Indications that the cold and flu season is upon us are made evident by the amount of people applying copious amounts of hand sanitizer, and those buying soups at the grocery store. One way or the other, cold weather or a cold may be in our near future. Time to ladle up. Here are some of the best soups in town.
You can always find a great cup of soup at Berrybrook Farm, 1257 East Blvd. The soups change almost daily and a schedule is posted. One of my perennial favorites is their West African Peanut soup, although only made about once a month. Freshly ground peanuts and a spicy vegetable juice are blended with sweet potatoes, carrots, a clod of ginger, chives, onions, and peppery cayenne — not enough for heat, but enough to know it's there. The Greek lentil soup is also worthy of a go.
Probably the healthiest and most filling of the soups offered around town is Vietnamese pho. Charlotte has many restaurants which feature this soup. Although most people don't differentiate the regional differences, pho, typically a breakfast choice in Vietnam, has a broth that's either a velvety northern style or a feisty southern. Diners then customize their soups. Ben Thành Vietnamese Restaurant, 4900 Central Ave., has a notable pho with a fragrant cilantro-scented beef broth hinting of star anise and laced with noodles. The soup can be ordered with paper thin slices of rare or well-done steak, brisket, tendon, tripe, or in any combination. The pho is presented with a platter of holy basil, quartered limes, crisp bean sprouts, and slices of jalapeño, which are then added to the soup.
Tomi Restaurant, 7741 Colony Road, is the only Taiwanese restaurant in the region — maybe the state. The brothers Cheng, Kevin and Ben, have been producing the sparkling flavors of their high-end Asian food for years. Taiwanese cuisine has some of the cleaner flavors of Cantonese-styled Chinese cuisine blended with the umami of Japanese cuisine. This is not the all-you-can-eat, crank it out on the buffet line, unnatural red sauce Chinese food. The food is exquisitely prepared. If you enjoy food movies, it's the food in Ang Lee's classic Eat Drink Man Woman. One of Tomi's best soups is the hot and sour soup brimming with baby shrimp.
Although not officially a soup, the piquant lentil stew (miser wat), loaded with ginger, mustard seed, garlic and cardamom, at Meskerem Restaurant, 601 S. Kings Drive, is a weave of flavors that begs for a thick spongy piece of surprisingly sour injera. I had been concerned when the restaurant changed hands last summer, but the new owner, although new to the restaurant business, is trained in the hospitality business and the service aspect of the restaurant has improved.
On one of those icy cold days, I ducked into Halcyon Flavors from the Earth, with its glammed up, er, naturalized American Craft Movement interior, beside the Mint Museum. Halcyon is owned by Jill Marcus and Karen Teed of Something Classic Catering. The chef is Marc Jacksina, once a co-owner of LuLu's. While French onion soup may seem simple, it is possibly one of the most difficult to get right since there is no mercy shown from a broth. Here, sweet soft onions steeped in a rich broth are buried beneath a gooey cheese crust. This French onion soup is quite possibly the perfect foil for winter chills or ailments.