Theres a High in My Soup

Photo by Jeanne RiceI love food trivia, and few foods have a better story than, of all things, soup. The first evidence of soup dates back to 6,000 B.C., with the main ingredient being those tasty hippopotamus bones. And according to Chad's Deli in Corvallis, Oregon, the word "soup" comes from the Middle Age word "sop," a popular meal of bread soaked with roast drippings. Early dubious American soup eating can be traced to the Jamestown colonists, who became so desperate for food in their early days that they boiled their companionable mastiff dogs into soup. Yummy!

There are songs about soup, movies about soup (Danny DeVito directed one called Minestrone in 1975), and, of course, art about soup. When Andy Warhol was asked why he painted the Campbell's can instead of, say, one of Heinz baked beans, he reportedly drawled, "Because I used to drink [soup]. Iused to have the same lunch everyday for 20 years."

It's hard to talk of soup and not think of Campbell's, a juggernaut of consumer branding. According to the Campbell's Web page (which I highly recommend: www.campbell, Americans purchase more than 70 cans of Campbell's soup per second, and at any given moment in an average U.S. household, you can find eight cans of the stuff. In 1990, some lucky stiff bought the 20 billionth can of Campbell's tomato soup.

As far as I can tell, every cuisine on Earth prominently features some form of soup, both as an appetizer and as a main meal. I'm certain that as the Human Genome Project continues, some scientist will unearth a strand of soup DNA that genetically drives us to slurp down bowl after bowl of the stuff.

I'm not a soup eater by nature, but once in a while, the soup itch drives me crazy. When this itch must be scratched, I head to my favorite Orange County soup haunt, Rutabegorz.

According to lore, four hippie entrepreneurs opened the first Rutabegorz in a Fullerton house in 1970. That original site endures, and they've added other sites in Tustin and Irvine. With a menu filled with "health-conscious" salads, soups, sandwiches and meatless entrées, it's a gathering place for the Birkenstock crowd. But a lot of us non-Birkenstock types go there, too.

Rutabegorz serves three standard types:the cockie leeky, made with chicken and leeks in a rich, creamy broth; the chicken-tortilla, made with chicken, veggies and a spicy broth and topped with a load of tortilla chips; and the vegetarian delight, made with a bushel of vegetables in a tomato broth. Plus, there's always a soup du jour—broccoli-cheese, on a recent evening.

A cup costs $2.50; a bowl $3.75. And a bowl makes a meal. When I'm feeling like I want to be healthy, I get the vegetarian delight, full of carrots, corn, zucchini, celery, mushrooms, onion, broccoli, cauliflower and potato. The spicy tomato broth has a zesty effervescence to it, too. When I crave something heavier, I opt for the cockie leeky with its thick, velvety broth tinged with the subtle funk of leeks. Mmm-mmm good, indeed.

All these soups are hearty, and they never disappoint. Choosing one over the others can be difficult, but if I'd absolutely have to live with only one of them, I'd go for the vegetarian delight. This soup is the best way I know to get a full day's worth of vegetable action in one sitting. Plus, I feel like such a good boy when I'm eating it.

Liking this soup above all others puts me in some pretty heady company. According to the celebrities' favorite soup link on www.soupsong. com, that famed trio of '50s cultural icons—Pat Boone, Dwight Eisenhower and Elvis Presley—prefer vegetable soup. Boone loves the stuff so much he has it for breakfast. So that's how he does it!

Rutabegorz, located at 211 N. Pomona, Fullerton, is open Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sun., 4-9 p.m. (714) 738-9339. Also located at 158 W. Main, Tustin, (714) 731-9807; and 4610 Barranca Pkwy., Irvine, (949) 733-1444. Dinner for two, $18, food only. AmEx, Discover, MC and Visa accepted.


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