For soup nuts

Mar 17, 2004 at 12:00 am

Rich broths and bisques are celebrated with exuberance at Le Soups! in Ferndale. Chesapeake cheddar and crab, gumbo, lobster, mushroom and tomato basil bisques, creamy artichoke and chicken, beef barley, green chili corn chowder … you can enjoy a different soup every day, and it’ll take a while before you repeat yourself because every day there is a selection of ten soups: five regulars, five specials.

We tried some very tasty soups here. I loved the creamy artichoke with chicken. It is a muted green, thick and subtle in taste, and every once in a while you bite into a bit of artichoke heart or a piece of chicken. The co-diner enjoyed a traditional New England clam chowder. “Creamy with detectable pieces of clam,” he said. He ordered his soup in a bread bowl — “good but messy.”

Caribbean jerked chicken soup has a moderately spiced broth with bits of tomato, onion and peppers; the rice is cooked till it’s very soft, like a Puerto Rican asopao, but not to the dissolving point (as in a Chinese congee). They were out of the Kickin’ Crab with Sweet Corn Chowder. I am wary of ordering crabmeat, which is usually ersatz, but I was assured that theirs is the real thing. White bean chili with chorizo (a spicy sausage) was delicious; the chicken was ground up, giving it a texture similar to chili, with a much softer taste.

They’re not pretending to be brilliant chefs at Le Soups! They buy their fare from a gourmet soup company, while the lavish wraps are made to order with high-end ingredients. That’s the secret: simple, fresh and delicious, with reasonable prices. Soups are $3.45-$5.75 depending on the size and variety.

Of course, with your soup you’ll want a sandwich, and the wraps offer interesting combinations. The co-diner, a confirmed carnivore, surprised me by ordering a veggie Mediterranean, a sandwich of hummus, tabbouleh, red onions, lettuce, tomatoes and a wonderful roasted red pepper mayonnaise. The club sandwich is made with delicious smoked turkey, bacon and Swiss cheese. Add in bacon for 75 cents to the Chicken Caesar wrap and you’ll have a wonderful combination of flavors and textures. All sandwiches are $4.75-$5.25, or a half-wrap for $2.99.

Five salads are on the menu, including one called the Michigan that is garnished with dried cherries, blue cheese, and pecans.

There are some other nice things about Le Soups!: You can taste any soup before you invest your five bucks. Calorie counts are printed on the labels, helping you to make decisions. The interior has a clean, stainless steel appearance, with a color scheme of yellow, green and blue. There are no tables but the stools at the counters are surprisingly comfortable. A sign on the wall caught my attention: “The happiness of our customers and employees is our #1 priority.” The stated concern for employees’ state of mind predisposed me to like this place.

For owner Marshall Levine, Le Soups! is the prototype for his vision of a soup empire.

“Watch us grow!” the menu proclaims. “100 locations by 2009.” Levine expects the second restaurant to open in downtown Detroit by the end of the year. Kimba Marshall, Levine’s business partner, launched the restaurant with him 18 months ago. She brings management experience from Mongolian Barbecue, while this is Levine’s first venture into the restaurant business. He says, “I’m the owner, but she’s the boss.”

Providing good lunches guided Levine’s concept. “No one roasts half a chicken for lunch,” he says. “Soup and a sandwich, a salad, a cookie.”

For Levine the venture into the restaurant business has been rewarding.

“Everyday people tell me how great it is and that feels good.”

Elissa Karg dines for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].