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Soup Strolling

January 23, 2019

Without a doubt we are in the midst of soup weather.

I’ve been making batches of chicken stock, which I am simmering down into a concentrated gel and freezing for later. Unfortunately, we still aren’t eating meat at home, but that will end on February 1. Then the floodgates of stock shall open.

Until then, I’ve made an Italian vegetable and bean soup, modified from a recipe by Lidia Bastianich. Almost every day for the past week I’ve enjoyed one of my favorite soups, lentil and brown rice. And if you call those Cuban black beans a soup, well, that’s been on the menu too.

The good news is that we’re staying warm. The better news is that my diet and weight loss goals are going swimmingly well. Beans are calorically dense, so I’ve been careful about my portion sizes. But I’ll have some more thoughts on competing diets down the road.

Now, it’s time to celebrate, and what better way than on Saturday in Schenectady with twenty-seven different soups! Who is going to win the coveted Golden Tureen? Well, there are a few soups on the menu that have piqued my interest. So let’s talk soup!

For the sake of full disclosure, once again, Yelp is a promotional partner with the Schenectady Soup Stroll. That means I will be there on Saturday in an official capacity and serving as one of the judges. No matter what anyone tells you, everyone has internal biases, but on Saturday every soup is going to get a fair shake.

Today’s post is meant for those who may not be able get around to all 27 spots in the five hours that downtown Schenectady restaurants will be ladling out hot steaming samples of soup for a buck a pop. The judges are going to have to hustle from one spot to the next. It’s going to be a ton of fun, but it will also be exhausting. Thankfully, there will be lots of walking involved too. The cold won’t bother us a bit.

So, without further ado, here are the places I’m most excited to visit on the stroll.

Firestone 151 is often a top performer in these competitions, and I’m intrigued by their “Maryland crab chowder”. Crab is delicious, and we don’t see enough of it.

There are a bunch of soups based on chicken wings. And that makes sense. Chicken wings are freakin’ delicious. But the one that caught my eye is doing something a little different. Plus, coming off of a strong showing at the Chili Chowdown, Backstage Pub’s “garlic parm buffalo chicken bisque” sounds like the one to beat.

Maria’s Cafe excels in simple classics, which is one of the reasons why I have high hopes for her “bacon and white bean soup”. I love the smokiness of bacon when played against creamy beans. And it’s one of the things I miss most about this vegetarian January. Even a lick of sweet bacon smoke can really make a pot of beans shine.

Which isn’t to say you need it, either. Mexican Radio is making a straight up “wholesome black bean soup” which is vegan and gluten free. But so is the black bean soup I make at home, and it’s incredibly delicious, if I do say so myself. I’m really looking forward to tasting this one and seeing how it stacks up.

Mad Jack Brewing Company at The Van Dyck continues to have some fun with their entries. This time it’s “pale potato pancake soup infused with Mad Jack pale ale”. What that means, I don’t know. Will there be a fried potato pancake on top with sour cream? Or will previously fried potato pancakes be ground up into a soup? I can’t wait to find out.

It may be weird that “chicken noodle soup” is going to make my list of most exciting soups to try, but this one is coming from Taj Mahal Restaurant. And I’m hoping against hope that it’s a Bengali chicken soup like this one here, because I’ve never had an Indian version of chicken noodle soup before.

Speaking of things I’ve never had before, Tara Kitchen will be serving “haleem porridge”. Haleem? It’s apparently Persian, and I had never heard of it either. But not only am I intrigued, I’m delighted that Tara Kitchen is bringing more new flavors and textures to the people of the Capital Region.

There are other tough competitors. Aperitivo Bistro has a long history of knocking my socks off, although I can’t tell if their entry of “chicken parmigiano soup” is brilliant or too clever for its own good.

20 North Broadway can be amazing, but every now and again they miss the mark in these culinary challenges. “Roasted poblano corn chowder” will rise or fall based on the texture of the corn, the smokiness of the poblanos, and the creaminess of the chowder. It’s a challenging tightrope to walk. We’ll have to see if they can pull it off.

Katie O’Byrne’s has a similarly difficult balancing act to pull off with its Irish reuben chowder. I love sauerkraut and corned beef, but it’s very easy for a soup like this to be overwhelmingly salty and briny. On the flip side of the spectrum, will Hunter’s on Jay be able to bring balance to the “caramel maple butternut bisque” or will it be sweet on sweet on sweet?

Can the chicken and sausage gumbo from Ruggerio’s deliver the punch of gumbo with a gluten free entry? Gumbo is all about the roux. What sort of secret sauce does the kitchen have up its sleeve to replace the flavor base of this classic?

All of these questions and more will have to wait until the event on Saturday to find their answers. It all starts at 11a. No tickets are required. Just head downtown with a fist full of dollars. You’ll be able to pick up maps along the way, but they are also available online.

I’ll be decked out in Yelp red. But if you see me, please come over and say “hi”. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the soups of the day, and how they stacked up to your expectations.

For me, I’ll do my best to leave my expectations at the door and judge each soup on its own merits. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what I would like the soup to be. All a judge can do is evaluate each soup that’s put in front of them.

Hope to see you there.

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