Youth Villages' Soup Sunday

NOTE: Because of the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic, I feel a little weird blogging about food given that Memphis-area restaurants were ordered by city and state officials to cease in-house dining, coupling it with "stay at home" orders for the public at large. While take-out and delivery are still available from most restaurants, it doesn't have the same feel as sitting at a table in a dining room and enjoying food in a nice atmosphere. I'm hopeful that Memphis and the rest of the world will get through this, but in the meantime please stay safe and if possible, get tested for the virus.

Helping Children

For a long time, one of the goals of this blog was to write a review of Youth Villages' Soup Sunday, a yearly event for some of Memphis' best restaurants to showcase its soups. Because it's a fundraiser, a ticket is required to attend the event at the FedExForum where the proceeds obviously benefit Youth Villages, an organization devoted to providing "help for children and young people across the United States who face a wide range of emotional, mental and behavioral problems" (part of its official mission statement). It's definitely an organization that I wanted to support but was unable to until recently. It seemed that every time Soup Sunday occurred, I was too broke to buy a ticket. And with no one providing a "hookup" to me as a food blogger (something I've been doing for almost a decade), I pretty much had to admire from afar. This year, I made sure to purchase my ticket well in advance to ensure my attendance at the event (which at twenty dollars was cheaper than I thought). Speaking of that, Soup Sunday had many attendees who were anxious to try some the many soups and other treats served up by the participating restaurants.

SIDE NOTE: I assumed one of the participating restaurants would be Rizzo's Diner and its Chef Michael Patrick. I was looking forward to tasting his Cheeseburger Soup but it wasn't meant to be (he was there helping out but I didn't see him). Although Rizzo's wasn't participating, there were many other fine restaurants that more than made up for diner's absence.

As I expected, most of "Soup Sunday" takes place in the concourse of FedExForum where people line up to get samples of soups, breads, desserts and other foods (labeled "specialty items") from participating restaurants. Using a tray provided by the organizers, the portions are doled out in small cups that are consumed at tables within the concourse. At least that's how it supposedly works, but in reality the lines are really long so you might be tempted to eat while waiting for the next sample (which you can see in the picture below). Of course, that makes sense if you don't want your food (especially soup) to get cold and spoil your meal (however as a blogger, it's hard to document the evidence if it's in your belly). If I was organizing the event, I would apportion a certain amount of space to each participating restaurant and direct attendees to line up to them (sort of like what happens at the Southern Hot Wings Festival). With many of the restaurants/caterers clustered in groups of three or more, the process for getting served seemed a bit inefficient. To be fair, some of the attendants informed me that there were shorter lines in other parts of the arena, but I and others were hesitant in leaving one line for a potential wait elsewhere. In time, I tried most of the soups at the event but some of the restaurants either left or ran out of soup before I could get to them (I really wanted to taste something from Char, the new steakhouse has gotten a of buzz in Memphis).

Clockwise from the top: Crabmeat and Crawfish Bisque (nearly empty), Braised Cabbage & Roasted Potato Soup, Chicken Tortilla Soup, Hot & Sour Soup

In the first round of soups, I had a variety of flavors from an eclectic group of servers. Some of the soups here were among the best at the event, such as the Crabmeat and Crawfish Bisque from Marshall Steakhouse in Holly Springs, Mississippi that was creamy and very flavorful. Another noteworthy soup was Huey's Chicken Tortilla soup that was spicy and gave the sense that I was eating an actual tortilla. A little less impressive were the Braised Cabbage & Roasted Potato Soup from Hog Wild Catering that tasted like pea soup (not a bad thing if you're a vegetarian) and the sweet... err, Hot & Sour Soup from Germantown's Mosa Asian Bistro that was indistinguishable from what you could get at a Chinese restaurant. Overall, the first round of soups were great and well worth the wait.
Because of the many participants at Soup Sunday, I won't bore you with everything I had at the event. However, some of more notable soups were Silky O'Sullivan's Red Beans & Rice Soup (bottom right in picture), the seafood gumbo from Blues City Cafe (top left in picture and best gumbo at the event) and the Irish Vegetable Soup (top right in picture) from Celtic Crossing, a popular Irish pub in Midtown Memphis' Cooper-Young neighborhood. These were among the best at the event along with a soup from an entity that's neither a restaurant or caterer. The Chicken Tequila Fiesta Soup (next picture below) from Sysco, a restaurant food distributor, really impressed me with its corn flavor and creaminess.
Chicken Tequila Fiesta Soup from SyscoI guess when you have access to a wide variety of sources, it's inevitable that you can make a great meal out of the finest ingredients. The one restaurant that I expected a lot from was the Stone Soup Cafe for obvious reasons. While its not-so Creamy Tomato Basil Soup (bottom left cup in picture above) was decent, it didn't make the impression that I expected. As a whole, none of soups I had were disappointments, for all the restaurants/caterers put out strong efforts that were memorable.

