Not everybody loves soup. This is made clear to me every time I suggest ordering a bowlful and everyone at the table looks down and acts as if I hadn’t spoken. I understand some of the reluctance.
We live in the age of small plates meant for sharing, and soup is harder to share than, say, a crab cake. Restaurants don’t make it easier; they rarely offer extra bowls, or even spoons. I don’t get it. Humans have been cooking soup for ages. Why are we turning our backs on it?
For the next two newsletters, I’ll be exploring some of the city’s greatest soups. Hot soups, of course — this isn’t the season for gazpacho or cold borscht. Next week I’ll take on all the noodle soups I can think of. This week’s soups are all noodle-free.
Callos con garbanzos at Spanish Diner
There is no clear boundary between soups and stews. On which side does this old recipe for tripe and chickpeas fall? Even with extra heft from chorizo and blood sausage, the version at the all-day diner within José Andrés’s Mercado Little Spain is hard to pin down, but there is just enough orange-yellow broth to qualify as soup.
Chicken tortilla avocado soup at Shopsin’s General Store
Every bowl of every soup at Shopsin’s is made to order, from scratch, typically in five minutes or less. This is a ridiculous policy but the result is that the soups taste as if they had been turned inside out. This one is a remix of sopa Azteca, and a Shopsin’s best seller.
Dweji gamtang at Okdongsik
A simple brass bowl holds soup that is equally simple. Or so it seems: al dente white rice, clear golden pork broth and very thin slices of pork shoulder. But taste it. There must be more going on here, right?
Estelle’s chicken soup with matzo ball at Mark’s Off Madison
Estelle, naturally, is the mother of the chef and owner, Mark Strausman, who follows her time-consuming Russian-Jewish formula. It produces a rich elixir that is no mere broth. Rich and concentrated, it is to chicken what bourbon is to corn.
French onion soup at T. Brasserie in the Tin Building
The brawny late-night Parisian original has not been radically reimagined, but it has been studied and finessed, making it one of the Tin Building’s essential dishes.
Goat pepper soup at Buka New York
The hunks of goat and strips of tripe may be the least assertive elements in this soup, a rampaging, olive-drab brew of dried herbs, chopped greens, spices both ground and whole.
Oyster stew at Grand Central Oyster Bar
Each bowl is cooked in its own steam-heated kettle, the cream and milk and butter warmed with oysters and their liquor. Note 1: The addition of tomato-chile sauce, Worcestershire and a slice of toast turns it into an oyster pan roast. Note 2: A stew or pan roast made with whole-belly Ipswich clams instead is at least as good.
She-crab soup at Gage & Tollner
The chef and author Edna Lewis cooked at Gage & Tollner for only a few years, but her she-crab soup, so rich the dining room starts to swim before your eyes, will probably stay on the menu forever.