I'm a big pre-Michael-Richards-racist-rant Seinfeld fan. I remember the 1995 airing of the "Soup Nazi" episode, arguably the single best show of the entire nine-year series. And I'm clearly not the only one who does.
An entire franchise has been launched nationwide based off of the real-life "Soup Man," Al Yeganeh, and his longtime Eighth Avenue and 55th Street New York City shop.
I considered that a testament that Yeganeh's soups really are that good; after all, a mere sitcom-inspired gimmick wouldn't have lasted this long.
When the Tejon Street franchise opened at noon on April 30, I was third in line, curious to see if 100 folks would stampede for the advertised "free gift bag." While I lingered, maybe 50 people assembled, civilly.
I also wanted to see if owner and Hurricane Katrina evacuee Debra Canale and her crew would be ladling out any sass with the soup on day one; on the Web site and store wall are posted Al's rules, which stipulate, "The line must be kept moving," in accordance with the attitude that inspired the Seinfeld spoof.
As it turns out, at least one tradition has died through the franchise. But I actually appreciated a few seconds to pick my soup without guff.
I started with a cup of the famed lobster bisque ($7.95) and added a tomato, mozzarella and basil sandwich to make it into a combo meal (adding $3 to the price). That included a hunk of bread (white or wheat), a piece of fruit (apple, banana or orange), a small chocolate treat and a drink.
The bisque was simply transcendent so good that I didn't care that it comes ready-to-heat-and-serve from corporate. Upon first bite, everything became clear to me: This was why people stood in line in the rain in Manhattan ...
But while the soup far exceeded expectation, the bread offended. Good soup demands good bread. Superb soup demands outstanding bread. What I was tearing into was a loaf's throw from Wonder Bread. Though franchises come with many rigid stipulations, Canale did tell me she was able to choose her own local bread purveyor.
Emphatic suggestion: Change bakers. The only bread I know of in town that can stand with that bisque is baked by Shawn Saunders of Shawn's Bakery. Whatever he wants, pay him. Or hit up Great Harvest or La Baguette. Go with anything besides what's being served. Serving soup of that superiority with bread of that ilk is like popping a rare vintage Bordeaux to be savored with a block of Velveeta.
Sorry. But the soup demands it.
In followup visits, I tried another half-dozen concoctions, including a delicious Cuban black bean, a solid lentil, the rightfully notorious Mulligatawny (an Indian soup complete with lots of spices, nuts and fruit), a butternut squash bisque and the other rotating specialty soup, the crab bisque, loaded with real Alaskan king crab.
Although a bit pricey a comment made by everyone I've talked to all of the soups were terrific, and the special ones proved completely worth the upgrade.
That said, just how Big Apple prices (starting at $4.25 per cup) will fly in Little London will be something to watch over the long haul.
I don't speculate we'll see a line around the corner every day, but I do think a niche market and town staple have been born.
\\> The Original SoupMan
10 S. Tejon St., 635-SOUP (7687)
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Closed Sundays.
Soups rotate daily, among 50 varieties; smoothies, salads and wraps also served.