Northwest Military Blogs: Served blog

January 7, 2015 at 10:31am

Eat This Now: Shrimp and Grits

The Social Bar and Grill serves a spicy Shrimp and Grits dish. Photo credit: Jackie Fender

When you work in the restaurant industry there are some definite perks to the job. Typically those perks involve one of three things, in no particular order: the tips, the flexibility and the grub. I've been in the restaurant industry for more than a dozen years and can say, without a doubt; those three aspects are why I stay in the business. I have served at establishments with less than desirable food. I vowed to never allow monetary compensation to sway me again. Let's face it: after a craptastic day working a shift you picked up for someone else that garnered equally craptastic tips, your meal may be the only perk.

The grub is one of the reasons I remain at The Social Bar and Grill. Although I'm on the substitution list, The Social's fabulous fusion flavors from the Mediterranean, Pacific Islands, Spain and Central American coastlines - and their fun cocktails (OK, it's really all about the SBG Manhattan) - bombards my mind during decision time.

Currently, my favorite Social dish, and my Eat This Now recommendation, is their Shrimp and Grits. May Southern Belles are raising brows in doubt, but hear me out Though the Social's Shrimp and Grits is not a traditional take, it's so damn tasty you'll forgive all that. Meaty shrimp and cubed pork bits are sautéed with onions and bell peppers to perfection. There's some spectacular spicing going on that leaves each bite full of flavor with just a whisper of heat. Placed upon a generous serving of creamy grits and corn it's a divine entrée that serves up some bang for its buck. Every forkful carries multiple textures and superb flavors.

Try it. You'll like it.

THE SOCIAL BAR AND GRILL, 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday-Thursday, 11-1 a.m. Friday and Saturday, 1715 Dock St., Tacoma, 253.301.3835

Filed under: Eat This Now, Tacoma,

January 6, 2015 at 10:41am

Top Rung Brewing Co. offers servicemember discounts

Casey Sobol, left, and Jason Stoltz founded Top Rung Brewing Co. in April 2014. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

For Lacey-based Top Rung Brewing Co., it's all about family, friendship and honoring those who serve with a great product, a terrific atmosphere and a heartfelt thank you.

It all began with a dream, hard work and the passion to serve the local community.

The craft beer brewery, who opened their facility and tasting room in the spring of 2014, is the product of a unique friendship and family collaboration. Casey Sobol, brewery operations manager and managing member, along with Jason Stoltz, head brewer and managing member, were both deeply passionate about brewing great beer. With the support of family, investors and friends, Top Rung Brewing was born.

However, both men have another important role: they work full-time as firefighters, serving the Olympia area.

With that in mind, Top Rung Brewing Co. is passionate about recognizing and supporting families; not only immediate families but the "family" of servicemembers, fellow firefighters and police officers who serve their country and communities. As a way of saying thank you, the brewer has created "Challenge Coin Saturday" to recognize military, firefighters and police officers. Patrons that show their challenge coins on Saturdays will receive a $1 discount on a pint (military ID will also be honored to receive the discount). Also, the same group of servicemebers may receive a $1 discount on their first pint Thursday-Sunday, unless they pull out a coin on Saturdays.

"Jason and I took on the ‘challenge coin' concept, which started in the military, and thought it would be a neat way to recognize people," explains Casey Sobol. "We wanted to do something to say thank you to the military, fire and police communities and to recognize their service to our country and our communities."

In addition to recognizing those who serve, Sobol said it's also important to recognize families too.

"When it comes to balance, we have to achieve that very delicately," says Sobol, the parent of two young daughters. "Working on this business and being a firefighter, well, it can be challenging at times, but we make it work.

"We are so thankful for our families and their support; that's why it was important to have Top Rung be family friendly. I wanted to be able to bring my girls here."

Seating is long wooden tables to accommodate groups and conversation. The brewery provides a variety of board games to borrow and play (in the warmer months, outdoor games are planned). While there is a television available for big game day viewing, the volume is off. It's a relaxed environment to enjoy family and friends (to note: snacks are available and patrons can bring their own food).

And, of course, there is some terrific beer.

All the brews have subtle and not-so-subtle firefighter-themed names. The Prying Irons IPA and the My Dog Scout Stout are patron favorites. The pumpkin ale was also a big hit in the fall. A light, easy drinking black lager winter release is in the works and the brewery also features a nice Cascadian dark ale, Good Jake CDA, that hop lovers will appreciate.

Other plans for the brewer for 2015? It is going to be an exciting year.

According to Sobol, they plan to start bottling their beer in the first quarter of this year in-house with limited release. A beer club is in the works that promises to be one of a kind.

Top Rung will also be offering their first beer pairing dinner and tasting Jan. 25 at 6 p.m. in their tap room.  The special dinner will offer a full menu, tastings, brewery tour and brewing overview. Tickets are $45 per person and available at the brewery. This event is limited to 26 people.

For more information on Top Rung, upcoming events, hours of operation, directions and more, visit them online at toprungbrewing.com or on Facebook.

Top Rung Brewery Co. is at 8343 Hogum Bay Lane NE in Lacey.

January 5, 2015 at 12:49pm

208 Garfield Beer Geek offers beer-tasting classes in January

208 Garfield in Parkland will host a series of beer-tasting classes using the Siebel Institute Basic Sensory Training Kit.

New Year resolutions are a manifestation of looking back and seeing all the foolhardy, self-serving, reprehensible qualities that have so bedeviled you in the past, then resolving to do better in the upcoming year. But, within the first few weeks of January, approximately 100 million Americans walk the same path. It's a path filled with empty promises to quit smoking, lose weight and exercise more. Trying to quit smoking can be as tough as Parker Posey in Dazed and Confused. And even though you're totally BFF with Mother Earth these days, did you really need those jeans made from cotton grown by blind monks? Maybe make this the year you get a grip on your finances. Consider education as a resolution. Expand the horizons of your mind. Put your mind to the test, because with every new thing you learn, another door opens. This could be something as easy as reading a novel, or learning the science behind tasting beer.

If building skills to distinguish between beer flavors is your resolution, then Pacific Lutheran University Sous-chef Erick Swenson has your, er, tongue. His four-part, beer-tasting class launches Sunday at 208 Garfield restaurant, running consecutive Sundays through Feb. 1. Titled "Perfecting Your Inner Beer Geek," Swenson is the perfect geek to teach the class. When he's not creating cuisine at PLU's dining facilities or catering departments, Swenson runs the monthly beer nights at neighboring restaurant, 208 Garfield. The brain trust at 208 Garfield endearingly dubs Swenson their resident "beer geek," encouraging him to help with their beer selection. In return, Swenson oversees the food production at the PLU commissary kitchen that supplies 208. With 20 years in the culinary field, it's surprising 208 doesn't call Swenson their "food geek."

"I have embraced the label of ‘geek'," says Swenson. "I use it as an alternative to ‘snob.' A geek is someone who finds a passion for a subject and then plunges in deep to learn as much about that subject as they can. A geek is excited about what they have learned and wants to share it with as many people as possible. In addition to that, a geek is looking for things to love about their subject where a snob would be looking for things they don't like. ‘Have you tried this? It is amazing,' says the geek. ‘I would never drink that. It's a domestic,' says the snob. I think that geeks are more fun to talk to and we want our events to be a fun experience with the chance to learn something."

Swenson has also been a home brewer for 17 years.

"I started with Charlie Papazian's books, of course, and I read as much as I could get my hands on. I also got a lot of useful advice from Beer Essentials and Larry's Brewing Supplies. I really went off the deep end when I read Ray Daniels' book, Designing Great Beer. That is the best primer for beer styles and ingredients that I have found. I have not taken any courses from the Siebel Institute but I was impressed with their website when I was researching Cicerone training. When I pitched the idea of doing a Sensory training course the Siebel Institute's kit made the most sense.

The Siebel Institute in Chicago, created by John E. Siebel in the mid-1800s, has graduated many a professional brewer. The school's training kits contain 24 vials of pre-measured "standards" representing some of the most important flavors and aromatics found in beer. With the help of the kits, Swenson will lead participants through four flavor trainings: earthy/spicy/acidic Jan. 11; vanilla/grainy/bitter Jan. 18; identifying flaws in beer Jan. 25; Cicerone Certification Program training Feb. 1. To reserve a spot, click here.

