Yes, this is a daydream I actually have: I get sent to a deserted island and told I can make only one kind of food for the rest of my life.
I never hesitate to make my pick: Soup.
I love to make soup, simmering out a broth and building the flavors. I love to eat soup, dipping into bowls of delight in an endless variety.
When I set out to find a half-dozen or so examples of great soups around town, I already had a list of favorites and recommendations from other soup-savvy friends.
What makes a good soup? A good soup has layers of flavor that keep it interesting all the way to the last spoonful. A good soup has textures that keep it interesting. And above all, a good soup is made from scratch, not glopped out of a package and reheated.
That last rule makes it difficult to go in search of soup. Places that make good soup tend to change it up weekly or daily. If they care enough to make it from scratch, they usually care enough to get creative, too.
Still, there are enough regulars and reliable places that I can fill your bowl with suggestions:
1. Papi Queso’s Smoky Tomato Bisque; $4.
Yes, it’s a food truck, so you have to go to the website (or follow them on Facebook) to find the daily location. But it’s worth the search.
“We take our soup really kind of seriously,” says chef Brian Stockholm. First, he layers flavors, including California San Marzano-style tomatoes, fennel, coriander, ancho chile, pasilla chiles and smoked paprika. That gives it smoky heat with a little sweetness. Then he reheats the base with cream steeped with tarragon.
Finally, he uses a powerful blender to emulsify it while it’s hot, so it’s light and airy.
Pro tip: Get it with the Pan-Roasted Mushroom grilled cheese sandwich. Oh, my.
2. Eddie’s Place She-Crab Soup, $5.25 and $6.95.
I’ve tried several seafood soups around town, but I always come back to this one: A buttery-tasting bowl of rich cream with lots of flecks of real, identifiable crab.
Best touch: They serve it with a cruet of sherry, so you can jazz it up as much as you want.
3. Renaissance Patisserie French Onion Soup, $10.
Baker Sylvain Rivet is known for French pastries, but I got hooked on jars of his onion soup at his stand at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market. Now that he’s opened a bakery on South Boulevard, it’s in the refrigerator case every day.
It comes in a Mason jar with enough to serve four, filled with a generous amount of caramelized onion and an unctuous beef broth. Take it home and dress it up with toasted baguette slices and whatever cheese you like.
4. Amelie’s Spinach Asparagus Leek (with a twist), $3.99, $5.99 or quarts to go for $10.59.
Yes, I love my pal SAL, with a cream base and lots of green stuff. But what I really love is that it plays well with others: My usual move is to get a bowl that’s half SAL and half whatever the other soup of the day is.
I get weird looks when I order it, but I haven’t found a combination yet that doesn’t work – Thai sweet potato, carrot ginger. I even did it recently with lentil.
5. Luna’s Living Kitchen daily soup, $5 and $7.
Since much of what Luna’s does is raw, I was expecting a cold soup on a recent stop. But in winter, says assistant manager Lindsay Davis, people want something hot.
They rotate several soups regularly: Pea and Leek is a twist on a pureed split-pea soup with a drizzle of cashew sour cream and a sprinkle of hickory-smoked sea salt. On other days, it might be rosemary-cauliflower, vegan chili, Armenian-style lentil or – my heart thumps at the thought – sweet potato and pear.
6. Millstone Bake House, $4.95 and $6.95, and The Pickled Peach, $4 and $10 for a quart, Davidson.
This is a two-fer move. Both places make daily soups based on the kitchen’s whim. So if you don’t like one, you can step around the corner and try the other.
Chances are good that you’ll like both, though. Both places specialize in outstanding housemade soups. In a stop earlier this week, Millstone was featuring a tomato-y take on an Italian wedding soup, with small meatballs, flecks of fresh green herbs and a mix of small bits of pasta. (I even had a couple of alphabet noodles float into my spoon.)
At the Pickled Peach, they usually have three soups going, including a vegetarian or vegan one. I tried Mushroom, Basmati Rice, Ginger and Kale: So virtuous and delicious, I felt justified in grabbing one of the oatmeal cookie sandwiches with a 2-inch-thick layer of marshmallow creme.
Both places’ bowls were good to the last drop.
Where to find them
Eddie’s Place, 617 S. Sharon Amity Road, 704-442-0147; open daily.
Renaissance Patisserie, 2809 South Blvd., 980-819-8771; 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Also available at the Charlotte Regional Farmers Market, 1801 Yorkmont Road.
Amelie’s French Bakery & Cafe, 2424 N. Davidson St. and other locations; 704-376-1781; ameliesfrenchbakery.com.
Luna’s Living Kitchen, 2000 South Blvd., 704-333-0008; livingkitchen.com.
Millstone Bake House and Provisions, 208 S. Main St., Davidson, 704-895-7836; 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday.
The Pickled Peach, 202 S. Main St., Davidson, 704-765-2190; 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; thepickledpeach.com.