Photo by Jeanne RiceI felt lousy. My head was stuffy, and my stomach was queasy. I was cranky, beat, and just sick and tired of all the phonies in the office that I like to call "everyone but me." I had no appetite but knew I should eat, and I was at least coherent enough to know that the usual dressing-soaked sub sandwich was not what the doctor would order.
"Go to Rutabegorz," said some office loudmouth. "They've got a lot of great soups. Everything there's really fresh."
So I went, taking colleagues Anthony Pignataro and Linda Nelson with me (eating alone looks so pathetic no matter how hard you try to look like you're really into that In Style magazine piece about Courtney Thorne-Smith dating an unnamed Boulder cardiologist.)
So off we went to Rutabegorz, located in a gorgeous old building—circa 1914—in Old Town Tustin, with high ceilings, great old furnishings and frenetic artwork. After parking the car and pointing out to Anthony and Linda a couple that was having an affair—extended hugs in parking lots are a dead giveaway, kids—we went in. Just as Sir Talkalot had promised, there were eight soups on the day's menu.
I went with the classic chicken-noodle cure. It was terrific, so chock-full of noodles, chicken and veggies that it seemed more of a stew. The broth was light and flavorful, with enough warmth to provide comfort and enough oomph to break up the schmutz.
Anthony turned it up a notch and went with Rutabegorz's signature, a spicier chicken tortilla soup.
"How is it?" I inquired of the top of Anthony's head, since he prefers to eat nose-first.
Anthony's scalp was tight-lipped, so I turned to Linda and asked about her cockie leeky, which sounds like crude slang for a sexually transmitted disease but is in fact a combination of chicken and rice in a creamy broth.
"Excellent," she said. "Very creamy, lots of chicken, very smooth. None of that gritty, chalky taste you can get, you know, in cream soups. It's like a latte—a chicken latte."
"Oh, yeah! Oh, yeah!" Anthony said.
"No, my sinuses—it's working! Yeah, oh, yeah."
"But how does it taste?" I pressed Anthony's head.
"Oh, yeah," it said, and then Anthony commenced to sniffling in a manner so robust I'm sure some ancient cultures would have found it complimentary.
Next, I dug into a garlic-chicken sandwich, the stinking rose perfectly accenting the meat. The garlic never overpowered the sandwich but rather melded with it. The crusty bread's soft innards were suffused with the stuff and tasted wonderful. The garlic continued the counterassault on my schmutz and seemed to bring my stomach and appetite alive. I thought I'd only try a bite or two but ended up eating both halves along with the accompanying pasta salad, pickle and grapes.
I asked Anthony's cranium about the turkey avocado wrap—turkey, avocado, lettuce, tomato and blue cheese, with a tangy Mediterranean dressing—his mouth was bound around.
"Mmm-hmmm, mmm-hmmm," it said.
Wishing to brush up on my English conversational skills, I turned back to Linda and asked her about her avocado sandwich (avocado, tomato, cheese and sunflower seeds on squaw bread).
"Delicious," she said. "This is the freshest avocado I've ever tasted."
"Mmm-hmmm, mmm-hmmm," agreed Anthony—a regular Calvin Trillin, that one.
And then it was time to go. I left Rutabegorz satisfied, my appetite in order, my head and step a bit lighter. Cured? Well, I don't want to get into religion. I'll just say that I felt better about things as I walked back to the car—as, I believe, did my companions.
"That was great," said Linda.
"Mmm-hmmm," raved Anthony.
Rutabegorz, located at 158 W. Main, Tustin, is open daily, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. (714) 731-9807. Also at 211 N. Pomona, Fullerton, (714) 738-9339; 264 N. Glassell St., Orange, (714) 633-3260. Beer and wine. Lunch for two, $20, food only. all major credit cards accepted.