Thousands of people turned out for the second annual Schenectady Soup Stroll on Saturday, which featured over two dozen bars and restaurants in the city plying samples of their homemade creations for $1 apiece — and the chance to be named Best in Show by a panel of judges.
Zak Melite and Ashley Cleary of Albany were found strolling on Jay Street in Little Italy. They had a marked-up copy of The Alt as their guide, which on the back page featured each of the event’s destinations.
“We went over all of the soups and each starred the places we wanted to try,” said Cleary. “If a place had two stars we’d have to go.”
Their favorite so far had been the bacon butternut chowder at Apertivo Bistro on State Street, which eventually won the Golden Tureen, the event’s highest honor.
“We were just looking for something to do and we love Schenectady,” said Melite. “And supporting local businesses, that’s big for us.”
Roie Angerami, co-owner of Civitello’s Italian Pastry Shoppe, said the event is great for bringing new people into the shop.
“We’ve seen a lot of different faces,” said Angerami, who helped prepare Civitello’s pasta e fagioli. “A lot of our customers come but a lot of new people too, and hopefully we’ll see them throughout the year.”
Joanne Cogswell has lived in Schenectady 18 years and said the Soup Stroll has enabled her and her husband to discover new restaurants in the city.
“We used to go to only two restaurants, now there’s about 18 we want to try,” said Cogswell. “It’s great — instead of sitting down and eating you have the whole city.”
Cogswell added that she’s seen the Soup Stroll bring people together from different generations.
“It’s like a peace project,” she said. “It brings people together that normally wouldn’t be together.”
“The Soup Stroll is a fun and creative way to spotlight the many fantastic restaurants that are making Downtown Schenectady a regional dining destination,” said Jim Salengo, executive director of the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp. “It introduces thousands of people to downtown’s vitality and gives restaurants a nice bump in business during a slower time of year. Soup is the perfect winter comfort food, so it’s a win-win event for everyone involved.”
At Wolff’s Biergarten on Erie Boulevard, bartender Steve Rose said they ran out of their buffalo chicken chowder two hours before the event was set to end.
“We went through over 15 gallons of this soup; it was nuts,” said Rose.
Bill Nowicki, the kitchen manager at Wolff’s who made the chowder, said the beer garden recently installed a kitchen to be able to offer more food options. The Soup Stroll was a great way to get the word out.
“It’s been pretty much like this since noon,” said Nowicki, taking in the standing-room only crowd. “This is our first event since we opened the kitchen and it was great, it really gets people out in downtown Schenectady.”
Proctors hospitality director Shaw Rabadi said their Apostrophe Cafe took a “play with your food” approach that offered a base vegetarian, gluten-free chili that soup strollers could add different things to. The additives included things like caramelized onions and herbs, four kinds of beans, three kinds of cheeses and a meat option.
“We served over a thousand people,” said Rabadi, “the idea was to play with your soup.”
He added that due to the customizable nature of Apostrophe’s offering that people came back throughout the day to try different combinations of soups.
“People came back to us several times,” said Rabadi. “It’s a family event, it’s a fun event. It’s not a drinking kind of thing. You do this for fun, it’s great to be part of the community. Proctor’s is a community center.”
Colleen Merays, assistant director of the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp., which organizes the event, said three judges were selected from the Albany Yelp’s elite member community.
The soups were judged based on their liquids (body, appearance and flavor), solids (size, quantity and texture), and flavor (seasoning, balance and intensity). The soups were also judged on whether they were served hot.
Aperitivo Bistro took first place for their bacon butternut chowder, and was given the event’s Golden Tureen for their efforts. The Silver Spoon was awarded to Backstage Pub & Grill for their tomato and grilled cheese soup, while the Bronze Ladle was bestowed upon 151 Bar & Restaurant’s New England clam chowder.