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A Soup Stroll Without Bowls

January 29, 2018

Saturday was the Third Annual Schenectady Soup Stroll, and it was a ton of fun. For the second year in a row, thanks to my role with Yelp, I got to be one of the official judges of the event.

The judging was very similar to last year, a few members of the Yelp Elite Squad evaluated each three-ounce soup sample on the liquids, solids, overall taste, and temperature to come up with a score. In the end, we were tasked with determining the top three soups, and offering a list of honorable mentions.

What was different this year was that we added more judges. Instead of three of us, there were five. And while we started together and ended together, the judges broke up into two different packs, so we were trying the same soups but at different times throughout the day.

When it came times for the judges conference at the end of the stroll, it was clear that some soups were better earlier in the day of this five hour soup marathon. It’s an incredible amount of work for the restaurants, to be sure. But it’s also a great opportunity to get people to explore the charms of downtown Schenectady.

You can see the full official results here, but what I wanted to talk a bit more about today was the very good point that Scooter Clifford brought up as we discussed the results at Great Flats Brewing after the stroll.

Scooter is the man behind Lupulin Events, which is a relatively new player in the local beer festival scene. He’s putting on the Great Nor’easter Beer Fest in Schenectady on February 10. As it just so happens, I’m working with him to promote it over on the Yelp side of the fence, and are even giving away a free pair of tickets. If you’re into that sort of thing, here’s the link.

Anyway, he suggested that the best three-ounce portion of soup might not be the soup you would actually want to eat as a full bowl.

And he’s absolutely right.

This, by the way, is not a criticism of the soup stroll. It’s a function of any broad tasting. Even beer festivals. The idea here is that when you are tasting a lot of different samples, the ones that will stand out are the bombastic, the aggressively flavored, and the over indulgent.

I was a big fan of the fiery chilis in the tom sab soup from Pho Queen. But I could also imagine a large bowl of that being a challenge to get through. The same is true for the decadent richness of the creamy portobello and white truffle soup at Aperitivo Bistro.

The soups that are the simple, delicious, and can be enjoyed by the bowl, tend to fade away into the background.

Maria’s Cafe & Catering made a perfectly delightful shrimp bisque. But delicate and well-balanced soups have a hard time breaking through. I felt similarly about the wild mushroom, barley, and beef soup at Villa Italia, as well as the surprisingly good beef burgundy soup at Nico’s Rooftop Tavern.

My personal favorite from the whole day was the smokey gumbo from 20 North Broadway. Yes, the small shrimp were overcooked in the broth, but the tender bay scallops made up for it. More than anything I was wowed by the flavor profile of the well seasoned smokey and spicy broth, with plenty of meaty chunks in the soup, all of which made sense. I also enjoyed the smokey broth of More Perreca’s minestrone thanks to the bacon chef Chris is now making in house. Those both ended up with honorable mentions.

Most of the soups were very good. Some needed more salt. Others could have used a day sitting in the fridge for the flavors to meld a bit. One of the most challenging things to do is make a great soup with beer, as the bitterness can get overwhelming. I though RARE and The Horses Lounge did the best job working beer into their soups. But the Horses Lounge also was my favorite corned beef soup, which is another challenging ingredient to work with.

There was also a surprising amount of tortilla soup, which was interesting to see.

All in all, it was a great afternoon out. Given the number of soups and the number of people who come out to try the soups, I don’t think it’s even possible that anyone beyond the official judges was able to sample them all. Some of those lines were mighty long.

But I’m looking forward to getting back to Schenectady, checking out The Dilly Bean which just opened on Jay Street, trying more items from Maria’s Cafe on Union Street, and getting down to The Horses Lounge which clearly has more culinary talent in the kitchen than I expected. And if I ever need something spicy to clear up my sinuses, I’m going down to Pho Queen, because she can bring the heat.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Pam C. permalink
    January 30, 2018 4:22 am

    Mmmm…my mouth is watering. Even though I am now in Florida, this is a great time for a soup festival. This past weekend here saw a local Gumbo Festival, with lots of entries and huge lines. Many varieties, and cool enough to enjoy hot gumbo!

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