(Photo courtesy of The Stockpot)
By Marisa Marsey
They say you can tell a lot by the company you keep. So even if the name weren’t a tip-off, you’d sense The Stockpot’s wholesomeness given its neighbors in this 19th Street strip near the Oceanfront: Wareings Gym, Pilates Fitness Club, Best Body Co. Surrounded by such, this pleasant little spot pulls its own weight with feel-good, good-for-you soups and more.
Sprung from a pop-up, it embodies the contemporary wave of community-centered, nosh-niched eateries that, while easygoing, respect foodservice principles and envelop customers in a sincere hug of hospitality. Conscientious quality, too. Local and organic ingredients predominate, unadulterated by high fructose syrup or any preservatives.
Stockpot owners Anne Galante (call her “Queen of the Cauldron”) and Patrick Edwards, manager, are soup and soul mates. Hailing from the Poconos, she gained cooking confidence as a chef-deckhand on a Honduras-based catamaran, he’s a local who attended Cox High and Virginia Wesleyan. They met at Leaping Lizard when she was its executive chef-manager and he interviewed to become a server. She liked him, professionally and personally, so was bummed when she lost his number. He came back.
“I couldn’t imagine there was anyone more qualified,” he says cockily with the magnetism of “Entourage’s” Adrian Grenier. “Yeah, yeah,” she murmurs; an audio eye roll. Indeed, she hired him, and they worked in tandem there for five years, and later at Press 626. Anne, looking like Emmy Rossum in braids, also farmed at Weeping Radish, tended bar at The Boot and cooked at Terrapin while Patrick did front-of-the-house at Pacifica for four years, their combined resumes a who’s who of local indie excellence.
When forging their own place, they merged the trend of restaurant specialization with Anne’s passion for soups. “It’s one of my favorite things to make,” she says, and recalls how Monday night was soup night in her house growing up. “It was always so heartwarming to come home from sports practice to my mom’s filling soup.”
Patrick adds, “And there really wasn’t anyplace doing it.” At least not the way Anne thought it should be done. “They were either self-serve or more formal, but using a non-natural base – a lot of sodium – and you’d get something with overheated, overdone veggies.”
She distinguishes her all-natural edible elixirs with international-inflected, tradition-twisting sophistication. Gluten-free chicken noodle, for example, a menu constant (as is minestrone), brims with kimchee, ginger, garlic and buckwheat noodles. A wide field of flavors and textures characterizes ever-changing soups du jour, perhaps pasta fagioli (this version inspired by a meal the couple shared in Rome when backpacking through Europe), white bean chili, sweet potato coconut with cilantro-lime shrimp or cream of celery. “Who would have thought that would be a top seller?” marvels Patrick. But it was. “The organic celery was so green and vibrant, so pretty,” Anne says with the breathy wistfulness other women reserve for Chanel.
Most are available in 8-ounces ($3.75) or 12-ounces ($5.50) and come with choice of Thumbelina-sized rosemary biscuit or toasted bread supplied by The Bakehouse at Chelsea.
Soup-y sales are just part of the story. All-day breakfasts like poached eggs and homemade corned beef hash; salads including Greek-accented zucchini “noodle” (the titular veg spiraled to simulate pasta) with feta, cukes and garabanzo beans; new-genre toasts (open-faced sandwiches, essentially); toasties (grilled cheese pocket sandwiches); and smoothies, sweets, wine and beer diversify Stockpot’s offerings ($4.50-8.50).
Upon entering, Bobby Canni, assistant manager, perkily gives the lowdown on ordering at the register and paying up front (to avoid delay when you’re done) then choosing a seat where your order will be brought to your bamboo-topped table. There’s a communal one up front and smaller ones along a serene bluish-gray wall seeming to sprout succulents, the setting imbued with a sun-washed, West Coast flair that’s as much a salve as soup itself. If you prefer to sit at the subway-tiled counter, simply place and savor your order there.
While The Stockpot is fast-casual comfort with plenty of call-ahead and take-out orders, don’t expect grab and go. “If people walk in and see a line, they sigh: ‘It’s just soup…’ not realizing that each bowl is made-to-order,” says Anne.
Wait a sec. Made-to-order? Doesn’t soup demand long simmering? Of course. And Anne makes nutrient-rich bone broth, first roasting bones (chicken and sometimes beef), then letting things simmer overnight for 12 to 16 hours. But she’ll submerge veggies only once a customer has ordered. “Our carrots still have crunch,” she says with detail-oriented precision. “Have you ever had limp veggies or mushy rice and noodles? That’s one of the saddest things.”
No tears in the beer-broth mussels bowl here. Anne and Patrick wrote a line about “pouring love into the food and soup” right in their business plan. “We want this to be like you’re eating in our house. We want to nurture and nourish you,” shares Anne. Indeed, bonds as thick as stew abound between staff and customers. Laughter flows. “I like to know everybody who walks in the door,” underscores Patrick. The symbiotic relationship with nearby businesses in the ViBe, the area’s growing creative district, enhances The Stockpot. “It’s an amazing community that loves us and supports us,” says Anne. Move over Soup Nazi. These are the Soup Nice Guys.
700 19th St., Virginia Beach. 995-7197. Open Mon.-Sat. from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. stockpotsoups.com
Got restaurant, food or beverage news? Contact Marisa Marsey at email@example.com