Warm, savory and laid back. A cup of soup in winter is a perfect retreat from the chilly world outside.
Red Wing diners are fortunate to have an overwhelming number of soup options available all across the city, and restaurants agree they're popular year long, not just after the snow falls.
"People like soup, man, I don't know what to tell you," said John Flicek, head chef and co-owner at Staghead Gastropub.
Flicek spends anywhere from 2-3 days making his original from-scratch soups. A chicken stock simmering on the backburner will take 8-10 hours to meld, then it gets strained and cooled overnight, the fat is skimmed off, then the liquid is boiled down to a flavorful reduction that sets the stage for whatever Flicek has in his imagination — or store room.
"It can be pretty playful," Flicek said. "I've been making soup for 15 years and I keep getting better every time I do it.
"... Good people can turn scrap into a beautiful soup, you know, versus throwing it in a garbage can."
For Rita Dassner, who owns Wisteria Twig Tea Room & Cafe, a good soup starts with the ingredients.
"I try to buy organic as much as possible," Dassner said. "... When I make soup, I try to make it with the same ingredients I would do at home. I don't skimp on anything. If I won't eat it I'm not feeding it to you."
She offers about 50 homemade varieties at the restaurant's new location — which moved from inside Pottery Place to a storefront on Old West Main Street in 2016 — and she will happily make up a special batch for any regular who asks.
"That's really the hardest part of my job is figuring out what soup to make every day," Dassner said. "... So it's fun when at least someone has a suggestion for you."
Dassner serves at least 10 quarts of soups a day in the wintertime. Wisteria Twig offers a popular soup and sandwich combo for lunch as well, all homemade, down to the mayonnaise in the ham salad sandwich.
Another favorite place for soup is Mandy's Coffee & Cafe, where the soup isn't homemade, but owner Mandy Cardinal said it's selected for quality and served with love.
Mandy's offers seasonal soup options like squash in the fall, chili in winter and lighter options for spring and summer. Mandy's also partners with local and regional businesses to offer bread from Hanisch Bakery, snacks from Jenny Lind Bakery, beans roasted with Tiny Footprint in Minneapolis and more.
"I tell people you're not only supporting this local business but you're supporting other small businesses as well," said Cardinal.
"I think a lot of it is in the service and how you make people feel and how you present things," she continued. "If the staff is having fun working together I think people feel that."
As chef de cuisine at the St. James Hotel, Adam Fredrickson would agree that having a great team is key to delivering quality food.
The process of building The Port Restaurant's famous French onion soup begins with a good veal stock, he said, simmered slowly for 24 hours. Veal bones, mirepoix, garlic, red wine and tomato paste makeup the backbone of this dish, which is then filled with caramelized onions and finished with crisp bread and bubbling cheese. The complex process of building the stock is something Fredrickson makes sure to teach his line cooks right away to help ensure consistency in the final product.
"We take the time and the care and the effort to make sure that each guest is really going to enjoy what we're putting out there for them," Fredrickson said.
For these chefs and tastemakers, the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to make a simple bowl of soup is all worth it.
Cardinal said that it took her almost a year to sample available soups from her vendors to find the best tastes to offer at Mandy's. And Dassner said she's been working to develop her library of soups for her whole life, though she's only been sharing them with the public at Wisteria Twig for six years.
The rich and diverse flavors of soup that are available to Red Wing diners is astonishing. Layers of flavor and hours of work come together to create a meal for guests that costs less than $10 anywhere you go.
"I like soup a lot, man, I spend a lot of time making soup," said Flicek. "... I enjoy making it, people enjoy eating it."