Soup for You!

Soup for You!

The most surprising thing about Martin Scorsese finally winning that long-elusive Oscar for best director is that he did it without the benefit of any soup scene in The Departed.

What ignites the famously sensual eating orgy in Tom Jones (best picture, 1963)? Big, steaming pewter bowls of celery soup. "Gimme some soup, gimme some soup," pleads Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) to Joe Buck (Jon Voight) in Midnight Cowboy (best picture, 1969). Soup initiates dinner in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? (best picture, 1967). Tigris of Gaul (Sven-Ole Thorsen) gags, chokes, and then bursts into laughter after testing bean soup for former Roman General Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe) in Gladiator (best picture, 2000). This was director Ridley Scott's homage to Stanley Kubrick's bold bean soup scene in Spartacus (best picture, 1960), in which Kirk Douglas, as the title character, drowns Marcellus in a very large kettle of it. Forrest Gump (best picture, 1994): "Mama always said don't eat soup ... it will put a lake in your stomach." Soup's Oscar magic extends to foreign films as well. Antonio and Bruno stumble into a church-run soup kitchen in The Bicycle Thief (best foreign film, 1949), and Jen Yu (Ziyi Zhang) sups on shark fin soup at the inn, before tearing it and everyone inside it down, in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (best foreign film, 2000). There are numerous other examples, although it should be noted that Oscar soup scene aficionados disqualify the split pea spewing from Linda Blair's mouth in The Exorcist (best adapted screenplay, 1973) due to a technicality — it wasn't meant to be soup.

Soup has made its presence felt on the small screen, too, most memorably in the famous "Soup Nazi" episode of Seinfeld (1994). The character was based on Al Yeganeh, then the cook and owner of Soup Kitchen International on West 55th Street in New York. Al was indeed a surly soup seller, with an obsessive insistence in keeping the line moving. Those who ignored his rules of conduct — Pick the soup you want! Have your money ready! Move to the EXTREME left after ordering! — did so at the peril of being insulted, refused service, or both. Mr. Yeganeh closed his New York businesss in 2004, so that he could concentrate on franchising soup stores and retailing packaged soups nationwide. A couple dozen Original Soup Man franchises have already opened, including one in Aventura owned by locals Todd and Hope Stoller.


The Original Soup Man Cafe

20475 Biscayne Blvd, Aventura; 305-466-9033. Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Friday 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Sunday noon to 8:00 p.m.

Most people don't realize that for the decade preceding his Seinfeld infamy, the soup man was already something of a star — partly for his antisocial antics behind the counter, but mostly for the inarguably stellar quality of his premium soups. The New York Observer called Mr. Yeganeh "a soup auteur, the Truffaut of bisques and chowders." The brusque man's bisques, in particular, are what brought brisk business to his shop in New York, and are largely credited for swaying Zagat into ranking Al's soup kitchen with the finest of that city's snootiest dining establishments (then again, his seafood bisque did cost $30 a quart). There must have been a whole lobster's worth of lush, plush meat floating in the velvety, coral-colored rendition that I was served over the counter at the Aventura store — and I ordered a cup!

There are some 50 species of soup in the repertoire, all prepared in Piscataway, N.J. and shipped to the individual stores on a rotating basis. About a dozen offerings are ladled daily, the lineup encompassing at least one seafood bisque; one spicy Mexican-style chili; one clear broth-based soup (such as chicken noodle); vegetarian soups (tomato wild rice, black-eyed pea); fish soups (New England clam chowder); meat- or poultry-based soups (sausage gumbo, split pea with ham); a chilled soup (vichyssoise); and an ethnic specialty or two (mulligatawny, Italian wedding soup). Workers behind the counter will congenially offer mini tastings — while Yeganeh is aggressively involved in all aspects of the franchising process, he does not require his franchisees to display curmudgeonly behavior. There is no show here. Just darn good soup.

The flavors, like the soup man himself, are always assertive. A butternut squash purée bursts with smooth sweetness. Vegetarian broccoli and cheese soup percolates with hints of pepper. Turkey chili is flecked with corn, beans, ground meat, and a sonic kick of the eponymous spice. Chicken barley pleases with moist poultry and a clean, hearty taste. Occasionally there is nearly too much intensity, as with an Italian wedding soup generously stocked with mini meatballs, but teetering on the edge of saltiness.

The high quality of the ingredients is reflected in the prices. Twelve-ounce bowls go for $6.95 to $10.95, eight-ounce cups for $4.95 to $8.95, and quarts to go are $18.95 to $24.95. All high-end numbers refer to the crab or lobster bisque, which are chockablock with 22 percent shellfish by content. In-house soups get served in ceramic bowls, not paper ones, and all are accompanied by an apple (or other piece of fruit), either French bread or addictively delectable multigrain baguette, and a soupçon of Lindt chocolate. In sum, a very pleasant and satisfying little meal.

Besides these sprightly soups, the clean, brightly lit shop offers make-your-own salads (from a potpourri of salad bar ingredients and dressings), composed salads (such as caesar and cobb), and some mighty tasty sandwiches (like smoked turkey with brie and honey mustard on a baguette, and crusty panini with three melted cheeses). A great lunch combo features a cup of soup, half a sandwich, and a soda for three dollars above the cost of the soup. Plus you get your fruit and chocolate. There are smoothies, too, soft ice cream for dessert, and an unusually creative selection of hot and iced teas.

The Seinfeld show brought Mr. Yeganeh and his soup stand more notoriety than anyone could ask for. As it turns out, he claims to have wanted none at all. He says he was insulted by the "N-word," insists that he was the one who made Seinfeld famous, and frowns upon franchisees mentioning the comedian's name or "Soup Nazi" on packaging or promotions. Shortly before Seinfeld aired its last episode, Yeganeh appeared on Letterman and declared he was "glad that clown is going off the air."

On the other hand, with plans for about a thousand more Original Soup Man franchises (literally), you might say Yeganeh is snarling all the way to the bank. What an act! They really ought to give this guy an Oscar.

20475 Biscayne Blvd, Aventura; 305-466-9033. Open for lunch and dinner Monday through Friday 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Sunday noon to 8:00 p.m.


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