Tunnel Explorer: Soup Cowboy

Categories: Tunnel Explorer

Line at Soup Cowboy.jpg
A line isn't always a good sign.
I love soup. Back when my wife and I were living very much hand to mouth, soup was a constant in our kitchen. It's delicious, economical, and almost endlessly variable. We often employed a technique I learned from my mother's mother's mother, called the Never Ending Soup Pot. Kept on the back burner at a bare simmer, she would add to the pot every day. Scraps and trimmings, whatever was available.

I took a slightly less random approach, but kept the same basic idea, turning a pot of brothy vegetable soup into a creamy soup studded with meat or seafood, into a chowder, over the course of a week. Each day's offering was different enough that it never felt like constantly eating leftovers. To this day, we enjoy the process of creation and innovation that goes so synonymously with soup.

Imagine my excitement, then, when I heard about the opening of Soup Cowboy in the downtown tunnels. A couple dozen varieties of soup, scratch-made daily from fresh ingredients, sounds like a great idea for a downtown lunch joint, offering convenience, nutrition, and variety in a bowl. As soon as word reached me, I made plans to check it out. Due to work conflicts, I didn't make it down for their opening day. This was probably a good thing.

The first thing I noticed about Soup Cowboy was the line. Tucked into the back corner of the food court under Pennzoil Place, the line snaked around Soup Cowboy's small interior space, and out toward the elevators. When I arrived with a colleague in tow, the promise of fresh, vegetarian friendly food enticing her away from the closer environs of the Shops at Houston Center, there were probably about forty people in line. Given that this was a soup joint, and everything was basically already made, I figured that wouldn't be a problem. Soup Cowboy had only been open for a few days, and this was just a sign of the initial positive buzz.

I was wrong. Regardless what buzz had drawn the crowds, it wasn't what was keeping them standing around. In addition to its soup offerings, Soup Cowboy prides itself on its fresh, "hand-carved sandwiches." During my visit, the sandwiches were being constructed by two young men, whom I shall call "The Cutter" and "The Assembler." The Cutter seemed as if this must certainly have been his first job working with food, and quite possibly his first job, period. I timed him. It took six minutes for him to "hand carve" half a link of sausage for my sandwich, knife-hand shaking the whole while. I am in fear for his digits.

I remarked to my companion that they really ought to implement a two-tiered ordering system, with one line for those who are willing to wait for the extra rusticity of hand carved meat, and one for those who simply want a cup of soup. There are two registers. This is doable.

Despite the lines, I was still enthusiastic about trying the place out. The menu sounded promising, and I appreciated the fact that they were stepping out there a bit, offering some soups that seemed a bit unexpected coming from a office-worker lunch spot. There were even two cold soups on the menu, a tomato-based gazpacho and a melon-basil soup.

Soup Cowboy-thumb.jpg
Not what I was hoping for.
Intrigued, I opted for a cup of chilled honeydew-basil soup, along with half of a jalapeño sausage sandwich with cilantro aioli. I figured that a refreshing cold soup would pair well with what I hoped would be a spicy sandwich. After The Cutter finished meticulously slicing rustic chunks of sausage and piling them between two very small slices of multi-grain bread (an interesting take on the notion of a half-sandwich), I took my meal to a nearby table, wanting to eat the soup while it was still cold, rather than allowing it to come up to room temp. on the walk back to my office.

The first bad omen was the color of the soup. It was not a vibrant, inviting green. Rather, it was a sort of viscous-looking, semi-transparent split-pea color that did nothing to whet my appetite. It looked dull, flat, and lifeless.

I bent my head into the bowl, hoping for a bright and slightly grassy waft of melon, with a hearty punch of aromatic basil. What I got was perfume. Nervously, I dipped my spoon in and tasted. Perfume, again, but with a cloying onslaught of sweetness.

I know I ordered melon soup, and that I should expect some sweetness, but this was out of control. Maybe, just maybe, it could have worked as a dessert course. It needed something to counterbalance the sweetness, at the very least. Even just a simple jolt of zingy lime would have helped keep this from tasting like an old lady's potpourri sachet soaked in syrup.

