Besides a signed picture and letter taped to the window of the storefront from actor Larry Thomas, there's little of his Seinfeld character -- the Soup Nazi -- about Stone Soup. In fact, owner Ilya Goldberg goes out of his way to bring people into his shop. Well, in might be stretching it a bit.
Goldberg sets up shop outside the actual restaurant, which in total probably takes up less space than an average New York apartment bedroom. It is tiny, with room enough for a minuscule kitchen, a shelf holding big black crocks loaded with soup, and a few feet of prep space to assemble salads and sandwiches. That's why you order and pay at a folding table set up outside the front door of Stone Soup, and order off a sandwich board with the day's specials written in chalk. That's why you eat at the tables set up on the sidewalk stretching between the restaurant and the juice bar a couple of dozen feet down the block.
I'd like to praise Stone Soup, for both its pluck in keeping a business going in such a Lilliputian storefront and for repping a foodstuff that deserves wider treatment outside of the desultory options commonly available in most restaurants. Soup, after all, is good food. Or can be.
Problem is, good is about as far as Stone Soup's wares get, and not all of the soups make it even that far.
The tomato is a prime example. It is one of the simplest and most iconic soups, although that simplicity means it has to be done right or else the flaws are readily apparent. Stone Soup's version illustrates that, with a texture that is more grainy than smooth, and flavor that almost guarantees it was made with fresh tomatoes -- not because it tastes fresh but because it doesn't taste like much at all. Under-ripe or poorly grown, these tomatoes weren't worthy of a soup that relies on them being at their best.
Chili is better, made in a generalist way that doesn't lean too heavily on any specific style. There's roughly ground chicken instead of beef, seasoning that's apparent but not overblown, and enough chunky vegetables to straddle the line between soup and stew. Gumbo is also a capable soup here, the broth packed with rice that's soft on the outside and crunchy on the inside. Although flavorful, there's not much else in there, so the rice provides a necessary bit of texture.
Stone Soup's lobster bisque, however, returns to the level of the tomato soup. The cream in the soup almost seems like a vein of fat within the thin broth, almost broken free but not quite able to escape. The ground lobster sunken at the bottom of the bowl includes tiny bits of shell and chew membrane. More rustic than elegant, it's a soup that deserves better treatment.
Strangely, if you order sandwiches at Stone Soup you'll likely have a better meal. They're all built on Cuban bread and griddled on a press -- if you want -- each simple enough to be almost foolproof, especially the ones made with the restaurant's moist grilled chicken. There are also tasty Greek salads complete with a dollop of rich potato salad, each one easily a meal. If anything, you'll just order a cup of soup as a side dish to your main course.
Maybe Stone Soup's problems have more to do with the cramped location than Goldberg's recipes. If so, his soup is about to get better. He plans on moving the restaurant down the street to a space near King Corona, where he'll continue his soup and sandwich theme while expanding the menu into those big, Northeastern grinder subs that have french fries stacked on top of a mound of meat.
No oil, though. Goldberg wants to air-fry those potatoes, part of the same progressive attitude that has him donating all the leftover soup at the end of the week to local shelters. He's already signed the lease for the new space and expects to open the new spot in just a few months.
Until then he'll spend his time sitting outside his little restaurant, pulling people off the sidewalk and onto his patch of pavement for a cup of soup and a sandwich.
Editor's Note: The aforementioned Stone Soup Company in Ybor is not to be confused with the Stone Soup Restaurant and Pub in St. Petersburg.
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