"We will be exploring six sensory characteristics per session by tasting the sample, comparing it to a neutral sample and then talking about the differences we taste," says Swenson. "I will be giving a short talk on each one of the samples to guide the tasting but it will be largely interactive. It is important when training the palate that you are able to make personal associations in your mind. For example, Duchesse de Bourgogne reminds me of a really nice raspberry vinegar and that is now what I look for in Flanders Sour Red beers. The samples have been roughly broken up into the four sessions. The first and second sessions will be mostly flavors that are common to specific styles of beer, the third session will be flaws in beer and the fourth session will cover the characteristics that are tested in the Certified Cicerone test. 

Zeroing in on the various flavors in different beers will help you begin to isolate the styles that you like the most. Is it bitter? Earthy? Are there fruity flavors? Smoke? How about grassy, herbal flavors? The tasting series offers a guided tour through important flavors in both brewing and drinking beer, but it is not officially sanctioned by the Siebel Institute or by the Cicerone program.

Where does Swenson get his beer geek on?

"At 208, of course," he replies. "I also enjoy the selection at the ParkWay. I have been following Wingman brewery since they started. I love their P-51 Porter, and I really like what Odd Otter Brewing is doing in downtown Tacoma. Mamma Otter's Pancake Porter ... wow!"

As I said, all those good intentions will fall by the wayside some time before Groundhog Day. A far easier resolution to uphold would involve adding awesomeness into your life rather than denying yourself it, such as Swenson's beer tasting series. That's why I typically start the year by promising myself to drink better beer than the year before. I haven't failed yet. And I wish you similar success.

PERFECTING YOUR INNER BEER GEEK, 2 p.m., Jan. 11, 18, 25 and Feb. 1, 208 Garfield, 208 Garfield St. S., Tacoma, $10 a class, $36 for series, 253.538.5990

Filed under: New Beer Column, Parkland, Tacoma,

January 5, 2015 at 10:03am

Served Blog Banner Girl: Q&A with bartender Tessa Rhodes of Masa

You'll find Tessa Rhodes behind the bar at Masa in Tacoma's Sixth Avenue neighborhood ... unless "Halloween" is on the tube somewhere. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

Every week we swap out the Served banner art above, introducing you to the people who serve food and drinks in the South Sound. This week, meet Tessa Rhodes.

Server Banner Girl, Jan. 5-11, 2015

Tessa Rhodes

"Dark, deep red and full of zing, the Bloody Mary at the Harvester Restaurant's lounge is a patriotic salute to drinking - patriotic meaning one sip of bartender Tessa's concoction and I'm immediately at attention." I wrote that under the barfly pseudonym "Brad Allen" in the Oct. 23, 2006 issue of the Weekly Volcano. Tessa Rhodes, the bartender in the back lounge of the Tacoma Stadium District restaurant, was known for her Bloody Marys, serving them strong with a lime slice instead of celery. Rhodes has been pouring her enthusiasm into drinks for more than 16 years in Tacoma, including Hank's, Chopstix and her current gig - eight years at Masa. Besides delicious, well-crafted drinks, she's always good for an honest, interesting conversation.

Why do you like to serve?

"I have been a bartender for almost 17 years. I love the interaction with people - creating relationships and learning more about them. Also, the job is very active. I love going to work and knowing it'll be the same, but different, all at the same time. I'm not just sitting around."

Who is your favorite server in the South Sound?

"I have many friends in the service industry. I don't really have a favorite. I love all my peeps."

What are you most proud to serve?

"Honestly, after being in the industry for as long as I have, I most proud to serve a good product. I believe in great food and a drink that is made to perfection - which I believe we have at Masa."

What's your drink of choice?

"Well, I've enjoyed all types of alcohol, but I prefer Raspberry Stoli with 7 Up and a splash of cran." 

Favorite movie?

"That's a hard one. I do have to say I'm an '80s kid.  But, secretly I am an old horror movie junkie. I own them all and most of the new good ones. It's definitely a toss up between the Exorcist and Halloween. If I could get away with watching one of those on a weekly basis, I would." 

