Get Soupid: ML Comics Issue #351 – SoupMan vs. The Masked Contributor!

After being accused of being a “poser-critic,” which I take in the jest it was (hopefully) intended, I feel the need to establish that I am not a bandwagon-jumper-onner commercialized-celebrity-chef-basher out to encase the Midtown Lunch readership in veiled propaganda. My only agenda is to contribute information and do the best I possibly can to separate my opinions from empirical facts, data, and observations. I feel the need to clear my name and I could think of no better way to do so than through soup. Let it not be said that I am a poser who just takes cheap shots at easy targets. Rather than demand a duel on the field of honor, I’ll let a review speak for me. I’m going to put Al Yeganeh’s Original SoupMan to the Get Soupid test. I’ll refrain from snark, cheap shots, bashing, and maybe even poorly flowing sentences. When it comes to flowing, I paraphrase Dune and the fictional Yev Kassem: soup must flow! Soup for you!

Our target Soupman location is at 6th and 38th. Sandwiched in (or souped up, pardon the pun) with a Tim Horton’s and Tastee D-Lite, I present without comment the option to get donuts and ice cream with your soup. I have yet to go to any SoupMan location for soup or taste their principal soupy product. Neither in a restaurant nor their commercially available product at grocery stores. While my soup loyalties have lay elsewhere for some time, it’s high time to put the other big soup chain to the magnifying glass.

The Souperator random number generator’s dice rolls say that it’s lobster bisque for us today. Top of the heap at $6.99, I’m seriously hoping it gets served with a lobster claw just comically sticking out. The selections do rotate daily, and while the options aren’t as staggeringly varied as Hale & Hearty or the soon-to-be-reviewed Soup Spot, you’ve got some options. Woe upon me that I didn’t get mushroom barley, but we did a mushroom soup at H&H. Alas, from chaos the option comes and unto chaos shall we abide.

Taste: There’s real seafoodiness here. Not a crab stick to be found, and although a bit chewy, it was loaded with seafood. Dense and rich, this is creamy in the best possible way. The base constituent veggies are there in sight but not in taste – as drivers of the seafood, they work well. I want desperately to like it but I’d also like to not have to frequently apply dihydrogen monoxide to clear up the seriously high salt factor of the soup. The lobster bisque is billed as the stuff that made the Soup Man famous to begin with and it’s rightfully good, but those who need to watch their salt should think twice or order small. I really, REALLY want to like this but the salt is a huge, omnipresent force in the flavor, more than it should be. 4 out of 5.

Viscosity: They couldn’t have nailed it any better even with a nail gun that has a sniper’s scope, bolt-down stabilized tripod, GPS leveling, and a 32nm laser zeroed in by a master armorer. The soup has a great mouthfeel without being chalky or heavy, and it’s not at all too light. Many other bisques try and fail at this but end up being just a broth with cream added for color and naming rights.

It doesn’t leave behind too much thickness on the spoon and has an unctuous (where else but a food blog or the SATs would you ever be even able to USE the word “unctuous?”) weight that breaks well and clean on the palate. It could be easy to thicken the soup more by boiling it down more during cooking, cornstarch slurry, etc., but this gets it right. This is the exemplar of how a bisque should look and feel in terms of viscosity and I’m going to find it hard to get it out of my head. 5 out of 5

Extras: Okay, so let’s dispel the myth: I didn’t have to pay $3 for the bread. I didn’t have to pay anything for the bread. It was free with the soup, as was a Lindt chocolate (what I’d give for the option to pick white chocolate if it was available – haters to the left, it’s my favorite, I know it’s not “Real Chocolate” but it’s what I like). Looks like they’ve abandoned giving fruit out as an extra as some previous Yelpers had noted.

I didn’t think that Hale & Hearty’s bread was the greatest but this bread was just a poor extra. It was too dense to soak up any soup and darn near flavorless. You’d think brown bread would have some kind of rye or pumpernickel tang, but you’d be thinking wrong here. The chocolate’s a nice touch but after such a salty meal, I’m still going for the water. I wish there was a plum or some other non-banana fruit so it’d balance out the palate and throw some much needed acidity into the tongue after so much salt from the soup. But hey, it was Lindt, which doesn’t suck. Still, though, Hale & Hearty’s stronger bread offering blows this out of the water.3 out of 5

Value: See that above? That’s a langostino tail. Anyone with a Costco membership will see these bad boys frozen in packages for usually $11ish per pound, all ready to go – no shells, nothin’ but the meat. THAT is how they get you. Looks more like a crayfish tail, doesn’t it? It’s mostly because langostino are more or less prawns, or shrimp, or something closer to their crawdad cousins than bigger Maine lobsters. I leave the debates over sustainability and the humanity of cooking live lobsters to others, but this is pretty darn marketing-ployish to sucker in with lobster and deliver a cheaper alternative.

Without speculating further into the ingredient costs going towards the slightly more expensive seafood bisque, the 8oz cup is fairly filling for a soup. It is chunky with the langostino and flavorful. The bread is basic brown stuff. The salad is at least romaine lettuce. For $9.78 before tips and a drink, it’s not really a great value for Midtown Lunch. The soup alone does come with the bread but at $6.99 for the soup and $1.99 for the tiny side salad, it’s a quick real-seafoody fix if you don’t care that this is not Maine lobster. It’s just not a bang-for-your-buck proposition here. 2 out of 5.

Overall Touristy trappings and clinging to Seinfeld aside, the soup isn’t bad. Service was quick and friendly, it didn’t have any convoluted ordering methodology (which is ironic given the Soup Nazi label) and of course, the soup is good. We’ve already covered my issues with the value but I can’t really complain about the experience. Organized and orderly packaging, quick and efficient service… it’s what you expect from a chain. Sure, there’s a lack of personality but I’m pretty sure that unless you’re the kind of person who wants to see Al Yeganeh himself shouting at people, you’d be doing so as you step off a Gray Line double-decker. Samples were handed out frequently and gratefully, both to me (who wishes the random number generator let me order the mushroom barley soup – it was freaking amazing, but just as salty as the bisque) and to the two people in front of me who couldn’t make up their minds. When you don’t get hassled for asking to taste soup A, then soup B, then C, and then A again once more, it’s decent service. 4 out of 5.

Final score: 3.6 out of 5. Color me surprised (and hopefully less poser) at how much I found myself wanting to like Original SoupMan’s soup. It’s really, really damn tasty but it hits the right places for too brief a time and turns into a salty kibosh. Moreover, it’s not done at a price point that endears ML friendliness. Yes, this is the most expensive soup on the menu for our review, and the others are cheaper, but even with that it’s just too small to be called a good value. Going bigger means you are paying $9 for a 12oz bowl of soup. Go non-lobster unless you’re on an expense account, pair it with a salad, and you’ve got something. You aren’t jumping through hoops to order it either, and you’re on your way. Good for a quick food experience. Great for soup – but when you taste it, you’ll wish you bought a bottle of water. You’ll need it. When Larry Thomas doesn’t shout at you as you may have otherwise hoped and dreamed, you gotta at least enjoy the soup.

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