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2012 SOUPer Bowl provides delicious options

February 7, 2012

Soup-loving runs in my family. Sort of. I’m pretty sure my basic genetics education would confirm that I cannot inherit traits from my father-in-law. But what I didn’t get from his genes, I certainly have absorbed through environment. 
Paw-in-Law is a soup-lover. His restaurant mantra, if he had one, would be “Give Soup a Chance.” The SOUPer Bowl put on this past Saturday by the Starkville Young Professionals would have been right up his alley. But since he is in Florida, I brought along someone who actually did inherit some of his genes: Firstborn. 
Right in the door we met Zorba’s Sun-Dried Tomato Focaccia Cheese Bread over Saffron Tomato Soup with Herbed Crème Fraiche, a creation of Chef Ty Thames. The crème fraiche melted into the soup, making it even richer, and we saved the flavor-soaked focaccia bread for a beautiful last bite.
Our next stop was the Harvey’s table, where they served us a cup of Roasted Turkey and Kielbasa Chowder, garnished with Craisins, little chunks of kielbasa and a round of cranberry crostini. Firstborn, after his first bite, said “this tastes like Thanksgiving dinner.” I don’t know if that’s what they were going for, but it was a good thing.
A few steps further in we got Loaded Potato Soup from Old Venice — thick and rich and popping with flavor — serious comfort food for a dismal-weather day. It had a kick that we know came from a Cajun spice blend, and I am convinced that there was a mystery herb that gave it an extra boost of flavor — this was no bland potato soup.
Next up was Bin 612’s Butter Bean Soup garnished with Tobacco Onions and Fennel. Rest easy, no actual tobacco was harmed in the production of this garnish. These were just slivers of fried onion that resembled shredded tobacco, thus the name. I love a good, hearty bean soup, and this is one I’d like to have again, tobacco onions and all. 
Beside Bin 612 was its cousin, Restaurant Tyler, whose chefs had developed Surf and Turf Chowder. The chef told us they started with lobster stock and beef broth, then built a chowder around it with bacon, onion, corn and potato. All those flavors were there, in sweet contrast with bits of house-smoked bacon cured in sherry.  
The Veranda’s entry was a Braised Short Rib with Root Vegetables Soup. I queried Chef Jay Yates on which veggies he used — there were so many I lost track. He was also kind enough to educate me on the origins and cooking techniques of short ribs that created a perfectly tender bite of meat. The result was a soup that brought back fond memories of beef stew, yet was bumped up a notch or three in flavor and texture. 
Central Station Grill made a Chicken Corn Chowder with a kick. I didn’t get a chance to ask about the source of said kick, but I could see with my own two eyes a generous amount of black pepper. My taste buds told me a hot pepper of another sort might have been mixed in, too. Whatever it was, it gave a heap of life to the chowder.
Bulldog Deli and Sweet Pepper’s shared the next table, but offered two very different soups. Pepper’s featured their Chicken and Sausage Gumbo, which was super chunky and had just the right degree of heat.  Bulldog Deli dished out their creamy Crawfish Bisque. I usually prefer my crawfish tails in deep-fried form, but I think I’ve found another way to enjoy them. 
Around the bend was the Dudy Gras Surprise from the Great American Grill at the Hilton Garden Inn. They told me this prize-winning soup was anchored on collard greens and northern beans and supported with ham, bacon, and andouille sausage. Before the Food Pyramid and My Plate came along, weren’t those the five basic food groups? 
Café Ritz from West Point had Shrimp Bisque garnished with Herbed Mascarpone Cheese and Tasso Bits. Tasso is a highly seasoned and smoked Cajun pork creation, and I had never had it before. The mascarpone cheese melted into the bisque, multiplying the richness, and the Tasso bits added a great savory, chewy contrast. 
I heard some great comments about the Chicken and Gnocchi Dumplings from Chef Dave’s Smoked Meats and Fine Catering — Firstborn and I agreed. Chef Dave told us that everything in the soup, even the cream of chicken base, was made from scratch — and it showed. The gnocchi dumplings were amazingly tender, not in a mushy way but in a melt-in-your-mouth kind of way. Chef Dave also works on campus providing meals for a sorority house, so I am looking into becoming an honorary Zeta. 
Last but not least on the circle of soup was Three Little Pigs. It was hard to miss the stuffed boar head and the sign advertising “Angel Pig Stew.” I am a big fan of Brunswick stew, and had been looking forward to trying theirs. It was hearty and chunky and tasted like Brunswick stew ought to, but had another level of flavor from smokiness of the meat. I don’t know who decided BBQ places ought to serve Brunswick stew, but God bless ‘em. 
This SOUPer Bowl was held at the old State Theater, and there were several of us at the event who could conjure up interesting memories from its days as the main movie theater in town. It was great to be back and make some new memories — and at least soup is something we can share with our kids.

Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist.  The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff.  He    welcomes your comments at eatsoneate@gmail.com.

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