The best soup that there’s ever been, in the history of food, was the gazpacho at the late, dearly lamented Mean Bean in Athens. If you never had this soup, then you’ll never know what the best soup in the universe tasted like. Now about ten months ago, down in south Georgia, I did have a bowl of gazpacho which seemed to me to be in the same general hemisphere of coma-inducing wonder, but I was also a little distracted, what with being about five hours away from getting married, so I might have been exaggerating things just a little. I’ll have to try it again and see whether it holds up.
Assuming that it does, then it stands to follow that the third best soup in the world is the creamy tomato soup at Sweet Tomatoes, a national chain known on the west coast as Souplantation. And I can see disappointment in the eyes of a few readers through the screens of their laptops, as it’s just a month into this experiment and I’m already talking about a national chain. Tsk!
Obsession with the creamy tomato soup is widely known as writer Mark Evanier’s recurring joke, and I’m not trying to hem in on his well-worn territory, but I do have to thank him for cluing me in on the place. Depending on his mood, he’ll either casually mention it or go into full-bore rave when the soup returns to the restaurant’s rotating menu. This usually happens every March and for one week in the fall. I’ve never understood this. There are a few soups available here year-round. One of these is their signature deep kettle house chili, which is the blandest and most disappointingly ordinary chili I’ve ever had, and they serve that slop all the time?
Oh, and I’ll tell you what’s worse: they’ve also got some soups which are on an even sillier 15-day rotation. So if you go in the first half of March, you can alternate bowls of creamy tomato and their shrimp bisque, which is also outstanding, but in the second half of the month, they replace the shrimp bisque with clam chowder, which I can’t eat. Now what’s fair about that?
So anyway, about four years back, Mark was raving about this soup and I decided the kiddos needed some more vegetables, so we made an evening out of it and I was sold. I mean, this soup is really, really good. It doesn’t seem possible that anything made in such quantity can be so tasty, but I had something like six bowls of the stuff that first night. Then I remained sitting there for a very, very long time.
To be honest, Sweet Tomatoes is one of those places that flatly is not worth a visit unless you check the website beforehand and confirm that there’s a good soup on the menu. Now Marie likes the place regardless, because she enjoys making a nice salad to her specifications, but I never feel like I’ve gotten my money’s worth unless I can enjoy several bowls of soup. The creamy tomato and the shrimp bisque are certainly deal-clinchers, and I also really like their El Paso chicken and lime. I’ll go to Sweet Tomatoes without a grumble if any one of the three are present. I mean, the day hasn’t come where I’ve dropped my fork in shock and raved about the lettuce and spinach I’ve just had, plus their pastas are uniformly disappointing, so there needs to be good soup.
Luckily, Marie’s birthday happens to come in March, so we can usually justify two or three visits during the month. I need to do a better job remembering to go at the start of March, however. Sunday night, we got a group of friends together to celebrate. We all arrived in the middle of a huge downpour, exactly the sort of weather that requires two or three bowls of soup.
Well, we were nine in total and an astonishing amount of soup was consumed. Neal had several bowls of their black bean chili, which surely must be superior to their regular deep-kettle-thing because it cannot possibly be worse, and was comatose for the next sixteen hours. Between us, my wife and I built a small fort of little red soup bowls. She didn’t have space on the table to set her gift cards down. That’s one of the advantages to having children; you can send them back to the line for more soup. Just keep it coming, with some of that cheesy bread to dunk in it. More tomato soup, and nobody gets hurt. Maybe we’ll go back Saturday afternoon, before they replace the creamy tomato with something inevitably inferior.
Other blog posts about Sweet Tomatoes in Atlanta: