One Shrimp Gumbo, Hold the Abuse
There's a whole bunch of marketing nonsense surrounding the Original SoupMan, a chain of casual soup-and-sandwich restaurants originating in New York. Most of it swirls around Al Yeganeh, the crusty soup vendor immortalized by the Seinfeld Soup Nazi episode ("No soup for you!"). While Yeganeh (who licensed his name and recipes in 2004 to a new nationally ambitious soup franchise company) and his spirit loom large over the restaurant's branding, Minneapolis is a long way from New York. For starters, the staff couldn't be nicer—even in the middle of a headache-inducing skyway lunch rush.
But according to the "Soup Nazi" theory, at least, the restaurant's soup (which varies in price from $4.99 to $8.99 a cup) should be good enough to justify a customer enduring abusive treatment at the hands of a petty dictator wearing chef's whites. In practice, the amount of abuse worth tolerating varies from soup to soup.
The five-bean soup, for example, is worth at least a muttered slur or an incident of brazen passive-aggressive behavior. Light, crisp, and generously flavored with oregano, the five-bean managed to be refreshing even in the August heat.
Garden vegetable soup, by contrast, isn't even worth tolerating a lackluster greeting; just turn around and walk out. Muddy flavors and the sensation that all the produce was wilted with age before being cooked make it a real disappointment.
Similarly, the lobster bisque is pretty far from legendary. At $8.99 for a cup (a cup!), it's pricey enough to set expectations high. Kudos for the creamy, mellow texture and very real-looking pieces of what presumably is lobster; what's lacking, however, is the sweet, oceanic taste of lobster itself.
The jambalaya is a different story, and worth paying for even if the counter clerk gives you the finger. It tastes fairly strongly of shellfish (a plus or minus depending on your personal taste) and has a nice, spicy bite that plays well with the crispy bits of green pepper floating amid the sausages. An Italian fennel soup was also quite tasty, featuring snappy-tasting sausages and ending on a bright note of fennel.
The menu changes daily, and the chain draws from a reservoir of about 50 soup varieties, so customers who pass the Original SoupMan on a daily basis could do quite well by getting accustomed to the menu and figuring out which $4.99 and $5.99 cups hit the taste-to-value sweet spot.
All the soups come with a piece of bread, fruit, and a Dove chocolate. That's a thoughtful touch that's either a triumphant flourish or a meek apology depending on the result of that day's game of soup roulette.
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