The excess of the holiday is fading as we all hunker down to the business of paying for those extravagances of purse and palate. January is time to rein it in and get back to basics, to economize and to choose healthy options to nourish ourselves.
A bowl of soup is the perfect winter food, best described by master chef and author Louis P. De Gouy in his 1949 classic “The Soup Book”: “There is nothing like a plate or a bowl of hot soup, its wisp of aromatic steam making the nostrils quiver with anticipation, to dispel the depressing effects of a grueling day at the office or the shop, rain or snow in the streets, or bad news in the papers.” De Gouy was a European-trained chef who studied under Escoffier and first learned to cook from his father, Jean De Gouy, Esquire of Cuisine to the Emperor Franz Josef, in the hallowed kitchens of the royal courts..
It was another time, another century, but here in State College there is a semblance of that great Austrian tradition right on College Avenue. Bernd Brandstatter also learned how to cook from his father, Herwig “Brandy” Brandstatter, and both attended the same Austrian hotel/restaurant school. Bernd makes a soup each day from scratch and guarantees that he sells it all out by offering a special of half-price soup between 3 and 5 p.m. Given that his standard $6/bowl price is a great buy for 16 ounces of homemade goodness, the special is wunderbar and well-taken advantage of by the “cheapskates,” as the irreverent Brandstatter jokingly calls his soup special customers.
One of Brandstatter’s personal favorites is the Frittatensuppe, a beef consommé with thin ribbons of savory crepe serving as the noodles.
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While there are many consommé-based soups served in Austria, with various kinds of dumplings or nudeln, this particular version is the most typical, Bernd said.
“This is THE Austrian Sunday soup,” he said.
Herwig’s menu changes every day, and the Frittatensuppe is not always available. The restaurant’s Facebook page lists the daily offerings.
Another outstanding ethnic soup is The Greek’s Avgolemono, an egg lemon soup that is delightfully creamy and loaded with chunks of the chicken that creates the delicious stock. The stock pot is on the stove pretty much all the time at the restaurant on Clinton Avenue, behind the original Waffle Shop on North Atherton Street, because the soup uses nine quarts of stock per batch and is made fresh three times a week. Owner John Dimakopoulos provides his staff with his family recipe from Greece, and the silken creaminess of the broth is from the Basmati rice; there is no dairy in the recipe.
Many local restaurants have their signature soups and plenty of loyal customers. Crab bisque is a sell out at both The Tavern and at Duffy’s. Gumbos are selling at Spats and at Gigi’s. The Red Horse Tavern’s New England clam chowder is popular and the Corner Room’s vegetarian vegetable is a staple. Harrison’s Wine Grill offers six homemade soups each day, and you can sample all of them if you like. At the Deli on Heister Street, their Soup and Chili Festival runs December through February with a dazzling 20 soup and chili offerings available.
And then there’s the “Soup Guy” in Lemont. Tom and Judy Everly ran a business called Keystone Yankee Catering for many years but now zero in on soup production for their listserv of subscribers. Judy sends out an email at the beginning of the week describing the week’s two or three soup offerings, and people respond with how much they want. Patrons pick up their soup at the Everly’s home in Lemont on Thursday between noon and 6 p.m. The soups are sold in glass Mason jars and prices are standard at $10 per quart and $5 per pint, plus tax, and there is always a vegetarian and a meat option.
Gluten-free varieties are getting more popular, said Everly, who has been selling soup by subscription for many years and now sells to about 50 patrons each week.
“Every community should have someone who provides this service,” said Everly, who is pleased to be able to make just the amount that he needs to make to supply his subscribers. “There is no waste. If I do have some extra, I take it to the Centre County Women’s Resource Center and give it to the hard-working volunteers there, too busy to make their own soup.”
His most popular soups are the cream of mushroom and the carrot ginger. Next week, to ring in the New Year, he will offer a hearty potato and sauerkraut soup, Hoppin’ John, and a lentil and brown rice gluten-free option. To get on the listserv or for more information, contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org. All the soup must be preordered by 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Make 2015 your healthiest year ever by eating more soup and you will agree with Louis P. De Gouy that “soup is cuisine’s kindest course. It breathes reassurance; it steams consolation.” And if you do make some yourself, share the love.