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Like many, many other people, I get a regular hankering for one of America's top comfort-food meals: tomato soup and a grilled cheese.
So, it's good news when I find a place that offers Tomato Asiago Florentine soup and my choice of either a grilled brie sandwich or the basic type on fresh baked bread - it's a classic dressed up in well-thought-out flavor boosters, which is par for the course at Saybrook Soup & Sandwich Co. in Old Saybrook.
First, the soup. It's a good batch of soup that, in one tiny tasting, can convince a person to find the source. In my case, I sampled SSSC's Shrimp and Bell Pepper Bisque at the Taste of the Valley, an annual foodie event in Deep River. One slurp of this soup and I was ready to cast my vote for best dish in favor of SSSC. (Then I tried an amazing braised beef rib sandwich by The Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station and threw my support behind that. Yeah, I'm fickle, but SSSC did win Best Soup.)
You'd think that there isn't a ton you can do to tomato soup to make it even better than it inherently is, but SSSC's addition of asiago cheese offers a pleasant tang to the delicious bisque-y mix. Dip in the accompanying crisp bread that comes with the soups, and you're in comfort-food heaven.
As for the chicken noodle soup, I'd certainly have it again, unlike so many other chicken noodle soups (read: salty brews decked out with perfectly square carrots) I've sampled at takeout joints. It briefly reminded me of my grandmother's own chicken soup, which suggests SSSC uses real food - you know, actual chicken bones! - in its recipe to create a soup with depth and flavor.
Want to make a meal of your soup? Order the Asparagus Potato Leek soup, a velvety bisque whose rich, buttery flavor satisfies immediately. Coupled with that bread, you'll be happily full in no time.
What's great about the sandwich menu at SSSC is the many delicious details therein. All of SSSC's meats are hand-butchered, seasoned and cooked on site, according to the menu, and smart ingredients complement the meats well.
Not content to just do roast beef sammies, for example, SSSC offers a bevy of beefy options, like the Rotisserie Pot Roast sandwich - a filling, delicious sandwich served with drippings; and the Rotisserie Meatloaf sandwich, which is doubly filling and, while pretty darn good, isn't as fantastic as its menu description suggested: "(Meal loaf is) finished with a ground smoked bacon blackened tomato puree." Sounds great, right? My sandwich seemed to lack any bacon-y wonder, but maybe my palate was still overloaded by the Asparagus Potato Leek soup.
And while you can keep it simple with a ham sandwich (rotisserie ham, that is, topped with champagne mustard), other options, either a Rotisserie Pork Loin sandwich or the Slow-Smoked Pulled Pork, might entice the fan of pork. The house-smoked pulled pork was really wonderful. It's a tangier take on a barbecue sandwich, and the portion is generous and tender. I suggest getting it on a rustico roll.
The Grilled Brie sandwich, served with fresh pear and prosciutto, is a great choice, too. The pear becomes the perfect anchor for the bite of the brie rind, and the gooey cheese marries with the prosciutto in delicious harmony: some salt for all that cream. Beware: while yummy, it makes for messy eating.
As part of my growing BLT Tour of the region, I tried SSSC's BLT (they had me at "our own smoked bacon" on the menu). The bacon was great, but the sandwich a bit messy in presentation, so I wasn't super wowed. I also made the mistake of getting it on whole-grain bread, which I thought would be more of a wheat bread, but indeed, it's fibrous sunflower-seed-laden slices. So, if you're looking for classic BLT joy, choose another bread option.
One disappointment: as a lover of all things picnic plain, I sampled SSSC's Grilled Vegetable Pasta Salad, which on the menu promised asparagus, red onion, bell pepper and penne pasta, tossed with capers, shaved romano, fresh lemon and olive oil. While it delivered a generous portion, it lacked the zip you'd think the alleged fresh lemon and capers would offer. Indeed, I didn't see any capers in my salad, and perhaps a more generous dash of the romano cheese could have saved this dish from being bland, bland, bland. I was tempted to put salt in it and try again, but there I was, too full of dull penne to dive back in.
One could easily make the trip to SSSC for dessert after a night out, since you'll likely be too full after a meal for any of the house-made desserts. Fans of tiramisu will have a new bakery destination if they try SSSC's (also available in toasted almond); a double-chocolate-chip cookie was a spectacular cocoa-buttery confection. I intend to go back and try the key lime tarts I saw on a recent visit.
Disappointments aside, the creativity and commitment to fresh whole food shown on the menu at SSSC will bring me back there. It's a new-ish operation with room to grow (see sidebar), but there's so much smart energy going on in that kitchen, it seems only good things can emerge from it.
745 Boston Post Road, Old Saybrook
Cuisine: Soups, sandwiches and salads; house-made desserts; breakfast from 7 to 9:30 a.m.
Atmosphere: Bright, airy space decked in tasteful, chic beachhouse decor
Service: Polite, but the crew of young folks working the counter and kitchen often came off a little frazzled. With time, they'll be pros for sure.
Prices: Soups go for $3.95 a cup or $5.95 a bowl. Ample sandwiches and salads average around $8.50 each
Handicap access: Good
Credit cards: All majors