Thursday morning I dragged my apron-stuffed suitcase off the Blue Line at O’Hare only to see a familiar form emerging from the car ahead of me.
“Carla!” (don’t ask)
We took this unplanned meetup as a sign that the preflight jitters stoked by Jet Blue’s aggressively alarmist emails warning of two hour lines at check-in would soon be laid to rest. And they were. Within a ridiculously efficient 20 minutes or so we were sitting at the gate stuffing more little silkscreens into cello bags and mainlining coffee. (Side note: Have you ever noticed the Amtrak ads lining the bottom of the plastic bins at the O’Hare security checkpoint? I never had, but how genius is that?)
Three hours later we were in New York and feeling glamorous. We checked in with our friend Amy, who had just landed at LaGuardia and was charged with picking up what turned out to be a very generous bread donation from the lovely Tom Cat Bakery, in Long Island City. All systems were go.
The car took us in (slow, bumper-to-bumper) style from JFK to the Park Slope home of Bell House talent booker Jack McFadden, where he was putting the finishing touches on his “quesopa” — a rich cheese soup soon to be served in little cups over black beans and avocado.
We refreshed. I checked email and freaked out that Time Out New York’s item on the party instructed guests to BYO soup. (BYO SOUP? WTF?) Sheila took a shower in Jack’s sweet open-plan bathroom. We marveled at the extreme baby-unfriendliness of his awesome loftlike space, where he lives with his lady and, yes, baby. And then, to the Bell House!
Along the way we stopped at a dollar store to pick up bowls, ladles, and spoons — this apparently being what Jack meant when he said he had the bowls, etc., “covered.” While he and Sheila bought out every spoon in the shop I chatted up the car service driver trying to explain what we were up to, with only middling success.
Like the Hideout, the Bell House is in an industrial stretch of the city, right where Park Slope runs into the scenic Gowanus Canal. Like the Hideout it’s got two rooms — a front bar/lounge and a larger back room with a stage. But it’s also about eight times larger than our beloved Hideout; the front room holds about 150 people and is outfitted with lots of cozy vintage sofas and coffee tables. In other words, it was perfect.
We ran around setting up the merch table and divesting poor Jack’s office of the battalion of crock pots that had accumulated there over the past week. Sheila set to work slicing up the dozens of delicious Tom Cat loaves, which Amy had delivered earlier to the care of the print shop next door. I tried to find enough outlets for all the crocks. A delivery guy showed up with beautiful flowers from the Hideout. (Thank you Hideout owners!) A fantastic posse from the New York City Coalition Against Hunger trouped in and set up camp with literature and signage. And just when it was finally all coming together — our first soupers arrived.
Everything after that is a blur. A very fun, adrenaline-fueled, happy blur of old friends, generous strangers, and lots of delicious soup.
I’ll spare you the crock-top beauty shots — or, I’ll save those for the recipes, some of which have already come in. But here’s the brief recap of the nine fantastic soups we had to offer. (It was supposed to be ten but Matt Greco, of Char No. 4, caught the flu and had to bow out at the last minute. Feel better Matt!)
From crock left to crock right, as best I can remember:
Our host Jack McFadden with his “quesopa,” served with black beans, avocado, and tortilla chips. Delish! And not at all reminiscent of Velveeta, as he had feared.
Charming Gabe McMackin, of Roberta’s Pizza — *the* hotspot of Bushwick (Bushwick!) — with a simple and spicy pappa al pomodoro soup. Basically: pizza soup. It was GREAT. And I’m very sad I did not make it to Roberta’s over the ensuing weekend. Next time.
The lovely Cathy Erway, of Not Eating Out In New York, who was an indispensable help both publicizing the event and hooking me up with many of the cooks and the bakery. She brought her variation on a butternut squash soup (my own favorite soup to make of late). Hers was made with miso — which made it refreshingly light with an oh-so slightly acidic edge. Cathy has a book coming out like, tomorrow, practically; the launch party’s at, natch, the Bell House. Check it out!
