Here in Santa Fe, the soup is the stuff of legends.
Creamy and rich, studded with vegetables and heavy with the warmth of paprika, David Jacoby’s Hungarian Mushroom Soup is a local classic with a following dating even before 1994, when Jacoby opened the Baca Street Bistro in the space now occupied by Counter Culture.
He moved in 1996 and swapped out a letter in the restaurant’s name to create the Back Street Bistro on Camino de los Marquez. There, he churned out 5½ gallons of the stuff a day — and eight or more in the winter. He offered eight soups daily alongside his sandwiches and homemade pastries, but the mushroom soup was a staple.
“I hated to see people cry,” said Jacoby, 62, rising from his chair to mimic the frustrated dance of customers told he didn’t have the soup on hand. The bustling bistro had 72 seats, and in the early days there was nearly always a wait for a table, he said.
He became known as the Soup Rabbi, then the Duke of Soup. He competed in the first five years of The Food Depot’s Souper Bowl and won twice, once for the mushroom soup and once for his Smoked Turkey Wild Rice Soup. Guy Fieri even popped in for his 2013 Thanksgiving episode of Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives.
In March 2017, exhausted from years as a full-time chef and restaurant owner, Jacoby closed the bistro, to much hand-wringing from local patrons.
“I had a real locals place,” he said. “I’m not young, I’m old-school, and a lot of food that I produce is old-school. I sold food at reasonable prices, so senior citizens could come in and eat for 20 bucks, and people on their lunch breaks could get in and out.”
Since then, Jacoby has been “mostly retired,” he said, offering private chef services. But then he had a chance encounter with Grant Kosh, the owner of Lion & Honey, an airbrush artist whose work was once displayed at Back Street Bistro. It wasn’t long before the two struck a deal to feature the mushroom soup alongside a rotating broth-based soup at the quirky cafe, better known for its bubble waffles and drinks.
That’s right. The soup, as of October, is back.
It’s $4.50 per cup and $6.50 per bowl and complements the shop’s more recent addition of hot sandwiches made with sub rolls from Chocolate Maven.
“Everyone’s eyes light up when they hear we have his soup here,” Kosh said. “Five stars all the way.”
Kosh, like many Santa Feans, was a regular at Back Street Bistro.
“There were mornings I would wake up, and that was the first thing on my mind: ‘I need some Hungarian Mushroom Soup,” he said. “Once I knew they were gone, selfishly I wanted to have his soup here — just for me, so I could have it.”
So what is it, exactly, about this Hungarian Mushroom Soup, which one customer piped up to succinctly describe as “a damn fine soup?” It’s adapted from the landmark 1970s Moosewood Cookbook, written by Mollie Katzen of the Moosewood Collective and Restaurant in Ithaca, N.Y. Jacoby makes no secret of the ingredients, rattling them off — onions, mushrooms, Hungarian paprika, milk, sour cream, lemon juice, soy sauce — before adding with a grin, “and a whole lot of love.”
It takes about an hour and an assortment of pots to pull off, and Jacoby’s got it down to an art.
“We talked about him teaching me how to make it,” Kosh said, “but he’s got that touch, the je ne sais quois. You can teach anyone how to make it, you can show them the recipe, but there’s that certain love that he has that he puts into it that just makes it that much better.”
It’s not just Kosh who puts a premium on Jacoby’s culinary touch.
“When I go out to the grocery store, I have to calculate extra time because people want to talk to me everywhere I go,” Jacoby said. “Everybody says, ‘I miss you.’ ”