Last week, the JT staff explored some contemporary meanings of the Passover story in its “Four Questions” cover story. This week, we delve into the festive meal, having diligently researched the one menu item that typically sets the tone for the rest of the repast.
Family debates may rage over the decision to serve chicken or brisket, but when it comes to tradition, everyone agrees you can’t have visions of Passover without chicken matzoh ball soup.
Yes, we agree that ultimately homemade is best. But with no steaming bowl of bubbie’s readily available, we pondered other options and decided upon eight local eateries. Why eight, you ask? Why, one for each day of course. So with nearly a century of discerning matzoh ball soup expertise among us, the JT staff sipped, supped and slurped our way through our research in anticipation of the Passover observance.
You’ll read from our survey (not a competition — What? Are we crazy?!) that the staff dutifully dug into our analysis, and the results invoked blissful praises such as “love at first taste,” “all the bells and whistles” you could hope for in a soup and “tip-the-bowl-back good.” Yes, it’s hard work, but someone had to do it.
So, is it firm or fluffy? (Pesachdik) noodles or no? What’s your perfect soup-to-matzoh-ball ratio? Let us know your personal predilections, traditions and experiments (or better yet, your secrets!) for the best chicken matzoh ball soup experience. (Obviously, with apologies to the non-gebrokts crowd.) Chag kasher sameach to you and your family.
Lenny’s Deli: Perfect Middle Ground
Given Lenny’s Deli’s history of more than 30 years in the Baltimore area, I was sure the matzoh ball soup would measure up.
Now, I come from the school of chopping up the matzoh ball into bite-sized pieces. This way, the matzoh ball soaks up the broth, and you can get a spoonful of soup, matzoh ball and, in the case of Lenny’s, carrots and noodles too.
The wide, flat noodles add some defining texture and the carrots more hearty flavor. The broth was not too salty — too much would be a definite deal-breaker for me. The carrots and noodles definitely add to the overall experience and give the soup pizazz.
“Oh, I got a piece of chicken! That was good,” my colleague, Daniel Schere, professed as we sampled the soup. Little chunks of chicken are always a nice surprise.
The matzoh ball itself was firm — not too mushy and not too hard. If you’re dining with a group divided on matzoh ball consistency, Lenny’s offers the perfect middle ground.
As JT photographer David Stuck so aptly put it, the soup was “very pleasing on the taste buds.” My taste buds too were pleased.
— Marc Shapiro
Suburban House: Substantive Texture and Taste
The first thing I noticed was that the broth was perfectly salted, which was wonderfully welcome. I mean, who wants to feel thirsty after consuming a liquid?
Then I noticed this matzoh ball has some gravitas to it. Contrary to some of the other melt-in-your-mouth light, airy matzoh balls — which all have their place — Suburban House’s matzoh ball has a firmer, coarser, more substantive texture and tastes very true to — believe it or not — matzoh.
As with most matzoh balls, it gets softer the more it soaks up the soup, but this ball holds its own when you take a big bite and reveal the insides.
“It’s a good texture,” colleague Justin Katz said. “It’s more like a meaty texture.”
For those who like variety in their soup, Suburban House offers the addition of curly noodles, which really do practically melt in your mouth, and tender carrots that add extra flavor.
The unsalty broth (again, a big plus in my book) wasn’t overwhelmingly chicken flavored, which allowed the taste and texture of the matzoh ball to be forefront in the experience.
When I let my Facebook friends know the Jewish Times would be tasting matzoh ball soups from around town, as a hometown boy I got a number of responses, and many said it was essential to include their favorite, Suburban House. And with such a unique matzoh ball with such character, I can see why.
— Marc Shapiro
Attman’s Deli: The Complete Package
I definitely went into this round of tasting with high hopes, since this soup was from Attman’s, a legendary Baltimore institution.
What I experienced not only surpassed my expectations, but it kind of blew my mind.
As I was serving up bowls for myself and Justin Katz, I exclaimed with delight and surprise: “Ooh! There’s these big, thick ‘home-style chicken noodle’ noodles in it.” As an Attman’s employee later told me, their house-made noodles — which I’d guess were almost 1/8-inch thick and an inch-and-a-half long — are designed just so, because thinner noodles tend to disintegrate when soup sits in a hot pot too long.
“That is a significant noodle,” Justin concurred.
As we continued our foray into this mouthwatering adventure, we realized how much thought was put into not just the broth and the matzoh ball, but also the whole package. The sizable pieces of chicken were cooked with added flavor, not just thrown into the soup. The carrots and celery were bite-size but thick enough to really be tasted.
And the broth! It was flavorful with a light film of actual chicken fat and a hint of herbs. The fluffy soup-soaked matzoh ball acted as a vehicle for the tasty combination of flavors.
“The inside of the matzoh ball looks like the moon with craters,” Justin said upon close inspection. My esteemed colleague brings up a good point about matzoh balls — what’s not there can be almost as important as what is there. The “craters” add to the matzoh ball’s fluffiness and give it a soup-infused sponge-like consistency.
This well-thought out recipe made this soup the complete package.
— Marc Shapiro
Miller’s Deli: A Hardy Meal
With three locations throughout Baltimore, Miller’s Deli certainly aims to satisfy as much of the Baltimore Jewish community as it has the manpower for, and satisfying is a great word to describe its matzoh balls too.
