Soup Is A Passion For Chefs and Patrons of Detroit's Russell Street Deli

Published on January 27, 2011 - 8:17 am

by By Sylvia Rector / Free Press Restaurant Critic

From neighborhood diners to the city's
most expensive restaurants, you can hardly
find a menu that doesn't offer soup -- and
for a very simple reason: Almost everyone
enjoys it.

But there are some places -- like Detroit's
Russell Street Deli -- and some people --
like Feli Lessanework -- who take soup
and soup love to an entirely new level.

Lessanework, 54, of West Bloomfield has
gone to Russell Street for soup at lunch five
days a week for the past 12 years.

"I am a soup person," says Lessanework,
who works nearby. "Soup is just good, and
a cup of soup from them is like a meal. It's
always hot and good. ... It warms me up
inside, and it's a nice comfort food."

She's hardly the only customer who makes
Russell Street soups a lunchtime habit. The
little restaurant has only 60 seats, yet it
sells 180 gallons of soup a week in winter
and 140 a week in summer, says co-owner
and chief soup-maker Ben Hall, 32.

Some is sold through the restaurant's
catering service, some through Avalon
International Breads in Midtown and some
from a small stand the restaurant operates
in Eastern Market on Saturday mornings.

But the most, by far, is sold a bowl at a
time to carry-out customers and to dine-in
guests -- like Lessanework -- who share a
table with whomever happens to get
seated beside them.

The communal tables and crowded room
either suit you or they don't. But they've
always been part of the lively scene at R
ussell Street, long known for its hearty
sandwiches and creative breakfast menu.

As a soup spot, though, Russell Street
stands out for its wide, constantly changing
variety of daily soups.

Hall offers six to 10 kinds a day, all made
from scratch from his repertoire of more
than 100 recipes.

Unlike most places, the shop doesn't have

a signature soup that it offers every day.
But customers can count on at least two
vegetarian and even vegan choices and at
least one variety of chicken, made with
Hall's classic, house-made stock.

Since he and business partner Jason
Murphy bought the restaurant three years
ago, they've dropped its commercial soup
bases and now use only from-scratch
stocks made with fresh, unprocessed
ingredients, Hall said.

The chicken stock, for example, is
simmered for nine hours in an 80-quart
pot and then strained, chilled and
skimmed, so it's full of flavor but not fat.

Some of his most popular varieties are
classics like cream of mushroom, clam
chowder, beef barley and corn chowder.

But die-hard soup fans also love the more
unusual ones such as Tuscan potato,
carrot-ginger, curried Indian mulligatawny
and, one of Hall's favorites, the Portuguese
potato-and-kale soup called caldo verde.

Besides its great flavor and variety, the
other appealing thing about soup is its
affordable price.

"We've seen a huge spike since the
economy started going down," said Hall.
"Everyone's trying to spend less. I see
people who used to order a sandwich and
a cup of soup switch to a bowl of soup to
save money." The restaurant charges just
$3.50 per cup or $3.95 per bowl.

But Lessanework says her love of a
steaming bowl of soup -- and Russell
Street's especially -- isn't about cost.

"Even if you are not talking about value, it's
just a good lunch. And it makes you feel
good inside," she added.

Contact SYLVIA RECTOR: 313-222-5026


Russell Street Deli

2465 Russell St.

In Eastern Market, Detroit

7 a.m.-3p.m. Mon.-Fri.,

8 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat.




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