What don't you serve?  

"151. If you are taking shots of that you just want to throw up on yourself and there is so much more to enjoying yourself and your night in the bar." 

What's on your radar at Masa?

"We've been serving great and tasty new food and drink specials. And, I am always excited when we make new changes to the menu - which usually happens once a year. Also, being a part of our nightlife that is exciting, fun and providing a place for the guests to come and have a great night dancing with friends and family."

MASA, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 11-2 a.m. Thursday and Friday, 9:30-2 a.m. Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, 2811 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253.254.0560

LINK: Meet other South Sound servers

LINK: South Sound Happy Hour App

Filed under: Served Banner Models, Tacoma,

January 2, 2015 at 11:34am

Mac and Cheese Madness: Harmon Brewery & Eatery

The Harmon Brewery & Eatery serves their mac and cheese creamy. Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

The Franciscan Polar Plaza ice-skating rink has, at its heart, attempted to bring life to a patch of land that has been, well, a little barren for the past few years. Tollefson Plaza has been criticized by many as a hefty investment with little return for the community. On-again, off-again efforts to turn the public plaza into something noticeably public have met with limited success. If downtown were brimming with daytime shoppers, Tollefson Plaza might attract a few people. But until then, organizers say, it's up to local organizations to make it a destination. Thanks to the Tacoma Art Museum, with backing from the Franciscan Health, Tollefson Plaza is full of life during the holiday season - although much of that life falls on its ass.

For the past three years I have booked live music every Saturday during the ice rink's run. I've witnessed amazing music, holiday cheer, hipsters falling right on their skinny-jeans bums, and couples, awash in love, rosy from the fresh air, celebrating their wedding proposals on ice. I've also seen a fare share on concussions and broken bones.

The musicians are good sports. Most Saturday nights have seen temperatures below freezing. Melodies have been twisted due to frozen digits and chilly deep breaths.

To accompany the new "Art of the American West" exhibit in the new Haub Family Collection wing at TAM, I booked bluegrass, country rock and old-timey bands at the rink. The Cottonwood Cutups, SweetKiss Momma, Shotgun Kitchen, The Rusty Cleavers, Dixie Highway and Forest Beutel added an awesome soundtrack for butterfly jumps, cherry-flips, layback spins - but mostly skating moves such as the unstable skating, the fall, the skid and the mixed-gender collision. This Saturday, Jan. 3, The Oly Mountain Boys bring it all home from 7-9 p.m.

What the hell does this have to do with mac and cheese?

While the musicians freeze their asses off, I typically take a long intermission and warm up with a Manhattan from a neighboring restaurant or bar. Two weeks ago, I made my way down Pacific Avenue for a delicious Manhattan made by lovely bartender Katie at Harmon Brewery & Eatery. It was there I discovered the Harmon's delicious creamy crab mac and cheese.

If ever there was a loaded dish, it is this. A huge dish full of cheese, Dungeness crab and nostalgia, and so hearty it can warm the coldest night. Elbow macaroni are enmeshed in creamy cheese sauce of Parmesan, Asiago, cotija as well as a cheddar/jack blend. A giant bowl arrives full of pasta, in what appears to be a simply creamy, cheese sauce flavored with Dungeness crab. But try to take a bite and you'll find that the stringy bits of cheese pasta are wholly enmeshed in the sauce. Better to take the scoop-and-shovel approach to eating this one. At $16.99, the giant bowl of comfort food will easily fill two bellies.

HARMON BREWERY & EATERY, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday, 9 a.m. to midnight Saturday, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, 1938 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.383.2739

LINK: Video of Katie mixing a Manhattan at the Harmon

LINK: More mac and cheese dishes in the South Sound

LINK: The answer to why this mac and cheese column exists

January 2, 2015 at 10:36am

The Original Pancake House boosts Sixth Avenue's Boulevard of Breakfast

The Original Pancake House on Tacoma's Sixth avenue offers a truly diverse selection of pancakes - various combinations of eggs, milk and flour, fried or baked. Photo credit: Jackie Fender

There are so many breakfast options I think we ought to rename the strip. Maybe "Sausage Street" is more appropriate, or "Rise and Shine Road." Seriously, think about it: chilaquilles from Masa, Shakabrah's magic potatoes, elk hash from Dirty Oscar's Annex, Old Milwaukee Café's huckleberry hotcakes or Engine House 9's California Benedict. The culinary options available on the Ave first thing in the AM (particularly on the weekends) are mighty and diverse. And now, The Boulevard of Breakfast has welcomed a new morning dining staple in The Original Pancake House.

