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In Dining

Ruby Erickson and Dan Warschkow relax on the dining room church pew after the lunch crunch at The Soup House. (PHOTO: Damien Jaques)

Downtown's homey Soup House


Wander into The Soup House and you may well think you are in Riverwest or Bay View. The heavily tatted and stocking-capped Dan Warschkow is behind the counter ladling soup out of tall pots into bowls. He's a visual artist and his paintings hang in the restaurant.

The dining room is a homey and funky mix of potted plants, mismatched furniture and collected curiosities. An out of tune and seldom played piano is against one wall. A pool table that is used is at the other end of the room.

Couches, coffee tables and a long church pew complement an assortment of dining tables and chairs. A semi-regular customer chooses to sit cross legged on the floor at a coffee table while eating her lunch. It's not all that unusual for someone to take a post-lunch snooze.

Want to leave a tip for the hustling staff? You can drop it through a knothole in the wood counter.

This surely sounds like a neighborhood bistro, and it is, but the 'hood may surprise you. It is downtown, in the historic McGeoch Building on the corner of Michigan and Milwaukee Streets. Although it is on the ground floor, The Soup House has such a low profile in the stately neoclassical building, it is easily overlooked.

The line that often snakes around the small lobby during the lunch hour confirms that plenty of people -- downtown office workers, city laborers who pull up outside in their yellow trucks -- have found the restaurant. Many of them never stop in the dining room, choosing to get their soup to go.

They buy the standards -- creamy mushroom, cheese broccoli, potato leek -- but The Soup House's signature is its imaginative flair for creating the unusual and exotic. For example, buffalo chicken is the most popular offering since it was introduced earlier this year. Its ingredients include parmesan, mozzarella and blue cheese as well as chicken.

"Think of buffalo chicken wings minus the bones," Warschkow says.

The Soup House, which is open Monday through Friday, has a rotating menu of five different offerings each day along with one constant, a basic chicken soup made of chicken, carrots, celery, garlic, olive oil "and love," says owner Ruby Erickson. The buffalo chicken became so popular it is guaranteed a weekly spot on the menu, on Tuesdays.

Mexican tortilla soup and a "Count of Monte Cristo" concoction made with a creamy smoky base, Swiss cheese, turkey, ham and croutons are also high on the Soup House hit parade. The latter is modeled on a Monte Cristo sandwich. Ivan's Tika Masala, named after the former employee who created it, is more of an Indian stew, and like several of the restaurant's specialties it is served over jasmine rice.

Other ethnic offerings include Jamaican chicken stew and Senegalese peanut soup. Some menu items such as corn chowder and split pea soup are vegan but customers can respectively add shrimp or ham at no extra cost.

Cold soups appear on the menu in the summer.

Two chilis are pizza themed. The pepperoni pizza chili is self-explanatory. The supreme pizza chili includes ground beef and Italian sausage as well as pepperoni. Both chilis have Italian seasoning and are topped with mozzarella cheese.

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Talkbacks

shorewood | Dec. 29, 2010 at 11:55 a.m. (report)

It's a shame that they are not open later in the day and/or on the weekends...would love to try it this place out. The soups sound scrumptious and very original!

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senorluna | Dec. 27, 2010 at 12:30 p.m. (report)

Way to go guys!! With Ruby's smile, one can't help but smile - even if it's the internal kind. The astmosphere is easy and calm. even in the caziness of the lunch hour. The line moves incredibly fast, so don't fret when you see a crowd. Dan makes incredible soup, the craving kind! We come from New Berlin just for the corn bread and, of course, the soup. These guys are why we should eat at locally owned joints, not stock holder pleasing chains!! If your near, you must stop - you will be very happy you did. Keep it up guys - we love it and wish you much success in the new year!!

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Shcro1 | Dec. 27, 2010 at 10:05 a.m. (report)

I used to work right down the street from these guys. Went there every Thursday for the Mexican Tortilla soup. Best I've ever had. Ruby and Dan were always really kind, and his mom was sweet. Don't know if they still do this, but you get free soup on your birthday (any size). It's an awesome place

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