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Food & Drink

South Side Soup Contest guarantees to warm your belly

Candy Williams
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South Side Soup Contest volunteers wait for customers at the 2018 event.
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A long line of soup samplers forms at Hometowne Sports, one of the host locations at the 2018 South Side Soup Contest.
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Jesus Martinez
Crema de Chayote (Pear Squash Cream Soup)
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A snow squall couldn’t stop soup samplers heading to another restaurant at the 2018 South Side Soup Contest.

The popular South Side Soup Contest that brings more than 1,200 participants into the Pittsburgh neighborhood for an afternoon of soup sampling is taking a cue from Disney World with the modification of its VIP ticket to include a FastPass feature.

“This year’s VIP FastPass ticket will allow ticket-holders to avoid the line,” said Tracy Frank, spokeswoman for the Brashear Association, one of the event organizers along with South Side Chamber of Commerce.

While general tickets were sold out more than two weeks before the event, a limited number of VIP tickets for $100 were still available for the 15 th South Side Soup Contest from noon to 3 p.m. Feb. 16. Additional amenities include a pre-event reception from 11 a.m. to noon, valet parking and VIP stops along the tour route.

Frank said besides showcasing South Side businesses and restaurants, the event raises funds for the Brashear Association Food Pantry and programming at the South Side Chamber of Commerce Welcome Center, located at 11th and East Carson streets.

Lots to try

A total of 23 restaurants will be participating this year, including three South Side eating establishments taking part in the contest for the first time: Bonfire Food and Drink, Cilantro y Ajo and Terrene.

Other restaurants include: Café du Jour, Carmella’s Plates and Pints, Carson City Saloon, Cupka’s Cafe II, Dive Bar and Grille, Double Wide Grill, Emiliano’s Mexican Restaurant, La Palapa, Le Petit Chocolat and Café, Local Bar + Kitchen, Mario’s South Side Saloon, McCormick and Schmick’s, OTB Bicycle Café, Piper’s Pub and The Pub Chip Shop, Ruggers Pub, The Smiling Moose, Thai Me Up, Tres Rios, Twelve Whiskey Barbecue and The Urban Tap.

Part of the fun of attending the Soup Contest is voting for the best in four categories: People’s Choice, Best Vegetarian, Most Unique soups and Best Host Location.

Award winners

Two restaurants scooped up the 2018 awards for their soups: Cafe du Jour won People’s Choice with its Wild Turkey Stew with Potato Gnocchi (aka Gnocchi on Heaven’s Door), while La Palapa won Best Vegetarian, Most Unique and People’s Choice Runner Up awards for its Crema de Chayote (Cream of Pear Squash).

Jesus Martinez, partner at La Palapa Mexican Gourmet Kitchen with Jose Luis Navarrete, partner and head chef, said their Crema de Chayote soup is a special menu item they serve often in their restaurant, made with Chayote squash they buy from a Mexican grocery store in Oakland.

This year La Palapa will be serving its Habas Bean Soup, (Sopa de Habas) made with Nopal cactus, also known as prickly pear cactus.

Martinez said he looks forward to the annual soup contest, which gives participants an opportunity to experience the community and restaurants such as his, which offers “a different face to Mexican cuisine in Pittsburgh, made from traditional homestyle and authentic recipes.”

Chris Cook, lunch chef at Café du Jour with Paul Krawiec, owner/chef, credited the weather in part for their soup’s People’s Choice award last year for its Wild Turkey Stew.

“It was a cold day and this was a nice, warming hearty soup,” Cook said. “One gentleman told me, ‘When I think of soup, this is what I think of.’ ”

Cafe du Jour’s entry this year will be Cuban Style Pork Shoulder and Black Bean Soup topped with mustard crumbs, Swiss cheese and pickled peppers.

“It’s like a Cuban sandwich, only in a bowl,” Cook said.

Nonperishable food items for Brashear Association’s Food Pantry may be donated during the South Side Soup Contest. Frank said the food pantry provides food and other commodities to more than 1,000 low-income individuals and families every week at its two pantry locations in South Side and Arlington.

The two chefs shared pared-down versions of their 2018 winning soup recipes:

Cafe du Jour Wild Turkey Stew with Potato Gnocchi (aka Gnocchi on Heaven’s Door)

Serves 6-8 people

2 turkey thighs and 2 turkey legs (lightly seasoned, roasted and meat removed and shredded)

1 cup each of diced onion, carrot and celery

4 cloves minced garlic

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

1 can white beans

1 can crushed tomato

1 tablespoon Herbs de Provence

1 tablespoon white sugar

Pinch of salt, black pepper and chili flakes

1 tablespoon butter

6 cups turkey stock (preferably homemade)

1 ounce Wild Turkey bourbon

1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano

Saute garlic, onion, carrot, garlic and celery in large pot with butter over medium heat. Add pinch of salt, pepper, chili flakes and herbs.

After about 10-15 minutes, deglaze the pot with bourbon. Allow several minutes for alcohol to cook off.

Add stock, shredded turkey, beans, tomato, lemon and sugar. Allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes. Add your favorite gnocchi or egg noodles and top with Pecorino Romano if desired.

La Palapa Crema de Chayote (Pear Squash Cream Soup)

For 6 people

4 pear squash (chayotes)

1 onion

2 ounces fresh garlic

1ounces white pepper

3 ounces salt

2 ounces chopped epazote (Mexican herb)

½ ounce cumin

16 ounces heavy cream

Saute the onion, garlic and chopped chayote in a pan with a bit of oil, put about 3/4 of a gallon of water to boil. Once the onions and garlic are golden color, put everything in the boiling water in mid fire with all the spices. Once the chayote is soft, blend everything together with the heavy cream and then put it back in low fire for another 20 minutes; keep mixing so it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot.

Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.