Dining and food culture in Chicago

Soup for You: Bucktown Soup Cafe dishes up a dream

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By Michael Nagrantchow

Those who can, do. Those who can’t, write about it. I don’t necessarily subscribe to that piece of wisdom, but I’m sure every cook who’s been on the blunt end of my keyboard strokes feels that way. And it’s true that if I had to go toque to toque with any of the Iron Chefs (save Cat Cora, I kid), I’d probably lose. But, given enough time and space, I’m a pretty damn good cook. And as such, I’ve been tempted to wade into the culinary business and test my practical mettle at times.

That being said, most of my theoretical restaurant concepts aren’t half as good as Roger Ebert’s screenplay for “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.” Does anyone really need a spot inspired by the Bennigan’s Monte Cristo that serves only sandwiches dipped in sweet fritter batter and deep fried? Probably not. However, if you are an interested investor, my email is pretty easy to find via Google.

In the late nineties, while everyone was doped up on the idea of opening clean well-lighted spots filled with steamy lattes and overstuffed mismatched furniture inhabited by Ross Geller and Rachel Green clones, I wanted to open a soup café. Back then, I was a full-on soup freak. For a short time in college I became what I like to call a supermodel vegetarian; i.e. I didn’t know anything about the horrors of commercial slaughterhouses or the alleged water and crop waste created by raising animals for food, but I thought being vegetarian would make me thinner and healthier. Of course, what I didn’t realize is that I’d end up consuming a quarter of the daily output of the Velveeta factory and double orders of super-sized McDonald’s fries as an alternative fuel source.

One of my saving graces during that time was soup. Then again, it was probably my downfall. While I avoided overt meaty options like Campbell’s Chunky Steak and Potato or split pea with gigantic ham bits, when it came to the question of whether chicken or beef stock had been used as a base, I played it like a gay man in the army during the Clinton administration, i.e. “Don’t ask. Don’t tell.”

There were plenty of great bowls, but the iconic one for me was the Bay Chowder at Ashley’s Pub in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I must have had a hundred cups of that creamy broth, perfumed with white wine and filled with diced peppers, before I graduated. Those who knew me then might suggest I had so many go-rounds because Ashley’s had more taps than a Gene Kelly movie. While it’s true I loved the beer, the chowder was a magical elixir I could count on to salve a Michigan cold front or another failed biochemistry exam. I did know it was made from seafood stock, but once again, in those days I hewed toward a sketchy conditional vegetarianism (you know who you are) where fish wasn’t considered meat.

But I’d reckoned that nostalgia for good soup did not make for a great business plan and gave up on the idea of opening my own joint. However, maybe I was just ahead of my time. The “Seinfeld” Soup Nazi Al Yeganeh has a killer line of nationally distributed “Soup Man” soups and stores. Michigan has a successful local franchise called Zoup, and locally, we have the Soupbox.

And now we also have the Bucktown Soup Café. Owner Dino Agudo is my kind of guy. Though he’s a Chicago native, he fell in love with the New York soup spots that sustained him while he worked as a lawyer. When he came back to Chicago to work as an Illinois assistant state’s attorney and a Cook County prosecutor (he laughed nervously when I suggested he maybe should have gone after some of his bosses), he found we didn’t quite have the same number of soup stores as Manhattan. So he opened his own spot.

Though the soups are made off-premises, they’re created from Agudo’s rotating collection of ninety recipes. They often include local ingredients, like the Michigan mushrooms in his hearty barley soup.

His tortilla and chicken displays a fiery smokiness from roast ancho chilis. His seafood gumbo doesn’t quite have a thick roux or enough spice to sate my personal tastes, but it’s a well-balanced brew. It better be good. They don’t sell sandwiches or salads at the Bucktown Soup Cafe. The only accoutrement you’ll find here is the hearty slices of Red Hen sunflower-seed-encrusted multigrain bread you get with each bowl.

As a sucker for seafood soup spiked with liquor, my favorite bowl at Bucktown Soup Café is the lobster bisque. Though I was risking third-degree burns should an angry cabbie decide to cut me off, the creamy brew’s sherry nose had me busting the carton open and drinking straight from it on the way home. A bowl like this is inspiring enough to get the old soup-entrepreneurship juices going. In all honestly, though, the bisque was convenient and tasty enough that I’m likely to stick to writing for a long time to come.

