Happy New Year! Welcome back to my monthly-ish missive recapping highlights from the 37 soups I slurped in December.
If I have another passion beyond food, it’s the written word… not mine, per se. I mean reading.
Most evenings you’ll see me in a restaurant, with a soup spoon or fork in one hand, and my Kindle in the other. I mention this because nothing makes me identify more with an author’s characters than having those characters eat, and I’m especially invested when the character is eating a food I’m fond of—or even better, the learning moment I experience when they consume something I’ve never heard of.
Pepper Soup at Jambo Africa Restaurant
One of my favorite soups this month is one I’ve read about countless times, with variations in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, and Liberia. Found at Jambo Africa Restaurant in Brooklyn Park, Pepper Soup was, for me, the realization of imagination. Jambo’s version of Pepper Soup is both very savory and spicy, and is served with either fufu (a pillowy plantain mash) or rice, additional pepper seasoning, and a paste of okra and peppers that really kicks up the heat. The meat in the soup comes on chunks of bone, so it’s a very tactile experience, which I always enjoy. – Jambo Africa Restaurant, 1601 Freeway Blvd. #1756, Brooklyn Park
House Special Soup at Keefer Court
Another of this month’s standouts can be found at Keefer Court. Though this cash-only West Bank Chinese bakery is known for having enough buns to satisfy Sir Mix-A-Lot, their House Special Soup definitely satisfied me. It’s a noodle soup with a tasty shrimp and pork bone broth loaded with char siu pork, roast duck (sometimes bone-in), and wontons that, like the broth, are made of shrimp and pork, and absolutely worth the short walk from the Green Line or taking a bus from downtown to Cedar-Riverside. – Keefer Court, 326 Cedar Ave., Minneapolis
Chongqing Spicy Noodle Soup at Magic Noodle
If you haven’t been to Magic Noodle in St. Paul, you probably haven’t had my favorite Szechuan wontons in chili oil in town, or their amazing Chongqing Spicy Noodle Soup, which was another favorite soup this month. It’s got layers of flavors and textures that remind me of a traditional Mapo Tofu entree, plus it’s a lot of fun to slurp the hand-pulled noodles. – Magic Noodle, 1337 University Ave. W., St. Paul
Chicken and Biscuit Soup at The Brickhouse
Another soup that’s routinely available has become a homey and comforting favorite outside the loop in the Cities’ northern suburbs. The Brickhouse, located in downtown White Bear Lake, delivers each serving of a Chicken and Biscuit soup in its own Le Creuset crock. Loaded with chicken and vegetables in a flavorful not-too-thick broth, it reminded me of chicken pot pie, chicken a la king, and of course chicken and biscuits all at the same time, but still stood on its own. It was so good I didn’t even think about the drive on the way home. – The Brickhouse, 4746 Washington Square, White Bear Lake
Lamb Neck Pho at Yia Vang’s Slurp
The only soup that might not be available on any given day is this Lamb Neck Pho from Yia Vang.
Normally stationed at Sociable Cider Works with his Union Hmong Kitchen outfit, Vang has been doing semi-regular Friday pop-ups at Lowry Hill Meats. These aptly named “Slurp” pop-ups feature various Thai, Cambodian, and Vietnamese soups with Hmong-inspired flourishes. The broth on his Lamb Neck Pho is velvety smooth from the reduction, with a good amount of star anise and clove. News recently broke that he’s going to be opening his own brick-and-mortar soon called Vinai. Here’s hoping his bowls, especially this very enjoyable one, might find a permanent home there. – Slurp Pop-up at Lowry Hill Meats, 1934 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis
Future editions of this soup round-up will find me mixing finds from out of state and out of the country with local highlights to get us through the winter. If you want to see the full roster of soups I’m eating daily, follow along on my Instagram, @jdhovland.