Next to Cathy, I believe, was a terrific light and creamy, almost-vegetarian sunchoke soup from the Good Fork. It was made with dashi, thus the “almost.” Pictured above, Good Fork capo (and former Chicagoan) Ben Schneider, with baby Oliver, and friend Conrad; his wife, chef Sohui Kim, was also at the party, sagely hiding from my lousy camera. (Sheila wrangled a group of 13 to dinner at the Good Fork, in Red Hook, the following night. It was one of best meals I’ve had in ages. Seriously. Go.)
Moving down the table we have:
Sweet Alexis, from Jimmy’s No. 43, in the East Village. She was the first to arrive, bearing a rich, savory roasted sweet onion soup with potato and dill.
Next to her is longtime Soup and Bread supporter Helen Rosner, editor of Grub Street Chicago (though apparently not for much longer). She’s sent in the recipe for her tangy tortilla soup, and I’ll get that up soon, but which you can also read all about it over on her own blog, here.
Next to Helen was Jason Bitner, dishing up *another* chicken tortilla soup, this one with tomatillos and concocted with his wife, Danielle. They’ve been honing their cooking skills in anticipation of the imminent arrival of a baby Bitner, and the consequent departure of their social lives. Jason: I did not get to try your soup. I am so sorry! I don’t know how that happened. But I hear it was very good. Send me the recipe!
And, anchoring the end of the table, our friend Millicent Souris, whom Sheila and I have known for years, since her days as in the music biz in Chicago. Fast forward a few years and here she is in Brooklyn, cooking at the Roebling Tea Room. (Which is freakishly close to my old Williamsburg apartment. But I digress) She brought a hearty black bean soup with accompanying cheddar biscuits. My notes say that the stock was made with chicken and “some pork ideas.” Millicent! Help me decipher that!
Not pictured, somehow, was our final soup cook, Dave Klopfenstein, an old friend of Sheila’s and keeper of the blog Dave’s Kitchen. How did I miss trapping him with my camera? Anyway. He brought a terrific, delicately balanced cream of celery soup served up with spiced croutons and fresh gremolata. Thanks, Dave!
Now, I realize this is ridiculously long — is anybody still reading? — but I haven’t gotten to the best part(s) yet!
As the evening unspooled we checked in periodically at the donations table, only to back away in awe. Finally, I took the overflowing crock pot back to the office to sort it all out.
In three hours, with nine soup cooks, we raised $900.
That’s $100 a soup!
As you know, all the money raised by our out-of-town adventure is being donated to the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, an advocacy group that does excellent work both on the ground, in terms of hooking hungry people up with emergency food assistance, and at the policy level. So I was geekily thrilled when executive director Joel Berg turned up fresh from taping an interview with BNN. (To watch the entire feature go here.) Berg is sort of a rock star in the world of hunger policy: a radical with the establishment bona fides to get his message heard. I can’t tell you how cool it was that he came out to our event. Thanks so much to him and his staff for all their work; they promise to put that $900 to good use.
And then, it was time to clean up.
I mentioned earlier that the Bell House has two rooms, right? Well, at some point during our soup party, lithe young women pulling wheelie-bags behind them began to wend their way through the bar towards backstage. What was our counterprogramming? A burlesque show!
When it was all over I trotted back and forth for an hour from front lounge to backstage slop sink to wash out the crocks, each time making my way past slouchy tattooed girls wearing nothing but pasties, glittery underpants, and bouffant wigs. “Excuse me! Comin’ through! Sorry! I didn’t mean to touch your boob!”
Flying as I was on a sleep-deprived adrenaline high, this was deeply surreal. A Soup and Bread first!
Which got me thinking about the future. Can the Hideout handle Soup and Bread: Strippers?
If nothing else, it’s good to have goals.
Tags: Ben Schneider, Cathy Erway, Danielle Bitner, Dave Klopfenstein, Dave's Kitchen, Gabe McMackin, Grub Street Chicago, Helen Rosner, Jack McFadden, Jason Bitner, Jimmy's No. 43, Joel Berg, Millicent Souris, New York City Coalition Against Hunger, Not Eating Out In New York, Roberta's Pizza, Roebling Tea Room, Sohui Kim, Soup and Bread: Brooklyn, The Bell House, The Good Fork