Nothing slays a heat wave like a spoonful of chilly soup, and it’s one of the best ways to showcase the natural bounty of all the produce that’s in season. I’ve been admiring a wide variety all summer long, from endless riffs on gazpacho to other cold-broth delights that go well beyond that familiar Spanish inspiration.
A number of restaurants that offer a complimentary shot of soup to welcome guests have simply set their kettles to “frosty” to counter the swelter. At Vernick Food & Drink (2031 Walnut St.), a demitasse of pureed summer squash blended with tomatillo gazpacho was like a depth charge that cooled my whole body after a stressful rush to make our reservation. Bright acidity from the tomatillo, as well as a tiny side of warm corn bread flecked with caraway, were key to unlocking its flavors. The soup shot changes daily, if not weekly, depending on what’s in season, and should be heading in a corn or melon direction soon. A four-bell shooter is also the norm over at Vedge (1221 Locust St.), where Rich Landau and his vegan crew have been making golden beet borscht and a sunchoke variation on vichyssoise (essentially chilled potato-leek soup). The earthy ‘choke is so vivid, even with a chill, that it lingers on a wave of cumin and the crunch of sunflower seeds.
Of course, these two are so good, they’re a tease — unless you have enough nerve to keep requesting multiple freebie shots. For the record, both places will also sell you a full bowl. But there are other places that deserve mention!
Some of the newest restaurants in town have gotten into the cold soup action. I love the iced-down effect that tomato-horseradish ice has on chef Michael O’Halloran’s green gazpacho with crab at Bistro La Bête (1703 S. Ninth St.). At Elwood (1007 Frankford Ave.), chef-owner Adam Diltz went with an herbed vichyssoise as the canvas for his naturalist flower shower of edible buds and tiny herbs. At Ambrosia (231 S. 24th St.), one of the several new Italian restaurants near Fitler Square, the kitchen has been serving a creamy cucumber gazpacho special that reminded me of spoonable tzatziki.
Not all cold soups are vegetarian. I recently ate a wonderful variation on Korean mul naengmyun at Southgate (1801 Lombard St.), whose cold beef broth was filled with chewy buckwheat noodles, crumbly beef, and snappy-sweet Asian pears that added up to perfect summer harmony. It reminded me, though, of some more traditional renditions at other Korean restaurants (like Dubu in Elkins Park and the original Seorabol in Olney) that satisfy with funkier spice, slushy cold sauces, and even stretchier sweet potato noodles that require serious chewing. The cold summer borschts of Polish Port Richmond and Ukrainian Northeast Philly can also be both beety and beefy.
The chefs at Royal Boucherie (52 S. Second St.) took the scenic cold soup-with-fish route with a gorgeous crudo/gazpacho mash-up of cubed raw albacore swimming in a sea of pink watermelon jus. This dish wasn’t simply beautiful, it was also stunning to eat and quenching to drink, with a flicker of raw Japanese ginger on the finish.
If all you really want to know, though, is where to get a good gazpacho, Philly has plenty. Oloroso (1121 Walnut St.) serves a classic Andalusian version braced with sherry vinegar and fruity Spanish olive oil. At Parc (227 S. 18th St.), the new menu’s gazpacho is redolent of roasted peppers but also benefits from the added tang of the fresh-baked rye bread used to thicken it. Year-round soup master Peter Dunmire at North Third (801 N. Third St.) juices up his gazpacho with watermelon, smoked paprika, micro cilantro, and queso fresco crumbled over top.