2850 El Cajon Boulevard, North Park
The mildly cold days of winter descend on San Diego as early as November some years, forcing us to don knit beanies and hooded sweatshirts for as many as two or three evenings in a row. Some winters it gets so bad, San Diegans even begin to wonder whether it may be cost effective to buy an umbrella, or a scarf.
Whenever it gets like this — and pretty much only when it gets like this — everybody wants a bowl of soup. Enter the San Diego Soup Shoppe, which opened in Autumn 2012 after its proprietors enjoyed some success as the OB Bread Co., serving grilled paninis and lobster bisque at the OB Farmer's Market. Their cozy-looking North Park storefront invites you in with the promise of liquid warmth, of comfort. Of feeling sunny on the inside.
On cold days, opening a soup shop seems like the best idea in the world. Which means on the overwhelming majority of days it seems like just about the worst idea in San Diego. Which probably explains why the business occupies maybe 300 square feet of real estate, including kitchen. Having a mere six seats in the dining room sends a clear message that this business may not be designed to serve a bunch of people on a daily basis.
And on those majority days, that's not a problem. A couple of outdoor tables probably get a fair amount of traffic during warmer months, when the lovingly crafted assortment of paninis and salads take center stage. But this is not called the Salad Shoppe, or even the Panini Shoppe. So I waited until a storm system rolled in, and the temperature threatened to dip into the upper 50s, and I amped myself up for what was going to be the perfect heartwarming salve against the bad weather that promised to empty our beaches and bring our freeways to a halt.
Turns out, I'm not the only person who wants soup on such a day, which either makes me a genius or an idiot. Due to a high volume of orders, I was told to expect a thirty minute wait time. Also, the Mushroom & Brie soup was sold out.
Now, I won't claim the place was completely jammed up — there were a few square inches of standing room. However, I did have to awkwardly shuffle to make way for a constant inflow of customers picking up to-go orders (okay — they're the geniuses, I'm the idiot). Adding to the discomfort, a relatively open kitchen allowed me to see just how manically the owners/chefs hustled to keep up with demand. It also allowed them to see me, just hangin', milling about, trying to pretend I wasn't desperately eager for them to finish my order and warm my gullet.
With the rain coming down heavy outside and no shelter in sight, I had little choice but to stand by and keep up this dance as I stared at the menu, given too much opportunity to wonder whether I should have ordered the Roast Beef & Muenster Panini, or taken a chance on their So-Cal take on clam chowder, complete with sourdough bread bowl.
Instead I took advantage of the soup and half-sandwich special, opting for Italian Wedding with a Prosciutto Caprésé panini, and Red Pepper & Gouda alongside Pastrami & Swiss. Luck eventually fell my way when a table opened up after eighteen minutes, and my food followed, a welcome ten minutes ahead of schedule. I gladly dug in, particularly enjoying the tiny clumps of melted gouda peppering the red pepper bisque, and the way balsamic dressing soaked through the middle of the rosemary bread on my caprésé sandwich.
I will make it back to ye olde Soup Shoppe – homemade soup is, after all, tough to come by in this part of the world, and I enjoyed the ones I tasted enough to eventually try them all. But given the shoppe's seasonal success is also its failure, I will learn to be that savvy sort of regular who phones it in, and hope traffic allows my bread bowl and hot soup to survive the drive home.