The last vestiges of summer are gathering themselves together taking the last of the tradewinds south, to the other side of the world until next year. Lawn chairs, beach bods, free range children, indiscriminate TV binging, thongs, vacation time, over-priced day camps – all of these are fading into memory, and Facebook, as crisper mornings, bonfires and sweater weather can be smelled on the north west breeze.
Enter Patty Phillips, Patty Phillips of Soup du Jour to be exact. This warm, inventive, delectable, comforting and welcoming soup kiosk that greets you like a hug from an old friend, is located inside the Pennington Quality Market in Pennington. Situated just in front of gourmet deli section, between the specialty coffee shop and the international cheeses, Patty presents some of the most provocative combinations of ingredients ever to grace a soup tureen. Admittedly, I did not recognize any of the soups offered on the day I visited, except the sweet onion soup. The fragrance however, seduced me in that way that only soup can, promising satisfaction for which there are no words. You know how that first warm spoonful of soup just makes you stop everything – your thinking and even your breathing – and notice all its complexities and flavors? Before you know it, you’re licking the spoon like you’ve never eaten before and the rumpled, stained napkin is on the floor, forgotten and you are so…satisfied. I did say “seduce” so you may want to read this somewhere private.
“Creamy spicy carrot is the first soup I made that I can call my own,” Phillips informs me with a look of proud satisfaction on the corners of her smile. With ingredients like heavy cream, chicken stock, crushed red pepper and fresh carrots hitting on some major dietary necessities, even your doctor would approve of this. “Soup is good for you. It’s economical and a great way to clean out your fridge!” proclaim Phillips, whose freckled smile reveals a spirit much younger than her 64 years.
Growing up in Chesterfield, New Jersey, located on the other side of Bordentown, Phillips was used to being around farmers and loved being close to nature, so including fresh ingredients comes naturally to her. “It’s one of the reasons I love working inside PQM. If I need anything fresh, it’s just a few aisles away.”
A self-styled new world renaissance woman, Patty has a curiously eclectic resume. From a ceramic painter for famous sculptor Edward Marshall Boehm, to food styling in New York City for commercials and print media, this horse lover who wears pink Timberlands and loves riding motorcycles is an interesting cross between Laura Ingalls Wilder and Janis Joplin. “Yea, I painted ceramic birds and ducks for Edward Marshall Boehm the famous sculptor,” she says as a wry smirk appears in one corner of her mouth.
We walked over to where the soups of the day were warming. The first soup presented was tomato, bacon and paprika. This tomato based potion features Jersey fresh tomatoes dotted with smoky chewy bacon pieces and set off by bright, spicy paprika in a chicken broth with onions and other spices. “I made the sweet onion soup as a starter soup for people to take home and dress up any way they want. You can add a nice, thick slice of French bread and a generous slice of gruyere on top, pop it on the broiler for a few short minutes and enjoy!” Phillips informs me.
Finally we came to the soup that most intrigued me, Katusniak. After letting me struggle just a bit through the pronunciation, Patty had me repeat, Ka-TUS-ni-ak. A traditional Polish dish (called Kapusniak), Phillips has added some ingredients and touches making it into a soup without compromising its Polish authenticity. As I read the ingredients, there was a longer than brief pause on my part as I tried to be true to my “taste almost anything once” mantra. For me, caraway seeds are one of those ingredients I do not enjoy but I found myself beguiled by the tangy dill and lemon juice laden aroma headed straight at me. It was thick and creamy with sauerkraut, potatoes, heavy cream, chicken stock, dill, paprika, slices of kielbasa, sour cream and caraway seeds. I saw the offending ingredient and endeavored to press through to a thorough tasting. I could not imagine that it would taste this good. “The caraway seeds, dill, and lemon juice give a real zip to the soup” Phillips tells me.
