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Montreal Soup Throwdown: Soupesoup vs. Soupe Cafe

Posted by Amie / January 18, 2010

Soupesoup Soupesoup (multiple locations)
●●●●●●●☺○○○ 7 1/2 out of 10

Soupe Cafe Soupe Café (2725, rue Notre Dame Ouest)
●●●●●●○○○○ 6 out of 10

THE CRITERIA: Flavour, quality, soup innovation, and price.

A good soup is a tricky thing. I'm not talking Lipton and Campbells. So I set off on my first Midnight Poutine culinary adventure in search of extraordinary soup. What I found was Soupesoup and Soupe Café working so hard to improve the days of all those Montrealers who, like me, think winters here need an emergency exit.

Are the soups extraordinary? Sometimes.

Soupesoup started as a quaint little café on Duluth and has since expanded to not 2, but 6 locations in Montreal. The atmosphere is relaxed, and welcoming. Except when it gets busy...

Soupe Café (2725 rue Notre-Dame West) is cute and retro, and located next to the Atwater Market. Here you get to ladle your own choice of the 6 daily hot soups into bowls or take-out containers.

First, of course, Dessert: I had wanted to try Soupesoup for months. After stumbling into the location on St-Viateur last year late one afternoon, when all the soup was gone, I found the pouding chomeur...and that became such a good day. The maple syrup and brown sugar in the warm butter sauce soaked perfectly into the soft pudding cake.

Simple decadence.

When I finally got back for soup, my expectations were high. Sure, it was the middle of a 30+ summer day, but I ordered a hot soup. Not a room temperature soup. It was clearly called a "hot soup" on the board. It sat for 10 minutes on the counter, not getting any hotter, before it was served to me. The server was nice enough to reheat it in the microwave...but left it there. I went to the counter and asked for the soup back...they stared blankly...the soup in the microwave?? Oh, right.

By then it was, again, not "hot soup". I gave up.

By the way, the soup was okay...sweet potato and red lentil. There was nothing to surprise the taste buds, no cayenne or chipotle pepper, no fresh herbs that stood out, and each spoonful was monotonous and starchy. To be fair, maybe I should have tried the cool soups as it was summer, but the hot ones were on the menu, and my taste buds don't like the idea of putting cucumber and yogurt in a blender and calling it lunch.

So I went back to Soupesoup with a grudge, but this time it surpassed my soup expectations. I sat at the bar (that way if my soup was left unattended, I could rescue it from its cold fate). My bowl of Bruxelloise and fresh grilled bread was in front of me in less than 2 minutes. I felt like royalty.

BruxelloiseTHE SOUPS AT SOUPESOUP: I was skeptical. Brussel sprouts, parsnip and potato. A great soup-maker put their thinking cap on for this one. They managed to make a believer out of me. The broth, all home made here, had a sweet vinegar flavour (white balsamic) and was swimming with fresh parsley and whole coriander. The potato and parsnip added a nice texture and made the soup more filling. Unfortunately (fortunately?) the soups change daily, so the odds of finding this soup again are slim. The soups depend on what's fresh, organic (if possible) and available at the market on a given day, so as long as brussel sprouts remain abundant, there will hopefully be a few more days of equally delicious variations on a theme.

Curly Vegetable SoupCurly Vegetable Soup was a bit disappointing. Don't get me wrong, it was good, but it was basically the same soup as the Bruxelloise, minus the sweet and sour fun of the broth, plus cabbage and tomatoes.

Grilled fennel and carrot soup took overly-salted carrots and stuck them in a broth with the fennel. Maybe the broth flavour was hiding under the salt? To be fair, the Soupesoupsoup-makers don't use recipes for their soups, so it's easy to add a little much or too little of something. Oh, but the great thing was that the vegetables were actually chopped by hand! They were all inconsistent sizes. This is not factory soup. Someone put a lot of effort into making this and that's something to appreciate.

On to Soupe Café...

Soupe Cafe Baked GoodsSoup Café's owner and chef, Jeannine Scott, is a Nutritionist, so the soups and baked goods (A slice of pumpkin or cranberry loaf for only $1.45! Alas, no pouding chomeur...) are listed with their nutritional breakdowns. You know exactly what you're putting in your body, and it's not the MSG-filled, high-fat instant soups and broth you find in grocery stores, most Pho places, and more restaurants than you really want to know, but they're not home made like Soupesoup's.

Soupe Cafe soupsTHE SOUPS AT SOUPE CAFÉ: The Spicy Seafood Chowder at Soupe Café is delicious, and the best deal around for a filling meal. It was loaded with shrimp and canned clams but was way too salty, and left me dying of thirst.

Mesquite ChickenThe Mesquite Chicken Chili was sweet and spicy, like a fruit-and-tomato salsa. A combination of sweet red peppers, corn and mild chili flavour make this my Soupe Café top pick.

The Chicken Gumbo suffered by comparison. Plain rice, tomatoes and chicken with a little red pepper...Basically it is the Mesquite Chili with half the spices, but if I'd tasted it first maybe I would have liked it, the same way I might have liked the Curly Vegetable soup more if I'd tried it before the Bruxelloise at Soupesoup. People from Louisiana will shake their heads sadly at the Canadian version of gumbo. No sausage, no shrimp, and not very spicy At least it used fresh okra, and it's very good for you, so says the nutritionist. Unfortunately, in this case less fat equals less flavour.

Black Eyed Pea ChowderThe Black-Eyed Pea Chowder with Turkey was OK. The processed turkey bacon came in oddly-sized, unappealing slices, and added a weird flavour to the broth, and the Winter Vegetable soup was bland, because it was actually low in sodium and didn't have much to fall back on.

WINNER: For quality of ingredients and soup innovation Soupesoup wins hands-down. It may cost a dollar more than Soupe Café but you pay for quality, organic ingredients, whole spices, variety and creativity.

RUNNER-UP: For a very, very affordable, simple, fast, and heart-warming meal, Soupe Café is definitely my choice. Its heart is in the right place. None of the soups here are gourmet, but they're honest, home made and simple enough to make me want to pick up 3 litres for my freezer. The prices are also very respectable ($6.99 for a litre of soup, $9.59 for stews, chili and chowders). Where I'll go to Soupesoup with my fingers crossed, hoping for a good-to-great soup experience (and definitely the sight of pouding au chomeur), I'll go to Soupe Café more regularly to fill my poor, cold bones, and my freezer, with some warm comfort.

EXPECT TO PAY: $7.00-$10.00 at Soupesoup inc. tax and tip, $4.00-$8.00 at Soupe Café.

HOURS: Most Soupesoups are open Monday to Saturday from 11-4, but check the website. The Casgrain location is open everyday. Soupe Café is open 9:30am-8:30pm weekdays and 10:30am-5:30pm weekends.

2800, rue Masson; 7020, rue Casgrain; 2183, rue Crescent; 174, rue Saint-Viateur Ouest; 8, rue Duluth Est; 649, rue Wellington

Soupe Café
2725, rue Notre Dame Ouest



Sarah / January 19, 2010 at 08:12 am
Good article. Warm. :)
It's pudding chômeur, not AU chômeur... that would meant it's pudding made out of people on EI instead of for people on EI...
mv / January 19, 2010 at 06:48 pm
Nice review!
Amie replying to a comment from Sarah / January 21, 2010 at 11:46 pm
Thanks for catching the mistake! I'll try to stop eating people in the future...
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