Soups are a perfect default dish. You can nibble on one when you’re not really that hungry, have a cup to kick off a meal, or relax with a luxurious bowl in a nice bar with a good glass of wine after a tough day at work. On the other hand, soup can be a chunky, spicy, noodley, brothy meal in itself. Luckily for us, Charleston offers a generous array of liquid delights that don’t require ID or a designated driver.
One conspicuous gap in this list that longtime City Paper readers may notice is Coco Café’s mushroom veloute, an old standby and personal favorite. Damn that Francois, he took it off the regular menu and now it only shows up as the occasional special. If you visit, bug him and tell him I said to put it back on, please!
Cream of Roast Garlic and Parmesan
at Twizt & Fulton Five
$4 per cup
James Island. 520 Folly Road. 762-4722; Downtown. 5 Fulton St. 853-5555
This soup falls squarely into the “relax with a glass of wine” category. It’s not much more than a silky, decadent combination of Parmesan cheese and cream — and is laced with the slam-dunk of all foodie narcotics: truffle oil. It’s easy to make a meal from the first section of the menu at Twizt, and this soup should be part of whatever combination you choose. Upgrade to a bowl if you’re hungry, but stick with the cup at Fulton Five — the rest of the menu’s too rich to miss.
Truffle Potato Soup
at 39 Rue de Jean
Downtown. 39 John St. 722-8881
If soup wanted to be a milkshake, this would be it. The soup starts with a perfectly smooth potato purée — and I mean no lumps. Lots of cream, another shot of the addictive truffle oil, a few snipped chives, and you’re on your way to fatville. Back in the bad ol’ Atkins days, dreams of this soup would wake me from a deep sleep. If you really want to carb out, have this with Rue’s other great accomplishment, the pommes frites — but that would be going overboard. Just make someone else order them so you can have a few.
Tom Kha Gai
$8.95, serves 2
Downtown. 460 King St. 724-3490
The Tom Kha Gai served at Basil takes an entirely different crack at a creamy soup. Coconut milk, tangy lemongrass, savory broth, and chunks of chicken offer a much lighter version of the other heavyweights on our list. Slivered onions, tender slices of chicken, and bits of button mushroom make up an Asian classic. The little cup served at lunch is nice, but the bigger serving for two (or more, as a starter) is much more fun in its big metal bowl over a flame, spooned out by the server for each guest.
Tempura Udon &Nabeyaki Udon
at Shi Ki
$11.95 & $12.95
Downtown. 334 East Bay St. 720-8568
This is an enormous bowl of soup, with fat udon noodles, rich, savory broth, an assortment of Asian veggies, including pickled daikon radish as a condiment, and two 4-inch crispy tempura fried shrimp. This pile of steaming starch and broth is better eaten in the restaurant, as the tempura shrimp don’t travel too well. The Nabeyaki, however, is ideal for bringing home on a lazy weeknight. It’s packed with shrimp, large scallops, and a forgivable chunk of fabricated crabmeat, in addition to the fat udon noodles and a poached egg. They seem expensive, but are worth the money — and they also come with those silly but lovable iceberg lettuce salads with the ginger dressing.
Roasted Corn Soup
at the Mustard Seed
Mt. Pleasant. 1220 Ben Sawyer Blvd. 849-0050; James Island. 1978 Maybank Hwy. 762-0072; Summerville. 101 N. Main St. 821-7101
The Mustard Seed is such an old Charleston faithful, it would be silly not to include the chunky roasted corn soup with a petite crabcake smack in the center. Just spicy enough, and quite filling, the soup is crowned with a perfectly browned crabcake that is crispy on top and bottom, and tender in the center. This is one that can definitely make a meal, particularly if you split a salad with a friend.
at Five Loaves Café
Downtown. 43 Cannon St. 937-4303; 372 King St., inside Millennium Music. 805-7977; Mt. Pleasant. 1055 Johnnie Dodds Blvd. 849-1043
This is a great solution for the indecisive lunch person, and for a light lunch is pretty satisfying for under $4. Five Loaves’ soup menu changes every day, so this combo is also useful for keeping up with Chef Casey Glowacki’s newest creations. Usually there’s a tasty tomato bisque with crabmeat, a red pepper puree with polenta croutons that is herby and delicious, and something that’ll stick to your ribs like potato or broccoli (or maybe even both) with cheese.
Downtown. 167 East Bay St. 720-8504
For the depressing Wednesday night after-work-I’d-like-to-pretend-I’m-on-vacation situation, you can sit in the lap of luxury at Cypress for about $20. The lobster bisque (pictured on the cover of this issue) is like a cashmere sweater in a bowl with a deliciously tender broach of sweet white shrimp. A good glass of wine and a tip take you to the $20 mark and an hour of the ultra-cool bar with its view of the impressive wine collection and spectacular kitchen can fix even the most out-of-sorts mood.