This year’s Souperbowl at Artsquest’s Musikfest Café was another resounding success resulting in a sold out crowd for the third year in a row. We were judges yet again this year, sampling some 45+ soups.
With the move to the Artsquest building from the Banana Factory Artsquest afforded itself a lot more space than in the past. The narrow hallways of the Banana Factory made for a difficult time getting around with soup in your hand. With the new, bigger space more attendees were able to partake. It was crowded, however not nearly as obnoxious as in years past. Other bonuses to the move were more table space for standing and eating as well as a cash bar to enjoy a beer with all of the food presented.
Aramark, the caterers that do the cuisine for the Artsquest center, cooked up an exemplary pork and mushroom dumpling soup. With a flavorful broth dotted with spicy heat and a perfectly cooked, small dumpling in each sample cup the Aramark team went on to win the ethnic category.
Also in the ethnic category, Cactus Blue out of Bethlehem had an interesting take on a pork carnita pozole. It had a refreshingly tangy spice that took the palate by surprise.
The Tilted Kilt had easily the worst soups available. A smoked lamb colcannon soup had overcooked, extremely gamey lamb with a watery, flavorless broth. Their fire roasted tomato basil was reminiscent of watered down, heated up V8 juice and their oven roasted butternut squash & apple soup elicited the quick notes, “Watery. Crap. Horrible.” All three were quickly deposited in the trash after initial tasting. The Tilted Kilt might do better employing an Easy Bake Oven than whomever or whatever they used to cook these soups.
Cathy’s Creative Catering, usually producing an award-winning soup, didn’t pull through this year. She did have a sausage white bean carrot that was exemplary, however. If this one was up to us this would’ve won bed cream-based. When we tried it we immediately thought, “Wow, finally someone that can make a good bean and sausage soup.” For years we’ve been tasting takes on bean and sausage and they’re always riddled with whacky flavor or bland. Two years ago Blue Sky did a rendition that won an award but was not nearly as great as Cathy’s recipe this year. Cathy’s also had a pizza soup that was, well, exactly like eating a pizza. Pizza sauce topped off with melted cheese with soft bread to scoop it up with. Optional crushed red pepper was available and a nice touch.
The Curious Goods at the Bake Oven Inn produced the winner for best cream-based with it’s respectable Quack and Cheese, a really tasty duck-ridden soup with a hearty cheese base. The Gander Room out of South Bethlehem really killed it this year. First up was a roasted garlic and potato soup that was thick, hearty, and ended with an extremely garlic-ridden punch to the tongue. They then pulled out the coup de grace and took the overall winner (as voted on by the attendees) top prize with their fragoladi amore soup. This creamy strawberry concoction was adorned with a chocolate biscotti to scoop it up. Very desserty, but also well-done.
We weren’t much of a fan of Jumbar’s usually tasty food. The soups they had were a pureed root vegetable Farmer’s Soup and a curried yam. Both were on the insipid side. Their only redeeming factor was a passable chilled Apple Vichyssoise soup. Miguel’s Restaurant & Lounge packed up with about an hour and fifteen minutes left in the event which left us scratching our heads, soupless.
Molly’s Irish Grille brought two meat-ridden, thick soups. The first was a cheeseburger soup which we felt didn’t compare to past contestants’ cheeseburger soup recipes and elicited a “meh” from us. In fact, Molly’s won last year for their Cheeseburger Soup but this year it seemed much duller. Their chili, however, was a different story. This really came as no surprise considering their excellent showing at last year’s booze-ridden Spring on 4th Chili Festival. A moderately spicy, dark red base allowed the chorizo in Molly’s Chorizo Campus Chili to shine. The other judges on our team wanted to award the Copperhead Grille the meat-based award, however we argued against that. Their chili tasted strongly of ketchup with spice and contained big, overcooked meat chunks that lent to a wholly unsavory texture.
Another newcomer, Strange Brew Tavern, produced two soups for the competition. We found their dark brown “brew stew” to have some funky flavors and weren’t big fans. Their Reef’s Tomato Bisque, on the other hand, was fresh, flavorful, and like getting slapped in the face with a whole load of bright, lively tomatoes.
Blue Sky Café, winners last year for their blueberry soup, fell short this year. Three things we really love? Beer, cheese, and soup. Blue Sky combined the three to make a cheesy porter soup that tasted like neither cheese nor porter. Their other soup, an old fashioned chicken noodle soup, was like they took a can of perfectly good Campbell’s and desalinated it.
The beer and cheese soup saviors at the Hampton Winds were there to save the day. Hampton Winds, a perennial favorite among judges and the crowd, always brings their A-game. With a huge staff of teachers and students working on the soups throughout the day they produced a fantastic Cheddar Apple Beer Soup. The tartness of the apple paired with a rich cheese flavor and backed by a light malty texture (probably originating from the Guinness boxes that they were toting their wares in) was all we needed to deem this one the winner for the vegetarian category. But they weren’t done.
