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Soup's On 

A sampling from restaurants around town

Flu season is upon us. Time to ladle up a cup of soup.Soup, in one form or another, is the main meal event throughout much of the world. Soup fills the stomachs of the poor and was a solution to leftovers long before the development of food storage. Soup can be found on most restaurant menus. Many are changed daily; others prefer to have a regular cast of characters. Here's a round up of 10 notable soups found in Charlotte restaurants.

You can always find a great cup of soup at Berrybrook Farm, 1257 East Boulevard. A monthly schedule is given for the primary soup, but two soups are served each day: both warm in the winter, a warm and a cold soup in the summer. Thursday is always chili day. The selection and recipe development of the soups is left to the kitchen team: Wayne Thomas, Betty Henderson, and Cherie Perreault. One of the best soups I have had in Charlotte was their West African Peanut Soup which used freshly ground peanuts and a "spicy veggie juice" base and contained a meld of sweet potatoes, carrots, ginger, chives, onions, and cayenne. The end result is dynamic. This soup is not a regular soup for them, but it should be.

Vegetarian Vegetable soup is a regular offering at Lupie's Cafe. This luscious wholesome soup arrives brimming with just about all the vegetables in the kitchen: green beans, mushrooms, onions, broccoli, celery, potatoes, peas, and corn to name a few. A daily soup special is offered as well. Of note is their Portabello with white rice and large slices of "shroom. Soups are only $1.95 and $2.35 and are served with packets of saltines.

The best Black Bean soup in town is created by co-owner and cook Elsie Fernandez at Siboney Cuban Restaurant on Pineville-Matthews Road in Pineville. Black bean soup recipes vary widely across the Caribbean, but this soup, thinner than Puerto Rican black bean soup, delivers flavorful spoonfuls and is complemented by Cuban bread.

If you like cheesy onion soups, then downtown's The Capital Grille is your place. Although this "gentlemen's club" restaurant is best known for their massive, expensive dry-aged steaks, their crock of French Onion Soup, $4.50 at lunch, is second to none. This soup has a thick mantle of jarlsberg and mozzarella melted over a densely flavored broth filled with a tangle of onion slices and cubes of bread. This soup is the perfect foil for a winter's day.

The classic Brunswick Stew of the Carter family at the Old Hickory House on North Tryon Street is worthy of a go. Carter uses an old Georgia family recipe that adds day-old Texas bread, buttered and toasted, to thicken up the stew which, by the way, is devoid of lima beans, a component in Tar Heel Brunswick stew. "You can eat it with a fork," notes Carter. The remarkable flavor of this stew comes from the dark, hickory-smoked meat. This stew is reasonably priced at $1.30 for a cup or $2.65 for a bowl, but they also sell it by the pint, quart, or up to 15 gallons. Carter said he ships 10 gallons to a customer in California on a regular basis.

If you didn't grow up with barbecue, an updated version of Brunswick Stew may appeal to you more. Something Classic, which has daily soup specials, offers a light Chicken Brunswick Stew with pulled chicken, large slices of unpeeled new potatoes, tomatoes, corn, lima beans, rosemary and garlic in a chicken broth for $4.50.

Asian restaurants provide some of the best soups around. One of my favorite winter soups is the Fisherman's Soup from Mr. Le's Taste of Asia Vietnamese, 9626 Monroe Road. His restaurant may be small, but his flavors are big. This soup will handily feed two for $6.15. Made with shrimp, although chicken can be ordered as well, the taste is a kaleidoscope of sharp, sweet, and savory. Large shrimp and fresh pineapple bob with slices of celery, bamboo shoots, tomatoes, and cilantro sprigs in a tamarind-laced broth. Chilies may be added for some heat.

Shun Lee Palace in Cotswold has survived decades in Charlotte. Their Won Ton and Hot and Sour soups are perennial favorites. The latter maintains a yin and yang balance, a marriage of opposites both sharp and sweet in flavor and texture. This is a rare achievement for only a buck fifty. Another older Charlottean restaurant, Restaurant Tokyo on South Boulevard, excels at producing foods with a clean, clear taste. Such is the case for their Su-Udon, $6.50, a simple soup with large strands of noodles immersed in a delicate broth.

Last on the list, but certainly one of the best soups in the city, is found at Pho 98, also on South Boulevard. The restaurant's namesake soup is excellently produced. Pho is a north Vietnamese soup, commonly eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, that has a complex, velvety, cilantro-scented beef broth laced with noodles. Paper-thin slices of rare or well-done steak, flank steak, brisket, tendon, and tripe in any combination may be added to the soup. Pho is presented with a platter of fresh herbs, quartered limes, crisp bean sprouts, and slices of jalapenos. Soups are priced $5.55 for the large (which is more than a quart) to $9.95 for the extra large, even bigger.

All of these soups are available for take out if you, too, find yourself with a bout of this year's flu.

Eaters' Digest
Shrimp and grits is a sell out in Vermont. Sous chef Hugh Horner, who trained with Tim Henderson at Vidalia & Grapes, added this Southern dish to the menu of The Waiting Room in Burlington just after Christmas. He reports "It has become a craze. A lot of the customers have never seen grits before, but now we are selling out. We serve them at dinner for $22 and at brunch for $14. One week yellow stone ground, the next white." General Manager and Charlottean Will Dawson, who used to work at the Meeting House, is responsible for bringing Horner and subsequently grits to Burlington. For years Ben & Jerry's has won approval from food lovers here in Charlotte; it seems turnabout is fair play.

Do you have a restaurant tip, compliment, complaint? Do you know of a restaurant which has opened, closed, or should be reviewed? Does your restaurant or shop have news, menu changes, new additions to staff or building, upcoming cuisine or wine events? You can fax this information, at least 12 days in advance of event date, to Eaters' Digest: 704-944-3605, or leave voice mail: 704-522-8334, ext. 136.

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