How can something so seemingly simple be so complex?
On its surface, soup is nothing more than a bowl of liquid with ingredients added. But scratch the surface.
It can be a rich, velvety smooth, cream-based stew with plump Virginia oysters. Or a thick, bountiful bowl of tomato-based chowder with Chesapeake Bay blue crab, chopped vegetables and Old Bay Seasoning. Or a heartwarming broth with tender navy beans flavored with strips of Virginia country ham.
We always love a good soup, but this time of year, as days get shorter and shadows get longer, and when the air has a sweet crispness to it, almost apologizing for the hazy, hot and humid summer, we crave a good soup.
And we also admit to playing favorites. There are some soups easily identifiable with the commonwealth, and when we find one on the menu, we feel compelled, as good Virginians, to give it a try: Brunswick Stew. Clam Chowder. Oyster Stew. Peanut Soup. She Crab Soup.
But we don’t limit ourselves to just these. It’s a big world out there, and there are many great soups to enjoy. We’ve whittled our long list down to just five fabulous ones to share with you here:
She Crab Soup
Mannino’s Italian Bistro
This is a soup that has been enjoyed in the low country regions of America—including Coastal Virginia—for generations.
It’s thick and rich; in fact, this thickness and richness that makes the soup a close cousin to a bisque, but there is no reason in splitting hairs. Another minor point at hand is that the name comes from when a primary ingredient of the soup was crab roe, which typically isn’t used any longer.
One of our favorite varieties of this very special soup comes from Mannino’s Italian Bistro. Chef/owner John Mannino’s rendition includes large amounts of succulent crabmeat swimming in a rich and creamy base and accented with warm spices; we think we detect some nutmeg.
A spoonful of this soup first crossed our lips almost a decade ago, and we’ve been in love since. The soup is so popular that it was the first inductee in the She Crab Soup Hall of Fame at the 2015 East Coast She Crab Soup Classic held in Virginia Beach.
Mannino’s has locations in Olde Towne Portsmouth and in Kempsville and the Oceanfront in Virginia Beach. Visit ManninosItalianBistro.com.
Evidence of soup-making goes as far back as 20,000 BC when found pottery showed early humans enjoying a broth-based meal.
Maybe it was a soup filled with hearty lentils, a forever favorite, which was even extolled centuries ago by the ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes who defended the soup’s honor with the comment, “You, who dare insult lentil soup, sweetest of delicacies.”
We’re pretty sweet on it too, especially the version from the Turkish eatery, Pasha Mezze.
The soup is classically done: perfectly cooked lentils, toothsome to the bite, fill the bowl in a richly fragrant and well-balanced, seasoned pale tan broth. The earthy qualities from the legumes shine in this beautiful bowl. The word sublime comes to mind.
Each spoonful is a delight, and gorgeous pita triangles used to sop up it up makes it good to the last drop.
Pasha is at 340 W. 22nd St., Norfolk. Call 757-627-1318, or visit PashaMezze.com.
Chicken Noodle Bowl
Chicken noodle is a time-honored soup, not just here but around the world; a nicely seasoned broth with chicken, vegetables and starch (dumplings, noodles, rice and the like) can be found in many different cultures. It is the epitome of comfort food.
And we take comfort in chef/owner Anne Galante’s version on this classic concoction. There is broth, and chicken and noodles—yes, but what a wonderful and creative use in this bowl.
One commonality with our childhood memory: large pieces of perfectly cooked chicken afloat in a beautiful, savory harvest gold broth.
Here’s the riff: cilantro ginger, green onion and kimchi all come to the party as does Japanese-style buckwheat soba noodles, cooked al dente. The earthiness of the noodles is a gorgeous addition.
You can even have a poached egg added on top—why not?
The Stockpot is at 700 19th St., Virginia Beach. Call 757-995-7197, or visit StockpotSoups.com.
Stove the Restaurant
As a devotee to Chef Sydney Meers since his wild and crazy days at the old Dumbwaiter restaurant in downtown Norfolk more than two decades ago (of course, he is still wild and crazy) this Deep South native’s Étouffée has long been a favorite of ours.
Etoufee is a delightful dish, usually rich with crawfish, shrimp or other shellfish, served over rice, largely associated with Louisiana Cajun cuisine.
The name is French, meaning “smothered” or “suffocated” coming from the technique of cooking the meat and/or vegetables in a covered pan over low heat in a small amount of liquid, akin to stove-top braising. The meat/vegetables are then added to a thickened stock—with a blonde roux base—and served either over rice or with a timbale of rice atop.
Syd’s version is our favorite in the world. The rich, thick stew is filled with jumbo shrimp and his house-made “Smoochie Bear” ham, a take on tasso. Smoked tomato joins the fun, and everything is served over sticky rice studded with jalapeño.
Our advice: grab a spoon and loosen your belt—you are in for a treat.
Stove is at 2622 Detroit St., Portsmouth. Call 757-397-0900, or visit StoveRestaurant.com.
Pumpkin Crab Soup
Todd Jurich’s Bistro
The Pumpkin Crab Soup is a longtime visitor to Todd Jurich Bistro’s autumn and winter menus.
This is autumn in a bowl. A rich, creamy puree of roasted pumpkin and chicken stock is enriched and thickened with milk and then flavored with warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and star anise.
How does it get better? The soup is studded with generous amounts of jumbo lump crabmeat. Atop that are croutons, their crispness a wonderful textural contrast to the soup, seasoned with cinnamon and Old Bay. A sprinkling of chopped parsley and a touch of paprika oil make it even more gorgeous—and delicious.
When Jurich’s Pumpkin Crab Soup isn’t available, we swoon over the Eastern Shore Oyster Stew, a rich, creamy concoction served over mashed potatoes and garnished with artisan bacon from Benton’s as well as a smattering of chopped chives.
Todd Jurich’s Bistro is at 150 W. Main St., Norfolk. Call 757-622-3210, or visit ToddJurichsBistro.com.
A Restaurant By Any Other Name
Ordering soup out at a restaurant? Isn’t it ironic, Alanis Morissette would say.
The name restaurant itself comes from a filling soup offered in France in the 16th century as a restorative—places to go in, order and sit and enjoy these restoratives became known as restaurants.