Comfort Me with Nathan's
Yesterday was rainy and gloomy, and to top it off, it was mammogram day. After my appointment, I was in need of some serious comfort food, and specifically wanted a good bowl of soup. And the best place for soup in the Rochester area is Nathan’s Soup & Salad on Park Avenue.
Or at least, I thought it was.
I used to go to Nathan’s fairly often when I was working at Buck & Pulleyn, back when the agency was located in a former school in Irondequoit. Nathan’s was inexpensive, dependably delicious, and not too far away from the office. But I haven’t been to Nathan’s since I left the agency business after my younger son was born – and that was almost 10 years ago.
I drove through the rain toward the city and tried to remember whether I had heard if Nathan’s still was open. I may have read a review of it in the newspaper, I thought hopefully. Oh, please let it still be there, I mentally pleaded, and please let it still have cheesy tomato bisque and that soft, warm, chewy cheese bread.
As I made my way down tree-lined Park Avenue, I struggled to get a glimpse of the tiny storefront. I didn’t see it at first, but then I spotted a line of people extending out a doorway. Yes! Nathans!
The next task was finding a parking spot. Nathan’s is situated in the middle of a brick building that houses several businesses. At the end of the building sits a CVS pharmacy that has a roomy parking lot. And on every parking spot – lots of empty ones – is a sign that reads something like, “Parking for CVS only. Violators will be shot on the spot.” Back in the ‘90s, CVS used to have a guy that would patrol the lot to make sure the people who parked there actually went into CVS, and yell at you if you dared to go anywhere else while you were parked there. I’ve hated CVS ever since.
It didn’t take long, though, for me to find an open parking space on a nearby side street. As I walked past that unfriendly CVS, I caught a whiff of the Nathan’s aroma. Hooray! It smelled just as I remembered.
I entered the door and saw that very little had changed. The menu was still written on two chalkboards – one board for the soups, which change daily, and the other for salads, which I’ve never tried. But woe of woes, all but two of the nine soups had been erased! In other words, they had sold out of the other seven. All that remained was chili con carne and vegetarian vegetable. I would have been disappointed, but people were successfully ordering cheese bread, and I’m happy to eat any kind of soup as long as I eat it with their cheese bread.
As I waited, I recognized two of the three guys behind the counter from a decade ago. They both knew many of their customers and remembered their usual orders. People still moved in a quick and orderly oval – they lined up along the wall to the right, turned left at the beverage cooler at the end of the narrow room, placed their order in front of the steaming containers of soup, then moved down to the cash registers next to the door.
When it was my turn to order, however, I froze with indecision.
“I’ll have the vegetable ... no, the chili ... no, how about a cup of both,” I said, feeling foolish.
“That’s a good choice,” the guy said. “Both soups are really good.”
So I got the two cups of soup, along with the cheese bread, for a total of $4.75. There are no chairs at Nathan’s; it’s carry out only.
At home, I paused to take a quick picture of the food. Looking at the shot now, I should have cleaned up the bowl of chili, but I was really hungry.
I ate the chili first, along with the cheese bread. Nathan's breads are soft and chewy - I'm glad they didn't feel the need to switch to the crusty artisan breads that are so trendy now. The breads are baked in individual loaf pans and have three different fillings – onion, garlic, and cheese. The onion is pretty good, but I prefer the cheese, which has a cheddar ribbon through the middle. I’d love to be able to replicate it at home, but I haven’t found a recipe that’s anything like it.
The cheese bread was just as I remembered, and along with the chili, satisfied my need for comfort food. I saved the vegetarian vegetable for today's lunch. But Nathan’s soup just wouldn’t be right without cheese bread. I may have to go back for another loaf.
Have you eaten at Nathan's? If so, what's your favorite soup there?