Thursday, January 13, 2011

Soup's On ~ Soups in Denton

SOME LIKE IT HOT: A little spice, a lot of warmth served up in local soup

Published in the Denton Record-Chronicle, Thursday, January 13, 2011

Text and photos by Ellen Ritscher Sackett

What better way to stave off the wintry chills than a piping hot bowl of homemade soup? Almost every Denton restaurant offers at least one soup on its menu, and many have revolving selections that change daily. Narrowing down this list was a challenge, but here are a few you can count on to warm you up when the temperatures drop.

Mr. Chopsticks

$7.25 for a large bowl.
1663 Scripture St. 940-566-5671.
Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

This slightly sweet, slightly spicy Vietnamese rice noodle soup makes more than a meal. Pho lovers can add chicken or beef to Mr. Chopstick’s version, which is made from a chicken-based broth rather than the more traditional beef stock. According to owner Chai Tamprateep, the quality of the broth is “crucial.”

“To have good soup, you have to have good broth,” he said.

His pho is steeped with onion, garlic and spices, which include anise, cinnamon stick, cardamom and fresh ginger. Limes, bean sprouts, jalapeno slices, cilantro and plum sauce sides come served on a plate covering the bowl, ensuring the soup will be hot when it arrives at the table. Other condiments, such as soy sauce and chili paste, are already on the table available for additional soup doctoring.

This 25-year-old Asian restaurant, which moved from Hickory Street to its current location north of the University of North Texas campus, features Chinese, Thai and Japanese cuisines. Other best-sellers? “We sell a lot of hot and sour and egg drop soup,” Tamprateep said.

Los Toreros
2900 Wind River Lane, Suite 134. 940-390-7693.
Open 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.

Those who live on the south side of town can indulge in this healthy pick from Unicorn Lake’s new upscale Mexican restaurant, Los Toreros, which took its recipe from its big sister restaurant, El Matador.

The two versions are virtually identical. They both start with chicken cooked in a tomato-based broth chock full of vegetables, including corn, carrots, celery, onion and red and green peppers. Each is topped with crispy tortilla strips and avocado.
The only difference? The cheese. El Matador’s version is laden with mozzarella, while Los Toreros comes with a slice of queso fresco. Los Toreros’ portion is for smaller appetites, but it also comes with a side of Spanish rice. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

Cup $4, bowl $5.
219 W. Oak St. 940-565-1638.
Open 10 a.m. to midnight daily.

Tomato basil ranks right up there as the most popular soup in town, if the number of restaurants that boast a recipe is any indication.

Banter’s won this feature spot for being the most unique, with low-fat cream cheese blended with crushed tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic, salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil. The recipe came from Michelle Kuzov, who sold the restaurant to Stephen Johnson and Ellen Ryfle in January.

Ryfle said Banter lovers need not worry; the atmosphere of the artsy downtown hangout will not change. It will still offer live music, feature local artists and continue the Thursday open mic night, one of the few left in the area. The menu will undergo a slight revision in February, but favorite dishes, including the tomato basil soup, will remain.

Try these other deserving tomato basil soups when you’re out and about town: Bochy’s, for its superb garlic infusion, Hannah’s Off the Square, for its heavy, cream-based, don’t-start-your-diet-today concoction; and Round Belly Cafe inside the Antique Experience of Denton, for one unnamed ingredient that chef Baldemar Rivera says keeps customers coming back for more.

Ramen Republic Noodle House
Regular $5, large $6.50, monster $8
210 E. Hickory St. 940-387-3757.
Open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
This is not the curly, compact, low-budget ramen that goes on sale at the grocery store in packages of 10 for $1. These are long, thin, elegant noodles that swim in broth hot off the stove.

First-time customers to Ramen Republic are walked through the five-step process of building their noodle dishes. Picking the bowl size is the first big decision — big, bigger, biggest — followed by selecting an all-natural, low-sodium vegetable, garlic beef or ginger chicken broth.

Next, choose from one of four types of noodles and add the protein, either tofu, plain or sesame ginger chicken, slow-roasted pulled pork or Asian beef mini-meatballs. Tenderloin tips or the salmon filet are available for an additional charge as well as extras such as baby spinach, fresh basil, edamame or egg.

Lastly, a small bowl filled with your choice of veggies from the complimentary bar can be tossed into the mix while your soup is prepared behind the counter. In minutes, the meal is complete.

Ramen Republic is a place where strict vegans and shameless carnivores sit side by side, where the bland meets spicy, and hot meets cold. Owner Charlie Foster, who opened the Asian-inspired restaurant near the Industrial Street area last June, said, “There are over 1 million different bowl combinations available.” A meat-eater’s suggestion: Try the pork.

International Foods of Denton
609 Sunset St. 940-383-2051.
Open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.

For a simple soup that’s good and good for you, try the lentil soup from International Foods of Denton, one block south of University Drive. This restaurant, which opened its doors to Denton over 16 years ago, specializes in Mediterranean, Persian, Greek and Middle Eastern cuisine.

The lentil soup is “very healthy,” said Kim Pourmorshed, who owns and operates the restaurant with her husband, Ali.

“It’s good for your stomach, your body and your hormones,” she said. In addition to crushed lentils, the soup contains a blend of carrots and onions, herbs and some secret spices that make it special, Pourmorshed said.
The ingredients are blended into a thin, smooth soup that goes down easily, a good choice for a sensitive tummy, and reheats well. Customers can ask for a side of pita bread as well, perfect for scraping the bowl to get every last drop.

The Abbey Inn Restaurant and Pub
Cup $3.99, bowl $5.99.
101 W. Hickory St. 940-566-5483.
Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Wednesday and 11 a.m. to midnight Thursday through Saturday.

The Abbey Inn’s French onion soup is made with beef and chicken stock added to a sweet onion, sherry and butter reduction. But what makes this version memorable is the homemade croutons — soppy-soft bite-sized pillows made from sourdough, wheatberry, pumpernickel and marble rye breads — covered by a thin layer of melted Harvarti cheese, which holds in the heat and contains the flavors.

Next time you’re in the neighborhood, stop by and check out the recent renovations in the lower level of the restaurant on the southeast corner of the downtown Square. What was once the Boiler Room, dedicated to live music, is now the Abbey Underground.

Co-owner Tim Trawick said they have added seating and are “trying to create a cozy pub environment,” which will feature 99 bottles of beer on the back wall of the bar. For now, the menu will be the same upstairs as down, so either way you can have your soup and eat it too.

Good Eats Grill
Cup $2.99, bowl $3.99, add-on to a meal $1.49.
5812 N. Interstate 35. 940-387-3500. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

It’s winter, so think summer, as in Indian Summer Soup — one of three of Good Eats’ soup offerings, which also include a daily special and tomato basil.

“It’s our best-selling soup,” said kitchen manager Eric Wright. The golden yellow comfort food looks as warm as it tastes, made with melted American cheese, chicken, onion, margarine, garlic, mushrooms and corn with an ever-so-slight kick from poblano pepper.

Denton is fortunate to be home to one of only three Good Eats restaurants left in Texas from a chain serving ranch-style food that started off with a bang in 1986 by E. Gene Street. Street also began the Black-eyed Pea country-style chain and several other successful Dallas-based restaurants and became a founder of Consolidated Restaurant Operations Inc., which oversees the operations of successful chains in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, such as El Chico, Cantina Laredo and III Forks as well as Good Eats.

Unlike other repeateries whose menu items are often at least partially premade, Good Eats uses all fresh produce and creates all of its recipes in-house from scratch, which makes its ranch-style meals particularly mmm, mmm good.