One of my favorite childhood memories during Passover was cutting into my matzoh balls so I could get a nice chunk with every spoonful of soup. Miller’s offers a firm, hearty matzoh ball that feels like it could quell the largest of appetites.
“It feels like they took two matzoh balls and compressed them together,” said fellow reporter Marc Shapiro. “You could have a meal out of this soup.”
He added that it tastes “eggier,” and colleague Daniel Schere agreed.
Firm and dense, or as JT photographer David Stuck put it: “It’s like snow compacted on your driveway,” and in a positive sense.
Stuck also particularly enjoyed Miller’s noodles, scooping as many as he could onto his spoon before eagerly digging in.
Aside from the matzoh ball itself, the broth favors the savory side over the sweet, so those who enjoy this style would do well with choosing Miller’s.
— Justin Katz
Gourmet Again: Tip-the-Bowl-BacK Goodness
Gourmet Again lives up to its name when it serves matzoh ball soup. And as Marc Shapiro put it, “It was “tip-the-bowl-back good.”
The presentation is wholly more colorful than my grandma’s matzoh ball soup ever was, which focused on the simplicity of a strong chicken broth and a rich matzoh ball. Alternatively, for those who enjoy pleasing the visual sense during a meal, Gourmet Again is quite the looker.
The matzoh ball presents a fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth exterior while remaining firm and nicely textured on the inside.
But the greatest strength of Gourmet Again’s matzoh ball soup is how it brings together a medley of small strips of chicken, finely diced onions, chopped carrots and bits of celery resulting in an explosive hearty broth, with just the right amount of salt.
All in all, this matzoh ball soup has all the bells and whistles one could hope for.
And as managing editor Melissa Gerr pointed out, I literally “tipped the bowl back” to get those last delicious drops.
— Justin Katz
Dougie’s: Tongue-Tickling Good
If one were to describe the gestalt of Dougie’s matzoh ball soup, there could be a lot of descriptors, but the JT’s social media guru, Esther Apt, put it best.
“It tastes like the matzoh balls from my childhood.”
This is an “apt” description for the simple but flavorful soup that conjures memories of reclining around the Passover table with relatives, young and old.
With a flavor-forward broth, evenly tempered matzoh ball and spaghetti-like noodles, the simplicity of the soup reminds me of what my grandma served when we were young. (And what Jewish adults don’t enjoy reminiscing about their loving Jewish grandmothers? I always have.)
The matzoh ball itself has a smooth exterior and expresses a middle-of-the-road texture and consistency that allows anyone to sit down and enjoy a bowl, regardless of preferences. It also complements the flavor of the broth, which colleague Marc Shapiro describes as “tongue-tickling good.”
— Justin Katz
Steve’s Deli: Sweeter and Softer
Conveniently located for us just around the corner from the JT office in Owings Mills, Steve’s Deli is a common lunch destination for me. But up until recently I hadn’t sampled their take on matzoh ball soup. So I was pleasantly surprised when I sat down with a bowl and experienced a sweeter and softer version of the Jewish delicacy we all cherish.
After my first few spoonfuls, I detected character within the broth that had a sweet kiss to it, which complemented the melt-in-your-mouth texture of the matzoh ball.
“It’s easy to get on the spoon,” said fellow soup connoisseur Marc Shapiro as he dug into the delectable orb. “You don’t have to fight too much for it.”
Steve’s also offers linguini-thin noodles to complement the matzoh ball, and that will give you something else to get excited about. You’ll need to self-police your noodle intake in order to ensure that the proper noodle-to-matzoh-ball-to-broth ratio is achieved, however.
“I love the pile of noodles when you finish the bowl,” enthused colleague Justin Katz.
Steve’s recipe includes tiny chicken chunks hidden throughout that add a bit of gravitas to what is an otherwise romantic broth that goes down smoothly. The soup’s warm white florescence and easygoing personality make it the big brother or big sister you never had. If ever there was a need for comfort soup, Steve’s has the answer.
— Daniel Schere
Accents grill: Traditional and Delicious
For a traditional and delicious matzoh ball soup, Accents Grill is the place to go, and tasting Accents’ soup was love at first taste for me.
The recipe features Accents’ firm, thick matzoh ball, which transforms the soup from an appetizer into a main course and actually leaves you feeling full but not stuffed. It’s accompanied by carrots and legit-sized pieces of chicken that are emblematic of the diversity of ingredients we so expect in a good soup. There is absolutely no shortage of flavor with all of those lovely culinary components.
“This is the bomb,” JT photographer David Stuck proclaimed emphatically upon taking his first sips. Stuck said the soup “tickled his taste buds.”
Additional rave reviews came from Marc Shapiro, who added that the vegetables make it “more soupy,” and circulation coordinator Rochel Ziman said that the soup is strong enough to stand on its own with “no noodles necessary.”
The broth contains the right amount of salt to maintain the authentic Ashkenazi flavor of matzoh ball soup without going overboard. It’s no wonder Esau elected to consume a bowl of soup in exchange for his brother receiving their father’s birthright.
Accents’ soup is the gold standard when it comes to maintaining the proper balance between matzoh ball, chicken and vegetables. This recipe has both the look and personality of a great soup. You can take it out on a date and even take it home to your mother.
— Daniel Schere