SIDE NOTE: Speaking of memories, one reason why there aren't more pictures in this post is the result of a mishap. While trying to take pictures of the Chicken and Sausage Gumbo from Lakeside Behavioral Health System (another non-restaurant entity), I dropped my phone on a table. Despite my Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge being enclosed in a case, it hit the table pretty hard. At the time, I didn't think much of it and went on about my business. Eventually, I discovered that all the pictures I took that day along with other photos and files on the phone became inaccessible because the phone's SD card was corrupted. Bearing in mind that photos taken after the "drop" were saved in the phone's internal memory, I will assume that the "corrupt" SD card was the result of me dropping my phone. Granted, I'm not a tech expert on cell phones but I'm also not a believer in coincidences. If there's a lesson to learned here, it is to use a "cloud" service whenever you're saving something that you can't afford to lose. It's especially important if you're archiving photos, videos or other stuff on a phone that can be subject to damage, theft or loss. This is the second time that something like this has happened to me (the other instance being after an event where I lost my phone due to drunkenness on my part). Hopefully, this won't happen again if I can find a suitable "cloud" service.

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In a side note to the "SIDE NOTE," the reason I was able to salvage some of the photos was because I posted them on social media. In the past, the blog's social media presence was limited to Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest, media sites that aren't nearly as popular as the two social media platforms that the blog is now a part of. As of now, Ken's Food Find is now on both Ken's Food Find on FacebookFacebook and Instagram, places where I will post photos and (with regards to Facebook) links to blog posts and other relevant stuff. I hope you follow me as I share my experiences in great culinary adventures in Memphis and beyond.

In addition to soups, the event has three other categories: bread, "specialty items" (all encompassing that can range from lemonade to pasta) and dessert. Because of my focus on soup, I didn't get into any of those categories that much but I managed try a couple of items. The very first thing I tasted was the savory Lobster and Shrimp Bruschetta from The Half Shell, a legendary restaurant in East Memphis. Unlike bruschetta served in Italian restaurants, the creamy seafood mix seemed more like a chunky dip atop a small piece of bread that would have been messy to eat while holding a tray and standing in line. If I ever decide to go to The Half Shell, I hope that the bruschetta is on the menu. By the way, this is considered a "specialty item" even though it's bread-based (it was good enough to win the "Specialty Item" category for the "downstairs" portion of Soup Sunday). For a dessert, I tried the bread pudding from Eat At Eric's Grill & Catering that I just wasn't into. In terms of taste, it was pretty much bland. To be fair, I'm not into bread pudding so take my assessment with a grain of salt, but given that I had waited in a very long line to even get it (not intentionally) I felt it was worth a try (I actually wanted the chicken alfredo but "Eric" ran out of it by the time I got there). I wish I had photos to show all of this, but clumsiness ruined the day.

SIDE NOTE: The soup winner for the "downstairs" portion of Soup Sunday was Marshall Steakhouse's bisque. As I found out later, Youth Villages divides the Soup Sunday event into two categories, VIP and "downstairs" in the arena concourse for those not fortunate enough to go big time.  Given that I could barely afford twenty dollars, going "VIP" was never going to be an option. Maybe someday I'll get up there, but my finances will keep me "downstairs" for the foreseeable future. To see a list of all the Soup Sunday winners, click here.

Overall, I really enjoyed my first Soup Sunday and look forward to many more. The atmosphere was joyous for nearly everyone there, knowing that we were there for a good cause. Youth Villages does great work helping children with mental and emotional disorders get the help they need to get back on track to stability and a happy life. As an alternative to mental institutions and juvenile detention centers, Youth Villages is making a positive impact on kids and the communities where they live. If you wish to help Youth Villages in its mission, you can donate via its website. Of course, you can also support it through events that the organization hosts during the year, such as the fabulous Soup Sunday!

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