There are many reasons why soup so often hits the spot. Certainly, it’s got salubrious effects — with chicken soup topping the cure-all list. And on days when nothing is going your way or dreary weather’s got you down, a simple bowl of hot fill-in-the-blank soup feels like a conciliatory hug.
Then there’s the routine side of things, like the requisite coupling of tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich or the economical cook’s pulling out of the stockpot whenever it’s time to clean out the fridge.
But perhaps our great love of soup comes down to appreciation for a dish that frequently starts so humbly — with water or a stock — and, through a combination of the right ingredients and a bit of patience, is transformed into something as pleasurable as the most expensive steak.
Feel like slurping some soup? Local soup canteens like Farm to Ladle and Souper Jenny are dependable spots for a good cup-a. And practically every restaurant in Atlanta has some sort of soup on its menu. Here are a few that we’re in the mood for right now.
Butternut Squash Soup at Seed Kitchen & Bar
There’s everything to love about this staple soup at east Cobb gastro destination Seed. There’s the pure, unmasked sweetness of butternut squash. There’s the beautiful egg yolk color, the silky-smooth texture. But what makes Seed’s version stand out is the dramatic presentation: drizzles of white maple crema and dark pumpkin oil written with the calligraphic flourish of a spoon stroke, then capped with a mound of crunchy, toasted pepitas. You’ve had butternut squash soup before, but did it look as elegant as this? (Merchant’s Walk, 1311 Johnson Ferry Road, Marietta. 678-214-6888, eatatseed.com.)
Yesterday’s Soup at Muss & Turner’s
Many a restaurant has its soup of the day. However, let’s recognize the straightforward listing for this slurper on the menu at Muss & Turner’s: Yesterday’s Soup. At this Smyrna locale, they do not waste. Rather, they transform the delicious, unused foodstuffs of yesterday into the stockpot of today. While the soup changes daily, a recent offering held black-eyed peas and smoked ham in a deeply flavorful beef stock thickened with pureed tomato and amped up with a bit of chile love. Everything has potential for the pot; that’s why Garbage Soup exists. But at Muss & Turner’s, they sure know how to turn leftovers into a delectable mishmash. Get it as a cup or a bowl. (1675 Cumberland Parkway S.E., Smyrna. 770-434-1114, mussandturners.com.)
Chicken Soup at Pancho’s Mexican Restaurant and Cantina
It’s a comical portion of soup — and for a mere $6.95 — that you’ll get at this stop on the southern start of Buford Highway near Lenox Road. Bright and fresh, it brings spoonful after spoonful of shredded chicken along with supporting ingredients of minced onion, tomato, rice, avocado and cilantro in a citrusy chicken broth. And while some soups are so one-dimensional that you tire of them after a few minutes, this one won’t bore you. For further excitement, hit up Pancho’s on weekends when animated mariachi musicians stroll the floor. (2641 Buford Highway N.E., Atlanta. 404-325-2898, panchosatlanta.com.)
Coal Roasted Onion Soup at King + Duke
There are many iterations of French onion soup, but this one makes the “best of” list. At King + Duke, onions undergo a two-day fixation: First, they are whole-roasted, then sliced and slow-sweated over wood for hours, until the strands are meltingly tender, caramelized to a deep brown, the eye-watering reek of raw bulbs tamed to a mellow sweetness. The chicken and beef stock base gets an oomph from Yuengling lager, sherry and sherry vinegar. Then there are the deciding components — a generous, yet not over-the-top, amount of the easy-melter Spanish Mahon cheese and a thick slick of Alon’s seminola baguette. Cozy, cheesy, rich and creamy — this is how onion soup should be. (3060 Peachtree Road, Atlanta. 404-477-3500, kinganddukeatl.com.)
Spicy Hot Pot at Northern China Eatery
When the whole gang is in a soup state of mind, it’s time for a hot pot. Northern China Eatery offers individual hot pots — the proteins ranging from beef to lamb to pork ribs to fish (Fillet, head or balls? Your choice.) to tofu. But opting for the communal Spicy Hot Pot at the Chef’s Special section is as enjoyable as partaking in Korean barbecue with pals. Once the portable burner is set up, out comes a stainless steel hot pot, a divider separating a mild chicken broth with one dialed up with chiles, flavored with whole star anise, coins of ginger root and bits of licorice root. It’s up to you to add the thinly shaved mutton — typical of hot pots in Northern China — crab, shrimp, fish eggs, hearty greens of napa cabbage and baby bok choy and rice stick noodles. Sip tea while the concoction bubbles, then ladle it into your bowl and gussy it up with a pasty peanut-sesame dipping sauce, minced scallions and heated bird’s-eye chile pepper oil. As one dining partner aptly commented about this feast-in-a-bowl, “If you walked in with a cold, you’d be over it by the time you left.” (5141 Buford Highway N.E., Atlanta. 770-458-2282, Facebook: Northern China Eatery.)