Hale & Hearty Unveils New Location and Six New Chef Driven Soups
I won’t make any illusion to my preference for soup as the single optimal food item that can be created by mortal hands. For me, soup season is every season, even during heat waves. We have no shortage of soup in Midtown, mostly in the form of Hale & Hearty, a chain which may not necessarily be the root of all soupiness but is probably the most visible single example. Overpriced their soups at times may be, their gazpacho is still cold and the soup is at least not complete dreck. With their opening of a new location on 40th between 7th and 8th, and with new celebrity chef created soups on the menu, could this be something different?
New recipes, boosts in quality, or maybe a freaking small soup that doesn’t cost $4.69? In the vein of verifying that crappy pizza exists and that donkey sauce is more like a donkey punch, we venture forthwith to confirm or refute whether or not Soup Stop is still the king of soups, the cold and long days of winter and the promise of hot soup looking better by the day. The new place minus the soft-opening media gussying-up looks like any other Hale & Hearty location.
Chef David Burke mugging with a taste of his corn soup for the crowd. It alone amongst the others comes with some fairly decent pepper jack cornbread. Six chefs contributed their own recipes, with each of six soups rotating out for a week at a time. Proceeds from these soups go to charities the chefs picked out themselves. Hale & Hearty has a website showing off who’s who and nifty blurbs about the soup, if you’re into nifty blurbs.
So there’s your options… let’s go tureening down the hill and take some tastes.
Michael Anthony’s kabocha squash soup is actually a very decent take on the old butternut squash formula. It has a far more prominent pumpkiny taste with a good dose of garlic. It’s thick as hell. I’m hopeful this doesn’t get a massively inflated price, because I’m actually going to pay money for it. While it’s dense and chunky, if you order a small you’re gonna need a sandwich if you intend to be full for lunch. Solution: order a medium. This is dense in the best, non-bloaty way.
Kale and white bean soup is a big Portuguese pull and this incarnation smells like the Portugese part of Ironbound on a good day. This is as complementary as anyone can be about Newark. Chris Bradley’s implementation does real credit to some of the best Ironbound restaurants. Fishy and garlicky, the broth has a smokey aroma to it to offset its thinness. Sadly, the chorizo imparted most of its flavor into the broth in the form of an oily sheen on the surface and seems to have lost its sausage skin somewhere along the way, resulting in a spongy mass of ground meat that was on the overcooked side. I could have used a little more kale as well. Instant classic? Not so much. Damn good tribute? Bump it up to at least a large and add a sandwich to be safe, and you’re at tribute lunch level.
I’m not really a corn soup guy. Was I an instant convert after David Burke’s corn soup? Not entirely, but I came close. It’s not full of utterly pulverized corn, with plenty of whole kernels, and did have a very nice cornish sweetness (as opposed to a Welsh sweetness?) with a good chivey undertone. This is dense stuff, though. DB himself was dunking the included pepper jack cornbread in it, and this turned it from a decently filling soup into what could be one hell of a dense, flavorful meal. If the Hale & Hearty workers make sure to include the cornbread with your order (ask for extra, just to be sure) then a small of this could be a decent cheap light soup-centered lunch.
I admit, being a Jerseyan native, that I tend to call it “pasta fazool” and to see its zuppa equivalent made me want to give it a real shot. I won’t lie, this was probably the most nostalgic-smelling soup ever. I have zero Italian blood but my first whiff of Michael White’s zuppa fagioli smelled exactly like my mom’s house at Thanksgiving. Plus it’s fairly loaded with pancetta, so you’re not just getting a bean and vegetable thing here. It pairs with the kale and white bean soup in terms of not necessarily being filling-meal-scale, but it’s up there in terms of density. I may well have to take a shot at making this at home sometime.
Speaking of ancestral relatives and their soups: oh dear Lord, Bill Telepan’s winter vegetable soup is like white borscht. In a good way. There’s lots of cauliflower and cabbage in it, with the intent to satisfy. The broth is the thinnest of the bunch but in a pretty flavorful aspect thereof. It’s a meatless soup, so without cheating and using cornstarch or other thickeners, I could see that it’d be tough to make a big satisfying soup. Do this one with a sandwich, though. Even with a large I can’t see this soup being filling if you have a normal grown adult’s appetite.
Nick Anderer’s minestrone is a bit of an odd bird to me. I grew up on the canned crap and grew tired of it over the years, with the side effect of never, ever ordering it. I’ve never had good minestrone so this may or may not be a good example, but there wasn’t any pasta in this one. It DID have an amalgam of the ingredients from the kale/white bean soup, spinning off with a tartness that felt more at home from winter veg. The broth carries a reddish tinge almost to dark coral in color with a vinegary tang on the back of the palate. While I can say I liked it, I can’t say how on par it was to minestrone.
I’ll be honest: the big drawback to these soups is that they are not permanent additions to the Hale & Hearty menu. The new location will have the same everyday and rotational soup offerings and the usual sandwiches and salads. The current promo is just that – a promo – with the chefs retaining intellectual property rights to their recipes. A shame we can’t get kabocha squash soup year-round, a double shame on the winter vegetable borscht wannabe. These are good things to try for a short period of time, but it’s going to take a lot for Hale & Hearty to overcome the great titan of soup quality, Soup Spot, in terms of appeal other than the H&H near you having delivery options. It’s at least worth a shot on the kabocha squash soup, though – if there’s a not-to-be-missed item, this is the one.
The + (What Nietzsche’s Söupermensch would say):
- There’s some inventive and delicious soups to be had.
- Nice to know that legit chefs are throwing in their lot to improve chain food!
- Soup for charity!
The – (What Soup Nazi tourists and Soup Spotters would say):
- There’s only one soup for one week… now I gotta cram all this kombucha soup!
- Hale & Hearty is still too dang expensive.
- Two of these soups are way too close to each other!