternut squash soup that he did that uses some of our seasonal vegetables,” says Hill about Chef James Jones. “I think for our chef, he enjoys free-styling, utilizing different ingredients—the creative aspect of soup.”
For JT Hearn, chef and partner along with co-owner Dan Merola of Roots Café, soup is more than just comfort. “To me, a soup is a great outlet for creativity,” says Hearn.
Indeed, creativity is a big part of the menu at Roots Café. In addition to using as much local produce and meat as possible, they are hyper focused on flavor and texture, creating everything from hot sauce to butter to jams and chutneys from scratch. And when they get a new product, it often drives the type of soup they make.
“Two weeks ago, we got in some beautiful butternut squash, so we did a candied butternut squash soup,” says Hearn. “If we get some beautiful farm raised whole chickens, we’ll make a chicken noodle soup. If we get some beef from a local Pennsylvania farm, we’ll do a beef barley or a mushroom beef stew or something along those lines.”
Because product drives so much of the inspiration at Roots Café, in the warmer months customers can expect to see crisp, cold gazpachos that utilize seasonal produce like mixed berry; roasted beet; chipotle tomato; and white grape, cucumber and basil.
“In the summertime, you have a cold gazpacho—it’s 100 degrees outside. You want something that’s going to be cool, crisp,” says Hearn. “It’s not going to lay on your palate. In the wintertime, a hot soup should keep you nice and toasty. It should be a rib sticker, bringing you back to that wrapped-in-a-blanket feeling,”
In addition to utilizing fresh ingredients, Hearn strives to make a serious flavor impact, something he does especially well with their wild mushroom soup, where customers are hit with the flavors of Umami mushrooms at first bite, before getting the essence of white truffles and then a deep porcini powder.
Roots Café is currently working on a merchandise shop above the restaurant—with hopes for a spring opening—where customers will be able to purchase house made hot sauces, seasoning blends, hats, shirts, and of course, Roots Café soups.
Market Street Grill may have some knockout breakfasts, including (but hardly limited to) omelets, French Toast, and pancakes—as well as signature breakfasts like the Willow Breakfast Burrito, the Christian and Waffles, and Camacho’s Nachos—but the rest of their menu is just as mind-blowing, and just as creative. Even the soups.
“The chef is crazy,” says Market Street Grill owner Kerry Greco about Chef Darla Riccetti. “She’ll throw bread pudding in a soup, mac and cheese, whatever is literally left over, she will throw in a soup.” And luckily—at least most of the time—that creativity of Riccetti’s really pays off.
“The beer cheese soup, we did that for a while. It was crazy. I don’t know how she did that, but it was incredible,” says Market Street Grill Manager, Kerry’s son, Christian. “People loved the mushroom bisque so much that we put it on the menu. She did escarole. She’s done gumbo. We recently did a New England clam chowder. And we do a Thanksgiving stew that’s amazing.”
And about that aforementioned bread pudding in a soup? A very successful chicken dumpling bread pudding soup it was.
Though creativity seems to be the driving force for soups, there are some standards that have remained on the Market Street Grill menu since its inception 19 years ago. Those include both the chili and the French Onion soups. And until a few months ago, it also included a lobster bisque that will still show up as a rotating special.
For the Grecos, soup is as much creativity as it is comfort. “There was a soup that my mother made, and we would wait for it. It had a little pastina in it, a little corn, a little shredded beef in a beef broth, smothered with Pecorino Romano cheese,” says Kerry. “We all crushed that soup. And that’s gone. My mom’s gone. That soup’s gone. So, we’ll never get that soup again.”
And while there’s nothing like the soup that mom used to make, both the Grecos have other favorites. For Christian, it’s French Onion. And though it seemed like a toss up between New England and Manhattan Clam Chowders for Kerry, ultimately, it came down to snapper. “Anywhere I see it, of course I get it,” he says. “And never let go of that little sherry bottle on your left.”