Soup Spot Is Amazing, Even During The Summer
There’s nothing better in any season — summer included — than soup. Yes, soup. Soup that’s hot. Soup that’s steaming. Soup that isn’t an overpriced container of liquid suck. Sure, your only option may be an attempt to capitalize off a Seinfeld-ized urban myth meant to sucker in tourists (PRO TIP: check out the rules list and look for the one in German, and question why they’d do that at ALL given Soup Nazi evasion in name and mythos) or a generic deli whose soups are conveniently pre-prepared at some anonymous Sysco affiliate in Queens. But if you’re in the very belly of the beast — the looming shadow of Penn Station — you have an option. You can get in on the secret. You have access to 17 or 18 different flavors that change daily. You have freedom. You have options. You have Soup Spot.
Soup Spot sits on 31st between 7th and 8th, between Cafe 31, whose menu draws no major outstanding examples and lists no prices (always justifiably suspicious, we ML types are) and a parking garage. It’s directly across from the Penn Station underpass that was closed to vehicles after 9/11, connecting 31st and 32nd. You have easy foot access to Penn, though, so you could grab something to eat before your early Friday getaway if you’re lucky enough to have such an option. For the life of me I can’t think of a reason why the line wasn’t present on an especially hot day (Weather Underground said it was literally 100.6 degrees when I was there, but I don’t count that as a reason to avoid soup). Some busy days, and especially in the winter, the line can and does extend to curve around into the parking garage. Come dressed for warmth if it’s prime soup season. Fortunately there are few if any facepalm-worthy attempts to cash in on Soup Nazi mythos other than the likelihood, a bit low these days, for the guys working to have hats that say “Yes — Soup for You.”
The menu is never the same two days in a row. I haven’t been there multiple days in one week but the options do rotate. The list of soups is beyond staggering, and you can see what’s current on their Facebook and Twitter pages. Think of it like a food truck — call or check before heading out if you’re looking for something in particular, rather than whether or not the cops chased them away.
Soup Spot is always happy to hand out samples if you’re uncertain. I’ve been going to Soup Spot on and off for years since I started working in Manhattan and have yet to sample any significant fraction of the menu. If you plan to make this a frequent stop, try one or two soups per visit and order something different. Although there’s a few duplicate names with different descriptions, the menu lists more than 200 different soups. Maybe there’s no difference between New England clam chowder and EXTREME New England clam chowder, but even with excluding duplicates, that doesn’t change the fact that all they do is soup and there’s more than 100 unique instances. So, take it from me, make use of the samples!
Here’s the turkey chili. This was a real standout chili, and that says a lot when every generic place and a bunch of restaurants probably already do chili or turkey chili. Indeed, the soup part itself had a good thickness to it without being a solid glop. The meat was just a bit moist, not at all too dry. Chunks of tomato, whole beans, green chilis and visible spices were throughout. If you’re super hungry, you could do a lot worse than this. It isn’t too spicy-hot, so reach for the Tabasco if you want to go up to five alarms, but it’s well flavored and has enough spice to be flavorfully interesting.
I was less thrilled about the chilled carrot-ginger soup. You’d think on a hot day there’d be nothing left since cold soup is well in order. However, when I glanced over the counter the tureen was damn near full. After seeing and tasting the stuff I wasn’t surprised. It had the texture and appearance of baby food, and more or less the same flavor. There was no ginger at all, not enough salt, and nothing to really distinguish this soup. I’d have preferred it to be a tad thinner since it came really close to holding its shape when tilted or held upside down. Fortunately, they had gazpacho today. I didn’t want to abuse the sampling to bother the guy serving, but I’ve had it before and it makes Hale & Hearty — or any other large-scale gazpacho producer — cry little baby tears.
For $7.10 you can get a combo of a large soup, a half sandwich, a piece of bread, and a piece of fruit. That’s not a bad amount of food considering the quality of the stuff and location. They also do salads too, but it’s whatever they have prepared that day. Usually there’s always a Greek salad, a regular tossed salad, and something with spring mix or otherwise. The sandwiches rotate daily but they don’t have the same inconceivable variety of the soups. A small combo is available for around $6, but the extra 2 oz of soup is worth the $1 more.
Here’s what you get for that large combo. The bread is a standard French-ish bread. The crust holds up well, but don’t kid yourself into rustic or ciabatta-style thickness and crispiness. It’s meant for soakage, and it does that. If the bread is homemade or comes from a high-end bakery, I’d be extremely surprised. The fruit today was an anemic plum, but some days it’s a meh orange. You’re best off with a basic apple if that’s what they have. Once or twice they have bananas that’ll be ready to eat in at least two days.
I got the mushroom brie, and it’s proof positive that they care about us mushroom lovers. The broth has clearly been based upon steeping mushrooms, with an aromatic earthiness that can only come from doing something good with our favorite fungi. Normally I shy away from creamy soups since they’re often an excuse to dump as much heavy cream in to cover up low quality crap, but the mushroom brie has a very consistent, smooth creaminess to it that’s complemented well by the cheese. It’s not over-cheesed either — it brings things together quite well. There’s flecks of herbs throughout. I definitely saw some chive or scallion in a few spoonfuls.
Mushrooms? Mushrooms. There’s chopped mushrooms that were probably forming the basis of the broth as well as big thick slices of mushroom. It looks like either basic white mushrooms or baby Bella, but maybe those flecks are bits and pieces of porcini, maybe shiitake? Who knows. All I know is that they don’t skimp. This isn’t some crap that was just brothed and given cream, cheese, and dried herbs — this is mushroom soup made with mushrooms.
Every rose has its thorn, though, and this meal’s thorn is the otherwise basic half-sandwich. Here you see a grilled chicken wrap with white meat grilled chicken, the standard-bearer of anonymous protein delivery. You do get what you pay for in the combo, and as such it’s just kinda there. They do try to give it some flavor, though — it’s got a good char to it and there’s some herbs and spices that were put on before grilling. You get about a half a breast’s worth of meat, so it’s not like it’s skimpy. The lettuce is romaine, but the tomatoes are flavorless and mealy food service tomatoes. At least the wrap was warmed in advance, so it holds together well. And, they give you some mustard to compensate.
Because I love you people, I’m not even going to mention the plum. It’s there to add volume and cleanse your palate, or serve as a snack later. If you want amazing fruit, go to a green market. If you want basic stuff, go to a street vendor. Consider Soup Spot’s fruit an added bonus and not an integral component to the meal, and you’ll be happy with your 2” diameter plum. I know I am.
If you’re not a psychopathic soup fiend (for the life of me I don’t know any better way of living), then this is where you’re going to get your fix. Other than the glorious joy of noodle soup from your favorite Chinese operation or ramen from Tabata, there’s few options for the soup-hungry. If you feel the need to be warmed from within both emotionally and literally by a nostalgic soup or something unique and different, you owe it to yourself to hit up Soup Spot at your earliest possible convenience.