As of Dec. 23, OPH, which serves up breakfast only morning, noon and night in the space that Primo Grill used to call home, has joined the ranks of Sixth Ave. breakfast establishments.

Read Jackie Fender's full review of The Original Pancake House in the Restaurant section.

Filed under: Breakfast, Tacoma,

December 31, 2014 at 9:52pm

Oyster Makeover: Hilltop Kitchen

Yes, Hilltop Kitchen serves its oysters on a bed of pebbles with paper-thin radishes. I know, right? Photo credit: Pappi Swarner

Purists will tell you that the only way to eat an oyster is live, raw, with just a few drops of lemon juice. That's nonsense. It's amazing what can happen when a chef, not a shucker, puts his or her hand to an oyster.

Enter Hilltop Kitchen.

The Hilltop Tacoma gastropub knows fiery chorizo forms a very happy marriage with roasted oysters.

Buying from a small oyster farm that is not the local favorite Taylor Shellfish Farms, HK serves light brine, roasted kumamoto oysters ($14) in their highly sculptured, deep cup shells filled with chorizo oil and horseradish crema. It's a warm, spicy bath on the tongue, balanced with the luscious fruity oysters.

I adore the touch of molecular gastronomy in the garnish, with dainty colorful green onion "caviar," made by spherification, brightening up the dish.

I had to put the brakes on my New Year's Eve to alert the South Sound to this wonderful dish. Happy New Year!

HILLTOP KITCHEN, 11-2 a.m. Monday-Saturday, 913 MLK JR Way, Tacoma, 253.327.1397

Filed under: Eat This Now, Tacoma,

December 30, 2014 at 10:25am

Beer Here: Happy New Beer and upcoming events

Happy New Year!

Ten ... nine ... Please, please tell me you're not at home while the clock's ticking. Not bidding adieu to the bucking Year of the Horse 2014 on the couch. Not munching stale popcorn. Not watching hair-gelled Ryan Seacrest hyperventilate you into Jan. 1. Eight ... seven ... six ... So that 2014 diet ended at 3 a.m. last New Year's Day when you went on a bleary-eyed Taco Time run. So you weren't nicer to your sister, never fixed the washing machine and have yet to visit your ailing grandmother. If you're resolving to drink more South Sound beers in 2015, now's your chance to get a jump on a resolution you just might keep. Five ... four ... Here are this week's local beer happenings to help push out with the old, and drink in with the new, or something - and no better way to set a tasty tone for the year than by ringing in 2015 while drinking beer. Three ... two ... one ...

WEDNESDAY, DEC. 31

The Harmon Brewing Co. Mobile will be racing down the highway New Year's Eve. First stop, a noon to 3 p.m. new Point Defiance IPA tasting at Olympia Total Wine & More, followed by a 4-7 p.m. PD IPA tasting at the Puyallup Total Wine & More with Spokane's No-Li Brewhouse in the house, too.

Beer will be flowing all over the South Sound New Year's Eve, including at taprooms. Puyallup River Alehouse invites Two Beers Brewing Co. and its sister business, Seattle Cider Co., to wear party hats at its downtown Puyallup locale, with raffle prizes and free champagne toast at midnight as part of the festivities. The long haul begins at 6 p.m.

Three Magnets Brewing Co. hosts a NYE shindig with Major Thompkins Imperial Oatmeal Stout in the firkin with figs, gates and bourbon, Wreathing Havoc Imperial Red Rye Ale in another firkin with cocoa nibs and Himalayan sea salt, and Whitewood Cider's Wassail Spiced Red Cap Cider in on the party, too.