The sandwich didn't fare much better. Nothing more than a handful of sausage pieces on dry bread, squirted with a little bit of (admittedly good) cilantro aioli, the sandwich was dry and one dimensional. I'm all for simplicity, but in order for it to work, ingredients and execution have to be impeccable. The sausage was clearly mass-market stuff (I'm guessing Chappel Hill), and the whole thing was assembled slap-dash. I will give them some points for the aioli, which bore the bright green punch of actual cilantro.

After all this negativity, I feel compelled to tell you that I'll be returning to Soup Cowboy. They have some kinks in their ordering system, the service is unreasonably slow, and I was disappointed with my initial meal there. Still, I like the idea well enough to give them another shot, and I knew going in that I was ordering the odd-ball on the menu. Perhaps they do better with the more usual suspects. I certainly hope so. You can expect a follow up post soon. Until then, don't get the melon soup, and skip the sandwiches, or don't say I didn't warn you.



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Location Info

Soup Cowboy

711 Louisiana St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


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13 comments
Shayne
Shayne

I tried Soup Cowboy twice in the last week since it opened.  The first day, I had a bowl of the bangers & mash soup.  $8 seemed steep to me.  The potato soup was incredibly watery, and the sausage was ok.  But it was more filling than it first looked.

On my next visit, I tried the Cowboy Beef & Bean soup, which I had heard one of the employees tout as a popular choice during my previous visit.  I got a cup of soup and half of a turkey sandwich.  The cup of soup was very small for $4.50 and I found very little beef or beans in it -- mostly veggies.  I appreciated the hand-carved turkey -- way better than lunch meat -- but the sandwich itself was nothing spectacular. 

I had high hopes for this place, but it will be a while before I return. 

Kellie Jordan
Kellie Jordan

I was excited for this place too since I'm a huge soup fan. I ordered half a steak sandwich and a cup of the parmesan chicken soup. The steak was cold and flavorless, but the bread was excellent. The parmesan chicken soup had little to no flavor and the chicken tasted dry. I might try it again, but it will be at least a few months before I go back. Maybe they'll make some changes by then.

Hugh Ramsey
Hugh Ramsey

The soups at bewiched are usually very good, but again, that place is $11 for half a sandwich and a cup of soup.

Jay Francis
Jay Francis

For soup lovers out there, I would recommend adding The Daily Soup Cookbook to your book collection. This is the cookbook from a similar type of soup only venue somewhere on the east coast. There isn't a dud recipe in the book. You'll notice that most of the recipes include thyme as an ingredient. And they've made me a fan of thyme in my soups.  The other good news is that this book can be picked up used on Amazon for not very much money.

JarrodJM
JarrodJM

You didn't mention the price-point. I think they'll have a hard time competing when you're paying $8 for a bowl of soup. That's pricey even for the tunnels, as I can get a great bowl of gazpacho at Samba Grille for only $6.

Kylejack
Kylejack

Dammit, Soup Cowboy, you really let me down.

Nicholas L. Hall
Nicholas L. Hall

A very worthwhile point, um, to a point. It is true that $9.50 for the meal pictured above is borderline theft. However, your assumption that the same audience sought out by Soup Cowboy would be just as willing to go grab a cup from Samba is deeply flawed. The tunnels, and their eateries, thrive on the fact that downtown workers prize convenience above almost all else, when choosing their lunch spots. The (largely perceived) difficulty in going above ground to an actual restaurant meal is a powerful force. IF S.C. is going to fail, I don't think it's going to be solely based on the slight increase in price point compared to others in the tunnels. Will that play a role? Absolutley. If, however, S.C. can increase quality and decrease wait times, they have a shot, despite being over-priced.

Nicholas L. Hall
Nicholas L. Hall

I know what you mean. I was genuinely excited. It's early, though, and I didn't exactly order a gimme. I'm going to let them have another shot, in a week or so, and order something a bit more "normal."

Kylejack
Kylejack

I just saw Jay's comment as a soup corollary, not a tunnel alternative.

Jay Francis
Jay Francis

There's a famous story about The Eagles taking so long to record their next album that the record company CEO sendt them each a rhyming dictionary. Kylejack's comment was spot on..my remark was more to Nicholas saying that he loved soup. But now I'm thinking Soup Cowboy might get the idea if people started showing up with giftwrapped copies of The Daily Soup Cookbook?

lo boy s
lo boy s

ol boy s call down ther and ask for pappsies smear, talk abot the books

Nicholas L. Hall
Nicholas L. Hall

I saw my comment as just being a jackass, so it's all good.

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