Soup’s on!

Pasatiempo - - Restaurant Review - Anne Con­sta­ble The New Mex­i­can

Men­tion Back Street Bistro to a friend, and you’ll of­ten hear “Oh, I haven’t been there for ages, but I love the mush­room soup.” Since 1996, the lunch-only restau­rant has been lo­cated in a non­de­script prefab build­ing on Camino de los Mar­quez, off Don Diego Av­enue. You know you’re close when you see the bumper-to-bumper cars parked along the road. It’s popular.

Maybe that’s the rea­son some peo­ple say they haven’t been in a while. There’s of­ten a wait — usu­ally short — for a ta­ble. The am­bi­ence is that of a mid­dle-school lunch­room (ex­cept there’s no throw­ing of food). But, oh, the soup.

It’s de­li­cious, es­pe­cially the Hun­gar­ian mush­room, which is al­ways on the menu. One on­line com­menter called it “to dieeeeeeeeee for!” Another said it’s an “in­stant hang­over cure, won­der­ful flu rem­edy, and can prob­a­bly re­vive your dead grandma.” Praise in­deed. In fact, the mush­room soup is so popular that if you ask what the in­gre­di­ents are, a waiter will bring you a pho­to­copy of the recipe. In case you’re won­der­ing, it in­cludes fresh mush­rooms, onion, but­ter, flour, milk, dill weed, Hun­gar­ian pa­prika, tamari, salt, pep­per, stock, le­mon juice, pars­ley, and sour cream.

One of the two guests sit­ting nearby on a re­cent visit or­dered squash soup, found it a lit­tle too bland, sent it back, and or­dered the mush­room. His din­ing part­ner said he comes once a week for the stuff, and left with the recipe. My com­pan­ion, look­ing for some­thing light, opted for the Santa Fe onion, which had a bit of a kick. Don’t think French onion soup here. This ver­sion fea­tures chile, a fla­vor­ful broth, and not so many onions. Another win­ner is the green chile corn chow­der, which has just the right amount of milky heat. The New Eng­land clam chow­der is clas­sic, with sweet, juicy clams and small cubes of pota­toes — com­fort food at its best.

Owner David Ja­coby, some­times called the Duke of Soup, said he has hun­dreds of soups in his reper­toire and presents eight of them daily. Other re­cent op­tions in­cluded matzo ball, red lentil, white bean and ham, smoked turkey, turkey bar­ley, and mul­li­gatawny. There’s also almost al­ways a ve­gan choice.

As a thought­ful touch, dif­fer­ent col­ors are used on the soup board (and on­line) to iden­tify those with cream or meat and those that are chilled, veg­e­tar­ian, ve­gan, or gluten-free. The cup is a gen­er­ous serv­ing — and, for a cou­ple of dol­lars more, you can have a bowl. The baguette slices that come with each soup or­der ar­rive at the restau­rant par­baked and frozen, and then they’re fin­ished off in Back Street’s own ovens.

The bistro is also known for its New York-style sand­wiches. It serves the finest corned beef and pas­trami. The for­mer comes from Grobbel’s, a Detroit company that has been in op­er­a­tion since 1883. Ja­coby trims and cooks the meat on-site, slices it thinly, and stacks it on soft rye bread from Rotella’s, an Ital­ian bak­ery in Omaha. A lit­tle Gulden’s mus­tard is smeared on the bread.

Sand­wiches can be made with gluten-free bread as well. They are served with a choice of potato or mac­a­roni salad, coleslaw, chips, or fresh fruit, and a dill pickle — even with a half sand­wich. The menu also in­cludes stan­dard sand­wiches and sal­ads. But what Back Street Bistro is all about is the soup. OK, and maybe some desserts. Reg­u­lars love the car­rot cake and Key lime pie.

Ja­coby is almost al­ways in the kitchen, along with three cooks — per­haps an ex­tra one this time of year, when the place is at its busiest. De­spite the rush, the bistro’s servers and staff are un­fail­ingly friendly and po­lite. The ta­bles, filled mostly with lo­cals, turn over fast. “It feels like I have to get back to class,” said my lunch com­pan­ion.

Ja­coby doesn’t take credit cards, a pol­icy that irks some out-of-town­ers, although most Santa Feans know to bring cash or checks. He some­times even takes IOUs for the money (“Most of the time, I get it,” he said). The rea­son? “It costs too much, and it’s a headache.”

Nor does Ja­coby think about open­ing for din­ner. “I feel I would have to have a dif­fer­ent menu, and I can’t do that kind of cook­ing,” he said. Also, he would have to turn on the oven hood at night, which would make the space cold and drafty. And that doesn’t work with soup — or with any­thing, re­ally.

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