COVID-19 has accelerated soup sales even further, say local delis.
It’s chicken soup season. As the temperature drops and the snow begins to fall, there’s nothing quite like sitting down to a steaming hot bowl of soup. COVID-19 has accelerated soup sales even further, say local delis.
Luckily, whether you want to sit down or carry out, there’s no shortage of delis in Metro Detroit ready to make you a bowl of this Jewish comfort food. There’s someone up early stirring giant pots of broth, carrots, onion, celery and more at every establishment.
Steven Goldberg, owner of the Stage Deli in West Bloomfield, has vivid memories of making kreplach and matzah balls at his grandmother’s side as a young child. And he’s been serving chicken soup based on his grandmothers’ recipes since the restaurant opened its doors 60 years ago. His late father, Jack, blended the flavors his maternal and paternal grandmothers, from Russia and Western Poland respectively, used to make their soups shine. And it’s led to a soup generations can enjoy.
“It’s very heartening to me to be able to continue the tradition that goes well beyond my grandparents,” he says. “It feels great. Chicken soup has cultural attachments to healing, soothing, uplifting — it’s Jewish penicillin. It is woven into the warmth and fabric of our culture.”
Stage Deli sells chicken soup in its restaurant and also has a grab-and-go case for people who want to heat it up at home. It makes a filling and tasty snack, meal and cooking base for sauces, rice or potatoes, he says.
“We make it every day — as big as our pots are in the kitchen, we fill them, and repeat and repeat,” he says. “We work very hard to keep up with the demand.”
And while he experiments at home, putting all kinds of herbs, vegetables, chili and sauces in the soup, at the restaurant, his goal is to make a consistent bowl.
“My goal is to make it taste like my grandmothers’ soup, day after day, 365 days a year,” he says. “It should be a beautiful melding of flavors, with none sticking out.”
Down the road at Steve’s Deli in Bloomfield Hills, they’ve been selling their signature chicken soup for the past 25 years to people buying it for colds and comfort, says Alexandra Weitz, co-owner of Steve’s Deli. “I don’t think it’s proven medically, but some people feel if you have chicken soup, it’s a cure-all,” she says. “We sell a lot of it.”
In fact, many scientific studies over the years have explored the idea that chicken soup could really be beneficial to help you heal from the common cold. They look at its potential anti-inflammatory effects as well as how it helps fight infection. Research also looks at how chicken soup contributes to helping people feel less lonely and its potential to lower blood pressure.
Meanwhile, people continue making their passion for the popular comfort food known, one bowl at a time. At Steve’s Deli, perennial winners at Temple Shir Shalom’s Annual Chicken Soup Cook-Off, they have regulars who come in from all over Oakland and Wayne counties to order a hot bowl of soup and other popular menu items. For many, he says, customization is key.
“You can get your chicken soup so many different ways. Some days you just want clear broth, some days you want kreplach, some days you want matzah ball, some days you want everything,” he says. “It depends on the weather.”
Some people just get carrots, some people get noodles, some people get mish-mash, with everything in it. “It’s actually part of the old-time deli, getting real, natural chicken soup with noodles and adding kreplach or matzah balls or carrots,” Weitz adds.
A more recent addition to the local deli scene, Val’s Delicatessen in West Bloomfield opened in December 2019, with Val Izrailov and Carey Gerchak, co-owners, just getting started when the pandemic hit. Still, they were able to stay open and have a loyal following, says Izrailov, with chicken soup their hottest-selling item.
“We are known for our chicken soup,” Izrailov says. In 2020, Val’s Deli won the People’s Choice Award, Best Matzah Ball Professional and Best Chicken Noodle Professional at Temple Shir Shalom’s 10th Annual Chicken Soup Cook-Off.
They go through some five gallons a day, he says. “I think it’s just a Jewish staple. People order it when it’s 90 degrees outside, or when it’s 5 degrees outside — people love it.”
When Izrailov gets to work at 6 a.m., soup is the first thing he starts. “We have a huge kettle in the back of the restaurant, and the chicken soup is constantly boiling,” he says. “We put a lot of love into the soup.”
A Pickle Twist
West Bloomfield’s Pickles & Rye Deli makes chicken soup every day and on Wednesdays also offers a Polish Dill Pickle Soup with a chicken soup base.
“It’s similar to our regular soup, but it’s a creamier soup that’s got pickles in it,” says Art Dubin, a chef at the deli. “It’s really popular.”
Broth is always what people think of when it’s cold, he says. And in the seven-and-a-half years since Pickles & Rye opened, it has brought chicken soup with a rich, hearty flavor to the community — to the tune of 10-15 gallons a day. They use owners Rick Therrien and Greg Costigan’s recipe. “It’s been successful all these years,” Dubin adds.
For the Stage’s Steven Goldberg, part of the joy of chicken soup is seeing people’s reactions to it. From people who have never tried it to chicken soup regulars, he says, he’s glad to see the impact a bowl of soup can have.
“To see their faces light up, their hearts gladden and their spirits soar when they enjoy the soup with a matzah ball or kreplach or pulled chicken — it’s very gratifying,” he explains.
And even though the trends may change — for example, with the matzah ball getting more popular as it becomes more familiar outside of the Jewish community — chicken soup is sure to always be on the menu.
“It’s not going anywhere, and rightfully so,” he says. “It’s delicious and nourishing, so why not?”