Get Soupid: Train in Vain with Penn Station’s Soup Stop
Having zero connection to its similarly-spelled cousin at street level, Soup Stop occupies a corner of that not-quite-as-ugly-as-PABT commuter hell, Penn Station. I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t normally give this place the time of day given that it’s co-located with an outpost of the Chipotle/Qdoba/Baja Fresh competitor Moe’s Southwest Grill and a Jamba Juice wannabe, and doubly so when I know Soup SPOT is approximately 30 seconds away. Still, though, good soup is good soup, no matter its kitchen arrangements. Soup Stop is just that – smaller even than Soup Spot. Is it a connection you want to make from Penn or is it best to take the express elsewhere?
The selection is a bit limited and the prices are on the high end. Our random soup number points us at the jambalaya.
The Soup Stop operation occupies about five feet of retail frontage. The kitchen has some prep facilities visible but the soup is, as always, front and center here.
Taste: Okay, this jambalaya misses the mark but still hits a target. I’ve had jambalaya more than once when I was down in New Orleans a few years back, and while there’s tons of variations between individual chefs, it’s always had a big rice factor. No rice was present here, but it was still decently Creole influenced soup. This was all tomato-based with beef and sausage, no rice, and amazingly thick and chunky amongst other soups.
The richness and meatiness is there, there’s plenty of tanginess, but it feels like an immersion-blended hodgepodge of meat and tomatoes with many instances of oversize chunks of aromatics. Good things, yes, but not jambalaya. There wasn’t much salt to the dish and none to be seen at the counter or in the bag, and it really could have used some herbs to add an aroma in the mix. 3 out of 5.
Viscosity: Lots of meatiness and an unmerciful thickness wrought of the fats cooking out into the broth gave a big beefy flavor to the soup. In terms of thick soups, this one’s an odd bird. I can’t tell where a lot of the viscous components come from to make this so very thick. There’s a big stick-to-the-ribs character imparted from using so much meat as a base, and I like what they’re doing. There’s a very minor, modest amount of oil sticking to the sides of the container as the soup got eaten, and it’s not terrible. It gave no detriment to the soup and was probably a side effect of searing the sausage with the aromatics. In my humble soupy opinion, it’s one hell of a good thickness that comes out of this jambalaya – I just can’t figure out how, and that mystery element is a bit of an eyebrow-raiser. 4 out of 5.
Extras: Ordering up, they threw in a handful of packaged saltines. “Well,” I thought, “it’s bare minimum.” Then out came a bottle of Dasani. Okay, cool, free beverage of choice, right? Nope, just good ol’ dihydrogen monoxide. This verges into nitpicking, but how tough is “it comes with a free drink – what would you like?” to incorporate into taking my credit card and handing me a bag containing soup, crackers, napkins, and a spoon? Plus, no options for other stuff on the side. If it’s soup and literally nothing but soup, no other options, nothin’ – it’d be good to throw some variety in there. 2 out of 5
Value: This was $7, and it felt like a little more than the normal 16-oz containers that constitute a large around these parts. It feels like a good chunk of soup, but put to the test of “is it worth it?” it feels wanting. Yeah, the drink is nice, but what if I’ve already got a bottle of something left over? Why not just cut the price and not do free beverages? That way I could get two smalls and be full as hell, but even this meaty jambalaya pastiche left me kinda hungry about two hours later. $7 and change gets you a soup, fruit, bread, and half a sandwich upstairs at Soup Spot. The quality difference is worth it alone, but the quantity difference is a stark, bare contrast. 1 out of 5.
Overall: I’m fairly torn. Quick service and convenience are decent enough to factor into the experience but I still question the soup credentials here. Crappy crackers don’t help much, to be sure, but they try. When the authenticity of the soup it in question but the service is good, what does that do to an “experience” of soup anyway? I have to set the quantification aside as best as quantification can be set aside for soup and go with my gut on this one. For effort and at least the basics – not getting shouted at, huzzah! – I have to go solid middle ground for Soup Stop. 2.5 out of 5.
Final Score: 2.5 out of 5. Sometimes what you want doesn’t work out. Your jambalaya is an okay pastiche of jambalaya but it’s not actually jambalaya. It’s pricey, but it’s got a buck worth of bottled beverage. Which you didn’t get to pick. But it was fast and hot, and convenient, and it certainly didn’t suck. “Didn’t suck” doesn’t mean “amazing soup,” though. I liked the meatiness and chunkiness, so it’s obviously a step above generic deli dreck, but Soup Stop doesn’t compare to Soup Spot or even Hale & Hearty in terms of overall soupiness or quality. In such a small space, with such a small facility, there’s only so much that you can do.
Would I tell you to go out of your way to Soup Stop? No. But if you’re hungry and really in a rush, and the line at Chickpea is too damn long, you’re in and out with a hot bowl of soup. If it’s cold winter rain or snow upstairs, there’s worse to be had for higher prices in or around Penn. Just do yourself a favor – budget five minutes, five measly little minutes, to swing by Soup Spot up on 31st before you give these guys a shot. Try them both if you’re into soup, don’t let me dictate your slurping. But take my advice – there’s a real reason these two similarly-named establishments have very real differences in line length at peak lunch hours.