Last week reminded the Philadelphia community about how cold the city can get in the winter — especially with blustery winds. As the coldest time of the year quickly approaches, it’s time to turn the attention of this food column towards the cold weather staple food: soup.
Soup is a food that transcends continents, cultures and history, and exists in every nook and cranny of this world. When you first think of soup, what comes to mind? For many, the answer is different; thankfully in Philadelphia, there is a diverse and plentiful variety of soup offerings. There are plenty of places to satisfy your childhood cravings along with spots to expand your soup horizons.
The lowdown on the go-to soup destinations begins with the most classic spot to get soup, aside from home: a good deli. If you’re hankering for a cup or a bowl of nostalgic, heart-warming goodness, look no further than two Philadelphia deli legends: the Famous 4th Street Delicatessen and Schlesinger’s Deli.
Famous 4th Street has been serving up real deal deli fare since 1923, with insanely oversized portions and quality to match. Whether it’s matzo ball, chicken noodle, split pea or vegetable soup, Famous 4th Street will have lots of it. Their soups are known to pair perfectly with any half of their sandwiches, and that should be good to feed you for the day.
Schlesingers’s, on the other hand, has been around since the 1930s, beginning in New Jersey before making the transition to Pennsylvania. Their staples — the cabbage soup and beef kreplach — are truly Jewish specialties but they also have a chicken noodle and a veggie soup available. If you’re unable to make the trip all the way down to Famous 4th Street, Schlesinger’s is tucked away in the heart of Rittenhouse Square on Locust Street between 15th and 16th street.
If the goal is other classic or regional favorites, here is what you need to know: the destination for tomato soup seems to be Jones. As a Center City spot dedicated to Americana comfort food, they are also known for having one of the best non-deli matzo ball soups in town. The folks at Jones seem to have comfort food down pat.
If it’s a clam chowder that’s calling your name, check out Oyster House. They have both a New England and a Manhattan clam chowder — yes, there is a difference — along with a snapper turtle soup.
Two more cold weather favorites are the split pea soup and the french onion. If you’re looking for split pea, stop by In Riva, an Italian joint in East Falls, that makes the trip out there worth it for their pea soup with garlic and parmigiano. If the goal is a crock of french onion, consider Philly’s iconic Parisian gem, Parc. The all-day French restaurant is consistently ranked as having one of the best french onion soups in the city. However, there is another location worth noting: the Creme Brulee Bistro & Cafe. This South Philly spot is said to have righteous french onion soup.
Another restaurant making incredibly good soups with fall ingredients is Talula’s Garden, a Philadelphia staple with the utmost respect for local and fresh ingredients. Their ginger-scented butternut squash soup comes with a black pepper-buttermilk crema, a spiced crumble and an apple cider syrup, which sounds like the whole fall soup experience. They have been regarded as a highly delicious destination for over twenty years, and they are remembered for the care they put into their dishes.
While all of these soups are equally important to talk about, lest we forget about what resides in the heart of Philadelphia’s food scene: Italian food. When it comes to Italian soups, there are two spots — both of which are incredibly integral in the South Philadelphia community — worth mentioning: Ralph’s and Mr. Martino’s Trattoria.
Ralph’s Restaurant may very well be the oldest Italian spot in America, and they proudly continue centuries-old traditions through their cooking. Ralph’s is owned and operated by the fourth and fifth generations of the Dispigno/Rubino family, which settled in South Philly in the late nineteenth century. Since 1900, Ralph’s has been serving authentic Italian cuisine on South 7th Street. They have a rotating soup of the day, but it doesn’t matter what day it is; it’s gonna be soul-healing Italian soup packed with Philadelphia history.
For over 25, Mr. Martino’s Trattoria has done no-frills Italian fare. They are open only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, are cash only and are a BYOB that heavily encourages their guests to bring more than one bottle of wine to dinner. This South Philly gem is found at East Passyunk Avenue and Morris Street, and if you come here looking for soup, you will be directed to the only soup on the menu: the white bean. This family recipe is the only soup Mr. Martino’s will serve. They do things their way.
Finally, it is time to touch on some more obscure soup spots in Philly. The first stop is Noord, a South Philly spot cranking out truly out of bounds soups. Their big hitter is their mustard soup, which includes caviar, tarragon oil, rye croutons and a giant scallop. If that soup doesn’t quite strike your fancy, maybe their sunchoke bisque or their flemish farmer soup would be more in your wheelhouse. This place takes what you know about soups and throws it out the window.
Another place doing their own thing is Sophie’s Kitchen, which is the best place to get traditional Cambodian sour soup. If you are faint of heart or a non-adventurous eater, you need not apply. Only the brave should try their sour soup.
Finally there are two spots in Northeast Philly that deserve recognition, if not because of their names alone: Good Spoon Soupery and Soup Kitchen Cafe.
Good Spoon Soupery is a neighborhood spot in Kensington, and they feature a new menu daily to keep fresh ingredients and recipes at the heart of their meals.
Soup Kitchen Cafe is located in Fishtown, and their potato leek soup is the key to many of their patrons’ hearts. However, they also are said to have a legit chicken chili soup and a heartwarming classic tomato soup as well. The spot has something for everyone.
While the wintery colds will be coming in before long, soup no longer becomes an afterthought; it becomes a necessity.
Soup will begin to move to the forefront of restaurant orders, and if there’s anything to take away from this soup-filled restaurant drop, it is that Philadelphia is a good place to be for soup.
Tune in next time for the breakdown of Philly’s ramen and pho scene, and the overwhelming love this city has for its noodle bowls. That’s all!
Disclaimer: This article did not include ramen and/or pho. There will be an entire week dedicated to noodle soups. Be patient, folks.