Friday, March 9, 2018

What's with tomato soup and grilled cheese?

Morton's, 3/8/18
      The 100 lucky winners of the Sun-Times Night at the Opera contest had a wonderful time Tuesday at Lyric Opera of Chicago — the voices were tremendous, the music thrilling, the staging ... umm ... made us appreciate all the more the voices and music. At the pre-show party, waiters passed around crab cakes and lamb burgers — thank YOU Jewell Events Catering — and cups of tomato soup with cubes of grilled cheese sandwich.
     The soup was really, really good, which made me feel really, really guilty.
     Why? Because January, National Soup Month, is come and gone. February was cold, a good time to talk about hearty fare. Yet here March is flying by and I haven't shared my thoughts on tomato soup. Every time I try, Donald Trump, flailing in his high chair, gets his hands on another cherished aspect of democracy and smears strained carrots all over it. 
But we seem at a lull in the chaos. So let me whip this in the paper and be done with it.

     I really like tomato soup, particularly this time of year. Not because it's the best, most sublime fo
odstuff. I wouldn't even argue it's the best sort of soup. I just like it. A lot. If I visit a restaurant, and they have tomato soup, I'm almost compelled to order it.
     Why? Curiosity, mostly. Tomato soup is the measure of a restaurant. If they can't do that, they can't do anything. Some places nail it — Petterino's, RL. I was having lunch at the Kitchen with owner Kimbal Musk, and launched into my tomato soup spiel.
    "Some places make it taste like spaghetti sauce," I said. Their soup is quite good, and Musk called the chef out to talk about the recipe and draw a promise that their tomato soup will never change.
     Sometimes I order it when I don't even want it. I was meeting ... drawing the veil ... a certain grand lady of my acquaintance, a blue blood benefactress, at the Farmhouse in Evanston so we could trade cruel political gossip, and noticed they have tomato soup. With it, we split a grilled cheese sandwich — grilled cheese goes with tomato soup the way milk goes with cookies.
     Why is that?

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  1. Well, after years of entering the contest fruitlessly, my wife and I were among the lucky 100 treated to this year's night at the opera. Though neither the newspaper critics, nor our host himself were evidently pleased by the staging, I thought it was an interesting and entertaining approach, despite being occasionally distracting and somewhat overwrought. Which is surprising to me, as I generally prefer more of a traditionalist presentation. Regardless, the performances of the singers, chorus and orchestra were outstanding.

    But the production design of "Faust" was not alone in being more creative than I'd imagined. The appetizers at the reception for the Sun-Times 100 before the show were also nicely executed, as today's column notes. Though it was all good, the little mugs of tomato soup with bite-size portions of grilled cheese sandwich propped inside were the highlight. Both flavorful and quite cute, as well.

    In addition to all that, however, the icing on the devil's food cake, so to speak, was getting to chat briefly with our EGD host and his charming wife, Edie, before the performance. It was a pleasure, indeed, and we are very grateful to Neil for his graciousness, and to all involved for putting on the contest for a tenth year.

    1. Looks like the buzz kept you up late! To think I perused the list of winners printed in the paper for familiar names and failed to note yours.

    2. Funny, Coey! Yeah, hard to fill out a form with this preferred moniker. It's not like I'm Cher, or something. ; )

      While we were talking to Neil, a woman overheard me as I mentioned this name to him, in case he'd recognize it. She told me that she follows him on Facebook and sometimes looks at the blog comments, before saying "So you're Jackass?" Madam, please, let's not put too fine a point on it! ; )

  2. Tomato soup (Campbell's of course) was a staple at my house when I was a kid. If the out-of-the can preference doesn't horrify Neil and his other disciples, my practice of crumbling enough crackers into the soup to convert it into a solid food probably will. We also ate lots of grilled cheese sandwiches (fried in bacon grease for the ultimate taste treat), but not usually in conjunction with soup. Alas, tomato soup gives me heart burn these days; don't know why. I can eat all kinds of spicy foods without a problem, but just one little can of Campbell's does me in.

    Wish I'd been at the opera. Maybe next year I'll get lucky.


  3. You don't have to win a contest John. Buy a ticket.

    Like you, I filled a daily can of Campbell's soup with crackers almost every day in high school. Walked home five miles and back every noon to our empty house. Don't know why I never ate in the school cafeteria. Cost I suppose.

    Don't eat canned soup at home any more. My wife is a Scot and making the stuff from scratch is in her genes. In restaurants, I'm now inclined to go for lentil or minestrone -- or if in Tuscany ribollita.

    The opera was, musically, world class. The "concept" and accompanying stage effects were a bit too clever to work well, but I tend to be tolerant of attempts to break the mold.


    1. I thought of buying a ticket, but wouldn't want to pay good money just to nod off before Mephistopheles snatches Faust. I once took a young lady (well maybe not quite a lady) who was more fond of liquor than movies to the Exorcist and she started snoring around the time the little girl's head was spinning -- a trifle embarrassing.

  4. Nothing beats a traditional grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup, but when eating a grilled cheese sans soup, I occasionally add a slice of tomato and some crisp bacon to it before grilling. Yum.


  5. I love tomato soup, especially Campbell's, probably because it hasn't changed much over the decades. Tomato soup is as American as apple pie and baseball. Simply grilled cheese, as described in the column, is the best compliment.

  6. Comforting. Small pleasures to ignore the madness, if only for few precious moments.


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