Wanna have a Happy New Beer? Head over to Odd Otter Brewing Company for "An Otter New Year's Eve Party", kicking off at 8 p.m. The Tacoma brewery will be unleashing its holiday beer Winterface Ale at the party for those who score a limited number of tickets. A wristband reading "Have an Otter New Year - 2015" is proof you belong, with neighbor The Matador providing the munchies. The $49.99 ticket is available at oddotterbrewing.com.

The Red Hot will hold a Duvel toast at midnight.

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 7

Puyallup River Alehouse hosts Bainbridge Island Brewing for a brewer's night. They have been brewing Kommuter Kolsch, Bainbridge Pale Ale, Port Blakely Brown, Battle Point Stout and its most popular beer, Eagle Harbor IPA, since opening in June 2012. Will they bring their "Beeritos" - a brew that includes Cool Ranch Doritos - to the Alehouse? Drop by from 6-9 p.m. and find out, and maybe win a prize.

FUTURE THINGS ARE COMING

The beer hits your tongue. You try to identify different flavor components in the beer. Is it bitter? Earthy? Are there fruity flavors? Smoke? How about grassy, herbal flavors? Zeroing in on the various flavors in different beers will help you begin to isolate the styles that you like the most, at least according to beer geek Erick Swenson. The Pacific Lutheran University sous chef holds special beer nights at the school's neighboring restaurant 208 Garfield. In January, he's hosting the four-part "Perfecting Your Inner Beer geek" series using the Siebel Institute Sensory Training kit every Sunday afternoon, beginning Jan. 11. The cost is $10 each, or $36 for the series. To sign up, visit 208garfield.com.

Bayview School of Cooking teams up with Elysian Brewing to present "New Year - New Beer, A Brewery Dinner with Elysian Brewing" at 6 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 17. Bayview chefs and Elysian's regional manager will pair beers with a five-course dinner, and discuss all aspects at the school (516 W. Fourth Ave., Olympia). The dinner will include Avatar Jasmine IPA partnered with chicken wings in a spicy peanut sauce and the Split Shot Stout matched with coffee and ancho chili flat iron steak with a green chili apple relish and garlic mashed potatoes. Nice. Tickets are $75 and reservation is required at 360.754.1448.

Hands On Children's Museum hosts "The Art & Science Behind Craft Brews" at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 23. The museum will host beer tastings, beer-themed science experiments, art projects and more. The $25 admission fee includes free beer tastings and a souvenir glass. Barbecue will be available to purchase. Duh, adults only. Buy tickets at www.hocm.com/adultswim.

December 29, 2014 at 10:28am

Eat This Now: Frisko Freeze bacon cheeseburger

Each Frisko Freeze burger ($2.45-$4.90) comes with or without cheese layered with diced onions, chopped lettuce and a special mayonnaise and relish-laden sauce. Photo credit: Jackie Fender

My husband is not a native Tacoman. He hadn't entered the Pacific Northwest until he set foot in Tacoma just over a dozen years ago. There are many Gritty City must-dos he hasn't checked off his list - including noshing on the beefy, finger food that is Frisko Freeze's bacon cheeseburger.

Last weekend, I decided it was time to introduce him to the vintage styled, classic burger drive-thru digs that not only flips some of the best burgers and spins some of the best shakes in town, but is also a Tacoma landmark. Naturally, we opted for a bacon cheeseburger (though I warned him they are on the smaller size), a side of onion rings and a hot fudge shake. Let me tell you ... he is officially a Tacoman and a newfound fan of Frisko Freeze grub. He proclaimed he'd be grubbing on a "double" next time.

Frisko Freeze burgers are delectable, made to order and the perfect level of greasy. Unless altered, the burgers arrive with chopped onions, lettuce, melted cheese and Frisko's sweet relish secret sauce.

Milkshakes are a required partner - thick, creamy and available hot fudge, blackberry and marshmallow, to name a few.

Though Frisko Freeze is not your traditional fast food experience - not as speedy as chain restaurants - it is a must visit at least once in your life.

