Seinfeld's Soupman Comes to Richmond
As a former resident of New York City, I was lucky enough to regularly lunch on delicious soups created by a true master of the form — Al Yeganeh, better known as the real-life inspiration for the Soup Nazi character on Seinfeld. Funny as that episode was, I always felt like Yeganeh got a bad rap. (And apparently he feels the same way, since Rule No. 2 for the press on his Web site reads “No ‘N’ word.”) The harshly enforced rules at his soup stand did exactly what they promised — kept the line moving for “the most efficient and fastest service.” In my experience, the only people who got tossed were those annoying creatures who are always holding the rest of us up at lunchtime by waiting until they’re at the head of the line to decide on their order or figure out if they’ve got enough money.
Of course, Yeganeh could afford to lose the occasional customer because he really delivered the goods (that part Seinfeld definitely got right). It wasn’t cheap — the best things in life rarely are — but along with a very generously portioned cup of delicious soup (my fave was the turkey chili, but I’d also occasionally dip into the chicken gumbo or the beef goulash), you’d get a piece of crusty bread, fresh fruit and a chocolate with each order. It was always an occasion for sadness around my office whenever Yeganeh would close up shop in the warmer months, just as it was an occasion for joy when he returned.
Now there’s an occasion for joy in Richmond: Yeganeh’s soups are available locally in the freezer section at Ukrop’s (and Joe’s Market) under The Original SoupMan label. Apparently while I’ve been away from Manhattan, Yeganeh has franchised out his restaurant concept (closest location is in Tysons Corner, sadly) and his soups are now sold in 15-ounce packages at grocery stores. (You can also buy the soup online, but shipping costs are a bit prohibitive.) The cost ranges from $3.99 for garden vegetable to $6.49 for jambalaya, and Progresso and Campbell’s simply can’t compare. Needless to say, I’ve stocked up. A couple nights ago, I heated up some turkey chili, and the turkey and kidney beans bathing in a spicy tomato base reminded me of why I used to make the trip to Yeganeh’s Soup Kitchen International on 55th St.