Monday, February 7, 2011 at 1:13PM
|Chef Richard Gussoff is at right|
If you haven't been to The Soup Bowl (on Seventh between Eighth and Ninth) yet, you only have until March 1st before Uncle Louie G's moves back into the tiny space and some of the best soup that you'll ever have goes away for the season. I would strongly recommend it. Do you remember Al Yeganeh's little soup stand in Hell's Kitchen? The one that became world-famous because of "The Soup Nazi" Seinfeld episode? I had a chance to go to the original stand, and it really was a revelation. Same deal here. These soups are made with love, and possibly a good dose of magic.
The man behind the magic? Chef Richard Gussoff, a Park Slope native who moved back to the neighborhood three years ago after 20 years as chef/owner at three restaurants in Manhattan: Pietra Santa, Rachel's American Bistro, and Sag Harbor, all in Hell's Kitchen. He's spent the past four summers as chef at the seasonal Pier I Cafe (overlooking the Hudson River at 70th Street), leaving his winters open.
Gussoff originally planned to help Pier I Cafe's owner build a restaurant in a building just purchased in Long Island City this winter, but the work was too involved. Thinking about what to do instead, he turned to his longtime passion for soups. They had been his forte at Rachel's: Two soups were on the menu at all times and there were three daily rotating specials, all of which would sell out every day, and his chicken pot pie there was named the city's best by food writer Arthur Schwartz. He also has a soup cookbook in the works. Gussoff is friends with the Uncle Louie G's owner, and negotiating a deal to take over the space for the winter was easy.
He brought along two longtime assistants, Elizabeth Cleary and Jose Urgiles, and got to work. Soups like Chicken Vegetable, Sweet Italian Sausage, Salmon with Tricolor Peppers, Split Pea, and the insanely good Butternut Squash Lobster Bisque are almost always on the menu, but new specials are introduced daily, like Turkey Bacon Lentil, Potato Herb, and the above-mentioned Chicken Pot Pie.
"The menu is dictated entirely by what's in season and what looks good at the market each day," says Chef Gussoff. "I'll pick through the entire case to find the right ears of corn, because I know the freshest ones are in the back. I like to have a good variety, but you have to work with the market." For the big items he'll shop at the Restaurant Depot, but he's also a familiar face at Union Market and the supermarkets along Seventh, looking for the freshest ingredients every morning, and he'll also be the one serving up your soup 95% of the time.
"People ask about doing sandwiches and salads, and whether I'll start up a website or not, but that's not important to me," says the chef. "I want to do one thing, and do it well. There's no point in being a jack of all trades, but master of none."
In a tough economy, soup's standing as the most democratic of foods becomes readily apparent. The heads of Methodist Hospital line up alongside school kids every day, and a medium soup comes out to about five bucks. "I could have charged more, but during times like these, you need to be moderately priced,"says Richard.
He'll close up shop on March 1st to get ready to head back to Pier I Cafe, but The Soup Bowl has been such a success that he's already planning on coming back next winter to the same location. He's also in preliminary talks to open in a number of locations with the same low prices and commitment to high quality, fresh, seasonal ingredients. Drop by this month, so in a few years you can tell your friends that you visited the Soup Bowl (and Chef Gussoff) before they conquered the world.
The Soup Bowl of Park Slope, 321 7th Avenue Brooklyn NY 11215. Open Seasonally.