Sunday, February 17, 2013

South Side Soup Contest

It was a cold, breezy February morning when MM and I ventured down to the South Side Works so we could stand in a long line to walk 15 blocks. Why would we do this, you ask? To eat the most delicious soup in Pittsburgh, of course!

For the last 9 consecutive years, local businesses in the South Side have joined forces to offer one of the most anticipated events in the region: the South Side Soup Contest. Year after year, hundreds gather to trek up and down Carson Street in the dead of winter to get a taste of 24 different, piping-hot soups from South Side restaurants. The event benefits the Brashear Association's food pantry as well as participant's bellies.

While waiting in line, I turned to MM and said "I can't believe all of these people are this excited about soup..." to which the group behind us responded "SOUP IS THE BEST!" Well said, friends. Well said. We snagged our punch cards and went on to discover that they were, in fact, right... soup IS really and truly the best.

Our strategy was simple: treat it like an amusement park. That means hit up the farthest spots first and work our way back. We started walking from 28th street to make our way to 10th, when we heard a glorious sound. A bell announced the presence of the Pittsburgh's Green Gears Pedi Cabs. Locally owned and operated rickshaw's were offering free rides up and down Carson Street to anyone, soupers or no, who wanted to cover some ground!  MM and I cozied up under a blanket and hit the road.

There were four categories in which we had to judge. MM and I each had our favorites:

Best Host
MM: Thick Bikes (cutest puncher, she says)
TOP: Commonwealth Press (they had cool t-shirts and cornhole. there was really no contest)
Official winner: UPMC Mercy (they had water, coffee, tea, and goodies. they had it in the bag. they also gave away bags.)

Best Vegetarian
MM: Carson City Saloon's Apple Carrot Soup (the PERFECT soup for fall. but in the winter.)
TOP: Smiling Moose's Roasted Pepper Leek & Beer Cheese Soup (creamy, delicious, and completely killing the "boring" vegetarian stereotype)
Official winner: Mario's South Side Saloon's Sweet Corn Basil

Clockwise from far left: carrot apple, sweet corn basil, pepper leek and beer cheese

Most Unique
MM:  Yo Rita's Sunflower Soup (neither of us had heard of sunflower chokes before, it was yummy!)
TOP: Bridge Ten Brasserie's Bone Marrow Bisque (buttery. rich. delicious. bone marrow?)
Official winner: A tie! Between mine and MM's picks, no less! We knew we were smart ladies.

Left to right: sunflower soup, bone marrow bisque

Best overall
MM: OTB Bicycle Cafe's Bodacious Biketater Bisque (sweet potato bisque with a pumpkin spice creme fraiche)
TOP: Caffe Davio's Roasted Butternut Squash (with a gorgonzola base? yeah. you had me at gorgonzola.)
Official runner up: Smiling Moose's Roasted Pepper Leek & Beer cheese (well deserved, moose heads)
Official winner: Piper's Pub Boxty Rasher (hearty, filling, stew-like, bacon. teaching us all the well-learned lesson that bacon makes everything better)

Clockwise from top left: biketater bisque, butternut squash, pepper leek and beer cheese, boxty rasher

There were 24 stops on the tour and, in three hours, MM and I made it to 21. Each stop served up about 3 tablespoons of soup. That's 63 tablespoons of soup, almost four cups! On a chilly day with lots of walking, we were warm and satisfied!

The event cost $20, but the money goes to a good cause. Not only does the event benefit a great organization, but it brings people and attention to local businesses who truly deserve it. We tried soups from local restaurants while perusing local shops. And they seriously thought of everything. The tablecloths, soup spoons and mini-bowls were all biodegradable! Minimized waste, maximized fun.

It was a beautiful and wonderful day and I absolutely encourage you to mark your calendars for next year! One piece of advice: get there early. The registration line gets LONG!

Thank you, South Side Chamber of Commerce for putting on such a wonderful event year after year. Who knew soup could bring so many people together for such a wonderful cause. 

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