FRISKO FREEZE, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 10-1 a.m. Friday and Saturday, 1201 Division Ave., Tacoma, 253.272.6843

Filed under: Eat This Now, Tacoma, Burgers,

December 23, 2014 at 12:53pm

Souper's three favorite Tacoma soups

Chili con Carne and I do care. Photo credit: Kim Thompson

In the colder months, I am totally souper.

No, I didn't misspell super. Because that I am not in the winter. Souper is my own made up word for my love of soup, especially this time of year. I eat it with wild abandon.

I'm not alone; soupers abound in the South Puget Sound and feel no differently than I do.

What is it about soup? Why is it so satisfying and gratifying?

I believe the answer lies in nostalgia.

I was one of those asthma and allergy kids with a perpetual runny nose and cough in late grade school, so much so, that when confronted with any kind of viral illness, I moved right to the bronchitis or pneumonia stage.  Being sick and eating soup has worked hand in hand since, well, forever.

My favorite sick soup was chicken broth with star-shaped noodles, of the Campbell's soup variety (that was the era). What I loved about it was there were loads of stars, teensy tiny meat chunks, a few carrot bits thrown in for color and hot, extra salty broth. I liked to collect as many stars on my spoon as possible and gently pour the broth and other pieces out, while trying not to lose any stars; the goal in the end was to eat a bunch of hot stars.

It was fun. And soup just makes you feel better about everything, even if only for a little while.

As an adult, my tastes have drifted into more sophisticated realms, and the Campbell's has been long since abandoned. I adore the creamy soups - delicate and aromatic. Paired with some lovely country bread or small baguette, I am swooning.

That's fun, too (as well as nourishing and delicious).

You know what else is fun? Talking to other locals who are SUPER SOUPERS. The real deal, the ones who love to nourish other soupers. Following are three establishments that appreciate a really good soup and provide it to the rest of us (lucky us!).

Chile con Carne with Butternut Squash

The Social Bar and Grill (Foss Waterway, downtown Tacoma)

The Social not only appreciates a rich and flavorful soup, but also a beautiful and interesting presentation. Delighted patrons are eating it up, literally.

"We have a Chile con Carne with Butternut Squash Soup that is pretty amazing," says Social owner PhilipPanagos. "We use Negra Modelo in the broth with beef brisket, maple, tomatoes, onions, roasted garlic and chipotle. People rave about it all the time. One year, we served it in a mini-pumpkin, but it proved to be a lot of work."

Panagos also noted that the flavorful Seafood Stew draws raves from customers as well: the cream-based soup is a mix of seafood - fresh sweet bay clams, rockfish, prawns, chorizo and fennel - with a hint of Riesling wine.

Red Pepper Kale

Happy Belly (downtown Tacoma)

This soup has produced many happy bellies around town. In fact, it literally reached beloved status very quickly, and the legion of fans is only going to continue to grow.

Happy Belly owner Jennifer Johnson explains.

"People rave about it," she says. "Regulars come get it three to five times a week. Others stop by and get a bowl to take home several times a week as well."

Even better? It's soup goodness that really is good for you, which diners love.

"It's vegan, hearty and very delicious with just a little spicy kick," she adds.

Pickle Soup

Alina's Soups (various Tacoma locations, Proctor Farmers Market)

Yes, you read this correctly. Pickle Soup.

Alina Mikolajczyk of Alina's Soups is the producer of Pickle Soup, and she encourages folks to give it a go, really.

"The name alone raises eyebrows," she says. "Most people cringe when they see the name, but once they taste it, it's a favorite of the day. Nobody has ever heard of Pickle Soup. It's very Polish, but I love how the flavor outweighs the name every time. The curiosity on people's faces when they see my sign. Most of the people just want to sample it because of its name."

I know you are dying to know what is in Pickle Soup. Mikoljczk describes the flavor as a German potato salad in a liquid form.

Another soup that customers are enchanted by is her Potato-Kale Soup with Pork Sausage, which is always a winner with the meat lovers.

Filed under: Health, Tacoma,

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Served, a blog by the Weekly Volcano, is the region’s feedbag of fresh chow daily, local restaurant news, New Beer Column, bar and restaurant openings and closings, breaking culinary news and breaking culinary ground - all brought to the table with a dollop of Internet frivolity on top.

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