They had a Turtle Soup as well. Initially we thought, “Awesome, turtle soup! There’s no one in the area that really makes that.” We were a little more than disappointed to find out the name was a mere play on words and they had constructed a dessert “shooter” based on a chocolate turtle. We really considered this a cheat as it wasn’t really soup (no spoons? What the hell!). It wasn’t particularly great, either. It tasted like (and was) a straight shot of caramel with a hint of chocolate, made crunchy by a whole pecan topping, and punctuated by sea salt. Next time just bring a real turtle soup, eh?
Hops Fogelsville & Hops at the Paddock brought probably the spiciest soup there, a southwest potato soup that had quite the kick to it. Their cheesesteak soup was really poor, looking more like a cheese-laden tomato soup with meat thrown in than any cheesesteak we’ve ever seen. Newcomer DiMaio’s from Hellertown managed to take home an award. Their very surprising Stracciatella, an Italian take on egg drop soup, consisted of little more than egg, spinach, and broth, but it didn’t really need it. It was flavorful and simple, just like the best Italian food should be. They ended up taking home the most original award.
So what can we take away from all of this? The main thing is that obviously sweet, chilled fruit soups are very popular with the crowds. With Blue Sky taking home 3rd place and most original last year for their blueberry soup and this year the Gander Room taking home the top prize for their chilled strawberry cream soup, it’s no doubt that it’s a winning route to take. We just hope everyone doesn’t hop on the bandwagon in future years and we end up with a ton of copycats. The other main thing we can gleam from this is that the Hampton Winds just kicks all sorts of ass in soup making. They took home three awards this year, culminating in a record total of 6 awards over the three years the Souperbowl has been running.
The one suggestion we’d like to make for next year? Put a moratorium on establishments bringing the same soup two years in a row. The Hanoverville Roadhouse won for the second year in a row with the same soup and Jumbars brought their curried yam for the second year in a row. Copperhead brought their chili, which won an award last year and somehow devolved into this year’s messy offering, yet again. The Gander Room re-entered their roasted garlic potato soup for the second year in a row as well. Not only will this keep attendees interested in trying new soups, it will also force establishments to be more creative and push their envelopes further than they have in the past. But that’s just our opinion.
Below is a list of all soups served in their respective categories. The winners are bolded.
Aramark – Pork & Mushroom Dumpling Soup
Benner Street Restaurant & Bar – Mexican Tortilla Soup with Grilled Chicken
Cactus Blue Mexican Restaurant – Pork Carnita Pozole
Hanoverville Roadhouse – Cuban Black Bean
Iron Lakes Country Club – Sopa Gallega
Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery – Smoked Lamb Colcannon Soup
Aramark – Spiced Cream of Crab
Benner Street Restaurant & Bar – Crème de Mar
Cathy’s Creative Catering & Café – Sausage White Bean Carrot
Copperhead Grille – Shee Crab Soup
Curious Goods at the Bake Oven Inn – Quack and Cheese
The Gander Room – Roasted Garlic & Potato
Hops Fogelsville Hotel & Hops @ The Paddock – Shrimp & Scallop Bisque
Jumbar’s – Curried Yam
Miguel’s Restaurant & Lounge – Butternut Squash Soup
Molly’s Irish Grille – Cheeseburger Soup
Strange Brew Tavern – Reef’s Tomato Bisque
Blue Sky Café – Cheesy Porter Soup
Hampton Winds – Cheddar Apple Beer Soup
Hops Fogelsville Hotel & Hops @ The Paddock – Southwest Potato Soup
Jumbar’s – Farmer’s Soup
Morgan’s – Roasted Garlic and Eggplant
Blue Sky Café – Old Fashioned Chicken Noodle Soup
Copperhead Grille – Copperhead’s Red Chili
Don Pablo’s – Chicken Chili Soup
The Gyro Company – Chicken & Orzo Soup “Avgholemono”
Molly’s Irish Grille – Molly’s Chorizo Campus Chili
Strange Brew Tavern – Brew Stew
Thyme Restaurant & Bar – Sausage, White Bean, & Escarole
Wegmans Bethlehem – Curry Chicken & Apple
Cathy’s Creative Catering & Café – Pizza Soup
DiMaio’s Restaurant – Stracciatella
The Gander Room – Fragoladi Amore
Hampton Winds – Turtle Soup
Hops Fogelsville Hotel & Hops @ The Paddock– Cheesesteak Soup
Jumbar’s – Apple Vichyssoise
Titled Kilt Pub & Eatery – Over Roasted Butternut Squash & Apple Soup
Zoup! Easton – Chicken Pot Pie Soup
Cathy’s Creative Catering & Café – Crab Corn Chowder
The Farmhouse – Chicken Roasted Corn Poblano Pepper Chowder
Hanoverville Roadhouse – New England Clam Chowder
Morgan’s – Morgan’s Seafood Chowder
Thyme Restaurant & Bar – New England Clam Chowder
People’s Choice 3rd Place:
Hampton Winds – Cheddar Apple Beer Soup
People’s Choice 2nd Place:
Hampton Winds – Turtle Soup
People’s Choice 1st Place:
The Gander Room – Fragoladi Amore