CHICAGO – We don’t have a place like Soupbox where I live, because we don’t need it. In Florida, it’s always some degree of warm. Usually, it’s blistering hot. So a restaurant that lovingly crafts 12 scratch-made soups each day to heat the bones and the soul isn’t really necessary.
In Chicago, a place like Soupbox is critical. When I visited, the temperature was 45 and falling. A steady rain fell. The wind came whipping off Lake Michigan, careened through the Skyscraper canyons, hurled sideways raindrops into struggling pedestrians and turned every umbrella inside out. (Several diminutive women appeared close to getting the Mary Poppins treatment.) In Florida, we would call this the apocalypse and start looking for locust swarms. In Chicago, they call it Wednesday.
I own a hoodie, but at home the hood is but a mere ornament. As I walked down Rush Street toward the Soupbox on Chicago Avenue, I yanked the drawstrings tight and steadied myself against the wind. Soaked, I opened the door and walked into Soup Nirvana. Two friendly employees stood behind 12 giant tureens. Sourdough bread bowls lined the back wall. A few feet away, grilled cheese sandwiches roasted inside a Panini press. It was as if I had died and gone back to fifth grade, when a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of soup could solve any problem.
The grilled cheese was a no brainer. I went with cheddar and pepper jack on sourdough. The soup proved a more difficult choice. This certainly was a Chicken Noodle kind of day, but Uncle Cal’s Red Bean Chicken Chili sounded intriguing. So did Vegetable, which pairs well with grilled cheese, and Tomato Basil Bisque, which only exists to have grilled cheese sandwiches dunked in it. But my thin blood needed warming, and only one soup on the list would do the trick. Beer, Cheese and Smoked Bacon. Remember, kids, there is nothing in this world than can’t be improved upon with bacon.
I collected my food and parked myself on a stool by the window. As I dunked my sandwich in the hot, creamy pale ale concoction, I watched shoppers fight their way toward the Miracle Mile through a 40-mph headwind. I knew I would have to join them to get back to my hotel, but at that moment, it didn’t matter. Thanks to the soup, the warmth radiated from my core. A little cold, rain and wind didn’t stand a chance.
As I bulled my way through the breeze, I found myself regretting the lack of cold days in Florida. We don’t need a place like Soupbox. That doesn’t mean I don’t want one.
Pre-meal workout: Insanity – Cardio Power and Resistance
Featured workout tune: Last Name London by Theophilus London
Note: I realize I’ve haven’t written one of these in a while. Unfortunately, the paying work has required a lot of attention. I’ll try to do better. In the next few weeks, I’m hoping to catch up with posts on The Chimes in Baton Rouge, La., Primanti Bros. in Pittsburgh, Petty’s Barbecue in Starkville, Miss., and Snow’s Barbecue in Lexington, Texas.