Get Soupid: It’s Post-Holidays Bloat, Bistro Marketplace!
We all know that feeling. One Oreo truffle here, a slice of ham there, and next thing you know, you look and feel like this guy. Yes, we’ve all had some point over the holidays – if not these, then surely in the past – when we’ve eaten too damn much. If you’re like me and one of the poor schlubs who wasn’t allowed to burn off vacation at the end of the year, you came back into the office between Christmas and New Year’s full of bloaty self-loathing. Fortunately, the miracle of soup is there for us. It’s cold out, and we feel like crap. Sometimes the thought of too much food is just a sandwich too far. When it’s too cold to walk a few blocks and you just don’t care the local generic deli will suffice, so long as you leave a small part of your soul at the door. Leave we did indeed: it’s time that we take a look at the soup offerings from Bistro Marketplace, one of those generic delis. Food-halls the like of which Heorot was to mead, they have a little bit of everything including soups. Let’s take a look, shall we?
Three soups were on offer the day we visited. The Souperator random number generator says after four rolls of a theoretical three-sided die that it’s to be chicken noodle for us.
Good thing too, because last I checked, chicken gumbo is not supposed to have beans.
The tomato vegetable looks like it may be a bit better if you overlook the obvious canned pre-cut green beans.
Here’s our official Get Soupid spread. $9.32 before tips got us a large soup ($4.49) and around a half-pound of string beans from the hot food. Around $4.50 for the half-pound of beans puts the deli prices at $9/lb. “I feel like a pound of food for lunch,” said nobody ever. Is it at least a good soup accompaniment?
Taste: There’s a lot of ways to make a chicken broth suck and this one seems to avoid the worst pitfalls, save for the inevitably damning salt content. There’s a real chickeny, herby flavor to the broth. There’s maybe even a little bit of garlic in there, which isn’t too bad of a boost to chicken broth. It doesn’t taste like sick-people watered-down crap. While I doubt there’s a stockpot with chickens in the back being used to make this stuff, whatever they do to embellish the basics comes through nicely. The aromatics have lent a good flavor, so it looks like the veggies aren’t in there just for show.
Speaking of the veggies, I was really pleasantly surprised to get a nice barely present crunch out of the carrot. My personal veggie-in-soup preference is that they not be cooked until they’re more digestible mush than flavorful ingredient, and Bistro leans the same way so far. Same goes for the noodles – not fallaparty schlubs of flour/water long ago mixed, they have just enough body and al dente to be really, really enjoyable. I am not a noodle style purist so I note without comment that these are not curly egg noodles, just some flat kind. Nevertheless, they make the soup work quite well. 4 out of 5.
Viscosity: You’d think it’s hard to nail a brothy soup on thickness. To be honest, there’s a few points where it can immediately lose points – and the two go together like the proverbial peas in the equally proverbial pod. The viscosity and mouthfeel of the chicken noodle soup here doesn’t quite work out right, mostly because it’s really kind of thick. On the scale of pure water to almost-ready Jello, the broth here is a bit too close to the Jello side of the aisle. It’s still in decent broth state to be sure, but it clings too easily to the spoon and felt a little off in the mouth, causing a bit of a thick, salty mouthfeel after a spoonful.
Dangerous proximity to X-ratedness aside, it’s still just barely within the tolerance levels for a broth-based soup offering. I’m willing to attribute this to maybe increasing viscosity thanks to the noodles being cooked with the broth and steeped in a steam table without enough turnover, but take my advice, Bistro: if you’re using a cornstarch slurry, break it off. Very much not worth it. 3 out of 5.
Extras: Cold Sysco dinner roll or tiny packet of oyster crackers, take your pick. If you’re less scrupulous and more dextrous you could probably palm a couple extra pieces. You won’t really want to, though – the bread is there to occupy space and round out the meal, not to be good. The coldness of the bread is immediately manifest when you dunk it into the soup and it falls to pieces, retaining none of its bulk or, dare I say it, breadth.
The bread itself is flavorless. It’s been sitting out all day but it’s still freaking cold. This was made elsewhere. It is not optimal. It’s not even good. The oyster crackers are standard commercial stuff. I wouldn’t even bother.
The only real extra here seems to be a matter of inventory or anti-theft control: the cashiers give you the utensils you need, which has been standard generic deli fare for most of the places I’ve been to. So you’re spared having to double back for a fork.
I dunno… when Hale & Hearty can at least provide decent stuff, it seems tough for a big generic deli to not spare some time and oven space to do good bread or rolls, or at least outsource them from someplace other than Sysco. 2 out of 5.
Value: “At least it’s cheap” should be the watchword but oh, how mistaken we would be. $9.32 after taxes and before tip got a good chunk of chow. Plus you’re not stuck with soup or a salad, which is the one advantage a generic deli still holds. Yes, it is a hotbed of lunch-surrendering appeasement-minded indecisiveness, but there’s still options. The large soup being $4.50 is on the mid to high end of costs, and the half-pound of garlic-sauteed string beans was pretty dang good to have as a side.
Considering that it’s self-serve, meaning you can cram ingredients in and to hell with broth, you could at least get a filling dose of chow here. The extras options are present and spread across the spectrum in terms of type and flavor, but still, it’s not really getting what you pay for in terms of the soup. 3 out of 5.
Overall: This isn’t quite an issue of taste, viscosity, value, or extras: it’s a question of overall experience. It’s a question wherein the specific soup can be attributed as its own baseline. Thus, this is quite possibly one of the biggest chicken soup pitfalls I’ve ever experienced. You see those photos? Do you see zero piece of chicken? That’s right, there’s not even dessicated flavorless white meat in there. After a few spoonfuls I dug through and confirmed my suspicions: with the few big self-serve scoops of soup I took, making it big and chunky with ingredients, there was ZERO chicken. Statistically speaking if there was chicken I was bound to get at least ONE piece, but nothing came of it.
When I make avgolemono at home like the Greek grandmother I never had (and would have a lot of ‘splainin to do if I suddenly had a Greek grandmother) I use a whole damn chicken and pull off pieces once the chicken’s cooked out into the broth. Almost every spoonful has a chunk of chicken meat. This made me want to go straight the hell home and spend the day making avgolemono. The experience of the soup may be a bit overblown if I say it completely negated a quick, decent retail experience and a very wonderful $3 credit card minimum, but I can’t say that the entire thing is null and void because of a lack of chicken. I can, however, rightfully slam the experience down. 1 out of 5. (It isn’t a zero, at least)
Final score: 2.6 out of 5. There’s things that our generic deli did right, but a good chunk done wrong. The most glaring of them: NO CHICKEN IN THE CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP. Seriously, it’s hard to do something wrong at such a fundamental level and still end up with a decent product. Any acclaim I give to the soup is basically kind of legitimizing the generic deli’s appeal: breadth, plain and simple. You have options here. It is not a Soup Place, and they do produce soup, but it isn’t great. Then again, it’s not a Place for any of the other cuisines a generic deli produces. You’re not going to get THE BEST sushi, just sushi. If you are okay with that then you will be okay with the soup here. But if you’re craving something soupy and delicious, save your crave and go elsewhere. Even SoupMan gives you chocolate and really good soup. Get the chocolate for the price you pay.
Get Soupid returns next week with a hope to break away from the generic and chains for a visit – check back to see where the ladle dips next time!