When Schenectady rolled out the first Soup Stroll last year, it was the hottest event of the winter.
“We had well over 3,000 participants. The average restaurant sold over 1,600 cups,” says Colleen Merays, assistant director of the Schenectady Downtown Improvement Corporation.
The weather was unseasonably warm that January day, which brought more people downtown to walk around and sip soup at 16 restaurants, she says.
This Saturday, when the Soup Stroll returns for a second time, the family-friendly event will be much bigger, with 25 places preparing and serving three-ounce samples. The weather is also looking good, with temperatures expected in the mid-30s.
Centre Street: A Public House and Garden will be making 60 gallons of loaded baked potato soup.
“It’s a creamy broth with broccoli, potatoes, hickory-smoked bacon, scallions, cheddar, heavy cream, butter and assorted seasonings,” says banquet manager Kirsten Slurff.
“Last year, we had to re-make our soup. We had a line wrapped around our restaurant.”
This year, to keep things moving, they are setting up two soup stations, one in the bar and the other in the restaurant. And the entire staff will be on the job.
At Marotta’s Bar-Ristro, the kitchen will stir up 50 to 60 gallons of Tuscan Surf and Turf Chowder, which is a variation of a special seafood corn chowder that often appears on their menu.
"We're adding pancetta and steak, almost as a garnish. It's delicious," says restaurant owner Josh Mack.
Craft beer is going into the Loaded Pale Ale Potato Soup at Mad Jack Brew Pub @ The Van Dyck. The beer was made by four Schenectady County Community College students who have been using the pub for a 13-week craft brewing class.
New for this year’s Soup Stroll are markers on the map that indicate which restaurants will be serving vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free soups.
After last year’s event, participants told the DSIC, which organizes the event, that without this information sampling was a challenge, especially for those who avoid gluten.
“It was easier to tell what was vegan or vegetarian,” says Merays. “But it’s very hard to tell whether they were using a thickener like flour or using cornstarch, which would be gluten-free.”
On Saturday, six restaurants will serve gluten-free soups, six will make vegetarian soups and three are listed as vegan.
Some of the restaurants will also offer vegetarian options that aren’t listed.
“For example, Bel Cibo, she’s doing a stuffed pepper soup but she also has a vegetarian-based version,” says Merays. “Same thing for Mexican Radio. They are doing a chorizo corn chowder. But if you go there, they do have a veggie option.”
At Pho Queen, a Thai restaurant that opened in March on State Street, they are serving three kinds of Tom Yum Soup: chicken, tofu or vegetable.
The lentil soup at Taj Mahal, an Indian restaurant, is always vegetarian.
“It's a very popular item on our menu,” says owner M.A. Waheed. “Lentils are very popular in Indian cuisine. It's a poor man's food, it's a rich man's food. It's an essential source of protein. And it’s very filling.”
Also new this year is a judging of the 25 soups by elite members of Albany's Yelp, which offers crowd-sourced restaurant reviews.
The judges, who will walk through the crowd wearing badges and carrying clipboards, will select soups for first, second and third place awards.
“The Golden Crock is the first award. Then they have the Silver Spoon and the Bronze Ladle,” says Merays.
The awards will be announced on the Schenectady Soup Stroll’s Facebook page and other social media.
Soup Stroll fans can thank restaurant owners Michael Rochette of Centre Street and Bill McDonald at the Van Dyck, for coming up with the idea.
“We wanted to get something going in the wintertime,” says McDonald. “If Saratoga can do it, why can’t we?”
Schenectady Soup Stroll
WHEN: 12 to 5 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: At 25 places in downtown Schenectady, including restaurants, pubs and a bakery. Pick up a map at any location. Free parking on the street, in city lots and in Broadway Garage.
HOW MUCH: $1 per three-ounce sample of soup
MORE INFO: Schenectady Soup Stroll on Facebook or downtownschenectady.org
Restaurants participating Saturday:
—Firestone 151 Bar & Restaurant: New England Clam Chowder
—20 North Broadway Tavern: Turkey Lasagna Soup
—Ambition: Hungarian Chicken Soup
—Apertivo Bistro: Bacon Butternut Chowder (gluten-free)
—Apostrophe Cafe: Vegetarian chili (gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan)
—Backstage Pub & Grill: Backstage’s Best Soup
—Bel Cibo: An American Bistro: Stuffed Pepper Soup (vegetarian option)
—Capoccia Wine Lounge: Caribbean Seafood Bisque
—Centre Street Public House Garden: Centres’ Loaded Baked Potato
—Civitello’s Italian Pastry Shoppe: Pasta e Fagioli (vegetarian)
—Cornell’s in Little Italy: Clam Chowder
—Hunter’s On Jay: Bourbon Beer Chicken & Cheddar
—Johnny’s Restaurant: Italian Sausage with White Bean Soup
—Katie O’Byrne’s Restaurant: Reuben Chowder
—Mad Jack Brew Pub @ The Van Dyck: Loaded Pale Ale Potato Soup
—Manhattan Exchange: Union Cuban (gluten-free)
—Marotta’s Bar-Risto: Tuscan Surf & Turf Chowder
—Mexican Radio: Chorizo Corn Chowder (gluten-free)(vegetarian option)
—More Perreca’s Italian Kitchen: Italian Wedding Soup with Baby Meatballs
—Nico’s Rooftop Tavern: Chicken Pot Pie Soup
—Pho Queen: Tom Yum Soup (Chicken or Tofu or Vegetable) (gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian)
—Pinhead Susan’s: Chicken Parm Soup
—Puzzles Bakery & Cafe: Creamy Chicken Corn Chowder
—Taj Mahal Restaurant: Lentil Soup (gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan)
—Wolff’s Biergarten: Buffalo Chicken Chowder