Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Soup Shack

The Soup Shack can be found at the Salem Farmer's Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays (April through October each year). They specialize in the classic comfort food: grilled cheese sandwiches and soups.

Several soups to choose from to take home. Their most popular? Tomato Basil.
I know the nephew of the Soup Shack's owners/servers (the nephew works with me at the Courthouse Athletic Club in West Salem). My co-worker told me to check this place out for the soups and the grilled cheese.

The servers were extremely nice. Today, they served two types of soup: (1) a ham, potato, and cheese soup; and (2) a minestrone. There were two types of grilled cheese offered: (1) a "dressed-up" grilled cheese with pesto, tomato, mozzarella, and American cheese; and (2) another dressed-up grilled cheese that included pastrami inside (along with the other ingredients in the dressed-up grilled cheese).

I was fortunate to get a sample of both soups and a traditional grilled cheese (just the cheese inside). The soups were both very good. On my sample of the ham, potato, and cheese soup, I could only taste cheese. The soup had a little thickness to it, probably due to the starchiness of the potato. A good soup if you are a cheese lover. I personally preferred the minestrone. It was light and flavorful, and it left me wanting a bowl of it. Would I pay $4 for a bowl of soup? Maybe on a cold, rainy day. Just not when the weather is nice.

Samples of grilled cheese sandwiches
The grilled cheese felt like an ordinary grilled cheese I could make at home for mere chump change a serving. It's not that the sandwich was bad. Bobby Flay stated it best on "America's Next Great Restaurant" (when one of the finalist's concepts was a grilled cheese business): grilled cheese is just so hard to pull off as the main concept (or even as a supporting role of) a successful business because it's cheap, many people can do it in their own home, and you really have to go completely outside the box -- take it to that extreme level in a good way -- to make people want to return. The same thing goes for soups. It's nice to have homemade soup, but in the long run, the soup has to be so amazing that you will get people to return. Has this place gotten return customers? I would bet on it, but how many, I'm not sure.

I'm also happy that they have an array of soups to choose from. They only seemed to be selling two with the sandwiches at the Saturday Market, which is a little disappointing. If you're passing yourself off as a soup shack, bring more than just two soups for your grilled cheese sandwich. Personally, the owners said Tomato Basil was their most popular (and I totally believe it)...why not serve that soup all the time?

If I had a say in things, I'd have at least 5-6 soups for sale, and perhaps one sandwich. I think a traditional grilled cheese works here, especially if the Tomato Basil is the most popular soup. I know it's summer time, but the place has to live up to its name...sell soups!

Overall, I thought The Soup Shack was a good-natured, honest, small business that serves good food. Unfortunately here, I wanted soup more as the star of the show. When paired with the grilled cheese, the soup became a supporting cast member. I know I'm nitpicking and being harsh here, but I'm like that with every establishment. While the soup may be a star when not at the Farmer's Market, it was not the leading actor of my experience. 6/10

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