Bucktown Soup Café, 1840 N. Damen, (773)904-8364

2 Responses to “Soup for You: Bucktown Soup Cafe dishes up a dream”

  1. Jack Says:

    that was then,this is now.google yahoo 360,soup man,s blog….

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    Last updated Tue Nov 04, 2008 Member since October 2008
    MY BLOGROLL
    • AL YEGANEH
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    …………………………………………………………………………………………………………

    THERE (3) THINGS I HAVE NEVER DONE IN MY LIFE:………AL YEGANEH
    1 — I HAVE NEVER MADE ANY SOUP, CONTAINING ANY KIND OF NOODLE OR PASTA PRODUCTS.
    2 — I HAVE NEVER NAMED OR APPROVED ANY CHARITY FOUNDATION UNDER MY NAME “AL YEGANEH”.
    3—I HAVE NEVER APPROVED ANY KIND OF MERCHANDISING (T-SHIRT, MUG, ETC….) TO BE SOLD OR GIVEN AWAY…
    SO……IF YOU SEE:
    1— Any soup containing any noodle or pasta products with my name on, it is not mine.
    2 – Any charity foundation under my name (AL Yeganeh), it is not mine.
    3 — Any kind of merchandising with my name and photo on, it is counterfeit.

    THE ONLY PRODUCTS I EVER MADE AND AUTHORIZED TO BE SOLD.
    THESE 48 SOUPS ARE THE ONLY PRODUCTS, I EVER MADE AND AUTHORIZED, THE COMPANY WHO PICKED THE NAME “ORIGINAL SOUP MAN” TO OPERATE UNDER.
    . . ……………………………………………… THE REAL SOUP MAN, AL YEGANEH
    AS YOU SEE BELOW:
    I NEVER, EVER MADE ANY SOUP THAT CONTAINS ANY NOODLE OR PASTA PRODUCTS.
    IF YOU SEE ANY OF MY SOUPS CONTAINS ANY KIND OF NOODL OR PASTA, IT IS NOT MINE.
    *Chicken vegetable, garden vegetable, tomato & zucchini, tomato & basil
    Tomato & mussel, tomato & wild rice, broccoli & cheese, jambalaya,
    Italian wedding, mulligatawny, so many beans, Eggplant parmesan
    Minestrone, cream of asparagus, butternut squash (hot).Split pea w/ham
    Lentil, white bean w/ham & bacon.
    * Chili: CHICKEN, beef, turkey, 5 bean.
    * Goulash: beef, veal.
    * Bisque: lobster, crab, shrimp, seafood.
    * Chowder: corn, chicken & corn, Manhattan clam, New England clam, seafood.
    * Gumbo: chicken, shrimp, turkey, sausage, seafood.
    * Barley: chicken, beef, mushroom.
    *chilled soups: tomato & corn, vichyssoise, borscht, butternut squash, fruit cornucopia. Gazpacho, cucumber

    AL YEGANEH , SOUP MAN , NEW YORK,USA yeganeh1@aol.com
    NOTICE: TO MEDIA Who have misinformed public for last 4 years while I have been away from United States.
    In case you did not take a minute to call 212 757-7730,my closed store on 55th st. & 8 ave. Manhattan New York or have not checked my website ( http://www.therealsoupman.com ), I have created this blog for you to give the public, accurate, fair and balanced information to prevent any disasters.
    SINCE I don’t have AND never had any PR, spoke person and manager, I AM THE ONLY ONE WHO SPEAK FOR ME.
    If you visited my website or called my store’s voice mail, it says: I do not live in United States any longer (since March, 2005) and have not resided there for the last 4 years.
    And: I only sold the North America right to this company who PICKED the name “original soup man” to operate under.
    And: any inquiry regarding North America right including franchises, contact (email) THEM at: http://www.originalsoupman.com
    And: For rest of the world franchise right,
    Contact ME: yeganeh1@aol.com . AL YEGANEH, SOUP MAN

    Add SOUP MAN,AL Yeganeh’s Blog to your personalized My Yahoo! page:
    About My Yahoo! & RSS

  2. Rachel Says:

    The soup here sucks…watery. I won’t go back.

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