A Slice of Life
February 24, 2010 12:00 AM
With apologies to Lionel Bart, who wrote the musical “Oliver!”:
“Soup, glorious soup, we’re anxious to try it.”
Hearty, delicious, warming soup is one of the prime antidotes to winter in New England. And am I wrong, or does this winter seem longer than most?
In any case, when you’re in need of a steaming bowlful, one terrific place to head is Destination Soups on Union Street in downtown New Bedford.
Longtime residents of the city and nearby suburbs will remember this long, narrow storefront as the onetime home of Cheap John’s joke shop. But the soups ladled up by Devin Byrnes and “right-hand man” Ian Otenti are no joke.
You can always count on the duo of chicken vegetable and creamy tomato basil anchoring the soup list. Monday through Wednesday, veggie chili makes an appearance; clam chowder arrives for Thursday and Friday. From there, the possibilities are limited only by the chef’s imagination. Recent days have seen curry lentil vegetable, creamy Italian sausage-potato, cream of mushroom and herbs on the menu.
One I particularly enjoyed on a bone-chilling, rainy December day was Portuguese minestrone, spiked with chourico; the black bean with chourico is terrific, too. Otenti cites “corn chowder — very delicious,” as among his favorites, along with the chicken tortilla lime soup.
Before moving back to the SouthCoast and opening his downtown eatery in December 2008, Byrnes was managing the kitchen of an American bistro-style restaurant in New York City. That eatery does “sort of what I’m trying to do here: simple, fresh food.”
The Salem native first got to know the area when he enrolled at UMass Dartmouth to study history. He started working as a dishwasher at Freestone’s and later worked his way through some stations at a Freetown restaurant. Then came a stint at Not Your Average Joe’s, which Byrnes said is probably where his soup inventiveness began, as he had to come up with two original soups a day while working with Chef Doug Buker.
Byrnes is enthusiastic about the energy in downtown spurred by the influx of young entrepreneurs, commenting on how different the atmosphere is from that in the ’90s. “We’re excited about everything that’s happening,” he said of himself and his wife Rosanna Byrnes, who teaches fifth grade special-ed students at Hayden-McFadden Elementary School in New Bedford.
Since opening Destination Soups 14 months ago, the 35-year-old Byrnes figures he’s made about 100 kinds of soup, from vegan choices like chickpea peanut curry to meaty selections like broccoli rabe with roasted pork. “We always offer samples if someone’s kind of on the fence” about a soup choice, he said.
His goal, he said, is to provide “a decent, healthy, fresh meal for $5,” and with a large soup served with bread (from Lydia’s Bakery) coming in at $4.61, he does just that.
The menu doesn’t stop at soups, though. There’s a selection of sandwiches, such as a sumptuous grilled provolone and cheddar on sourdough (“We sell a ton of those”), grilled chicken, salmon burgers and sloppy joes. Often, there’s a mini-sandwich offering for about three bucks.
Chopped salad and mac and cheese are other regulars on the menu, which can be viewed at www.destinationsoups.com.
The chef turns out between 40 and 50 gallons of soup weekly in a small kitchen equipped with a household electric stove. “I don’t use anything frozen; everything’s fresh” and prepped by hand.
He’s willing to fill special orders with enough notice, like for the customer who wanted a gallon of chowder for an event, and he welcomes catering inquiries.
A steady trickle of customers arrived and departed while we chatted in the mid-afternoon Monday. “We really work hard on getting people out of the door,” he said, understanding that most workers have only a half-hour lunch break.
“Thank God for the regulars,” Byrnes added. “We have people that come in three or four times a week.”
And with all that variety packed into a small space — including cold soups like gazpacho in the summertime — it’s easy to see why.
Destination Soups is at 141 Union St., New Bedford. The phone number is (508) 991-SOUP (7687), and hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Downtown delivery is available with an $8 minimum purchase.
Joanna McQuillan Weeks is food editor of The Standard-Times. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Destination Soups (SouthCoast247.com)
Recently opening its doors on the corner of Union St. and Acushnet Ave in downtown New Bedford, Destination Soups is a place to be discovered. The small shop’s walls are covered with local and world maps, along with postcards from all over the country. Offering much more than soup, Destination has a stellar grilled cheese and other sandwiches, along with a non-standard mac and cheese among the sides. Devin Byrnes, owner and head chef, returns to the SouthCoast area after a long hiatus in New York
“I was working as a chef in Manhattan. I came back to New Bedford in August and saw an opportunity to be a part of the growth of the downtown area,” Byrnes said. “I really think New Bedford can be a cultural center. After seeing the area in the 90s compared to now, there’s so much for people to do, so many choices for food and entertainment.”
Destination Soups uses all homemade ingredients and fresh produce, many coming from local sources. The ciabatta or baguette that accompanies every bowl of soup is provided by Lydia’s Bakery in the North End. The soups cycle throughout the week, with a few standards, such as chicken vegetable or tomato basil, available everyday. There are plenty of vegetarian and vegan choices as well, including the homemade desserts (try the vegan cupcakes). Come summertime, look for ice cream provided by a local dairy.
With a wide variety of not only excellent soups, but sandwiches and sides, Destination Soups is a flavorful and affordable spot to dine. A small soup goes for $3.25, and paired with the cheddar and provolone on sourdough grilled cheese for $3.50, it’s hard to pass up. Bread bowls are offered as well. Stop in between 11-6 Monday through Friday, or have it delivered for free downtown from 11-4 (minimum $8 order). Check them out at destinationsoups.com, (508)-991-SOUP (7687), or hit them up at 141 Union Street. With great food that can only help boost the thriving downtown area, Destination Soups is worth the journey.