But why soup, Patty? Of all the things in your magic duffle bag, why choose this path? I was hoping for some divine encounter but what I got was something so divine in its ordinariness. “It was a business opportunity” proclaims Phillips. “A friend and I knew of the business in Hopewell started by two women in 1972 and when they wanted to sell it, we bought it and learned to make soup. I really liked it and really got into it.” So Phillips stirred the pots, chopped the veggies, made the broth and created the local lunch spot that was Soup du Jour on Broad Street for more than 20 years before moving to PQM. It’s apparent that Phillips lets her bohemian, adventurous side express itself in her soups from concoctions like her favorite, spinach and leek soup, made with cream cheese to “my favorite mushroom” made with her favorite mushrooms.
“I love cooking with heavy cream and dairy. If I had to quit eating dairy, I would just die,” Phillips states with the accompanying shock and awe on her face. “I remember the comedienne Phyllis Diller’s bit about “garbage soup” so I always have that in the back of my mind, thinking about how something amazingly tasty can come from leftovers.” One of her more literal interpretations is “man soup.” Now, there were so many images that popped in my mind upon hearing this but Phillips broke it down quite simply. “Man Soup:Meat and potatoes. Whatever is available from pieces of prime cuts to deli meat ends plus some really good broth and a few seasonings.”
Though soup is what she is known for, Phillips makes plenty of other delectables, many of which are available at PQM as well. Focaccia, sauces, flavored butters. “Basil garlic butter is the most popular,” states Phillips, “and it’s great on fish and chicken. The strawberry butter and the sweet orange butter – really good on French toast.” When I met up with her, she was just finishing a batch of pesto fragrant with garlic and bright green basil. “My favorite thing to make is bread. I make it the old fashioned way. No machines.” Holding out a loaf of her chocolate walnut bread she continued, “You have a basic bread recipe and you can add anything to it. I make shapes with it. It’s kind of like edible play-doh.” I love anything chocolate and this bread was no exception, so when we parted, I took a pint of the Katusniak home along with a loaf of Patty’s chocolate walnut bread. What to do with the bread? I could slather it with peanut butter and banana slices which we know is good but I decided on something a bit more comforting. French toast. I made French toast and it was good.
So what did we learn today, friends? Soup really is good food and good for you. We have our own soup wizard conjuring up some incredible warm comfort in her cauldron at the Pennington Quality Market. Patty encourages all of us to experiment with what’s in our refrigerators and come up with some of our own unique creations. “You can eat it all week or freeze it for another time,” Patty added. “That’s one of the real bonuses of soup besides controlling the quality of what you put into it. You can eat it whenever you want and it will always be good.”
If you want to know what’s brewing at Soup du Jour at the PQM, just hit this link and see what’s on the menu for that day, http://pqmonline.com/pqm-daily-specials/. Patty’s parting advice: “Eat more soup. Get more sleep.” Take the road less traveled and visit Soup du Jour at Pennington Quality Market and look for Patty Phillips. She’ll be the one with the stained chef’s coat and pink, soup tinted Timberlands. Yum it up. Tell all your friends.
My Chocolate Walnut French Toast
- One loaf Patty Phillips’ Chocolate Walnut Bread (get it at PQM) generously sliced (½ inch)
- 1 cup chocolate milk (whole, almond, soy or whatever you like or cold homemade hot cocoa)
- ½ cup regular heavy cream
- 3 eggs (check out Happy Chicks on FB and get ‘em local)
- ½ teaspoon good vanilla (it really makes all the difference)
- Sliced strawberries or bananas (or forget the fruit and add bacon)
- ¼ cup Nutella warmed in the microwave
- 1 TBSP of butter for frying.
- Cocoa powder and Confectioners sugar for that Bon Appetit cover look.
*If you want to make it grown folk specific, add enough chocolate liquor to make it worthwhile. You can also add cayenne pepper to the mix to add a little heat. Personally, I’d like to add Idris Elba but that’s just me.
- Beat the eggs, milk and cream together
- Add the vanilla, beat a bit more
- Heat your skillet until hot and then add the 1 TBSP butter (get a slight sizzle going)
- Dip your bread slices generously in the milk and egg
- Place in the hot skillet. 3-4 minutes on each side or until done the way you like it.
- Remove from skillet.
- Spread Nutella between warm slices or pour melted Nutella over slices and add fruit followed by more Nutella.
- Dust with the cocoa powder and/or the confectioner’s sugar
- Remind yourself to send me a thank you note. You’re welcome.
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