When Professor A. asked us to call out our choices for this months “Soup-O-Rama,” I first called Pai Men, thinking it was time to revisit their soups after not ordering them for nearly a year. Then I had the grandiose notion of reviewing three soups for a bit of compare/contrast. Do you know how many soups I’ve had in the past 2 months (not counting the Chowder from last months ‘O-Rama’)? One. But, I’ve had it twice, so that’s got to count for something. The funny thing is, it’s probably the last soup in the world that I would think I’d be reviewing.
Go ahead and say the name again in your head and this time try not to laugh. It’s not really a soup that you read much about and, lacking a Russian or Ukrainian family, it’s probably not one that you’ve had (I survived six years of Russian language education and have dated a Lithuanian for nearly eight years without ever having it). You never hear someone say, “Wow, I could really for some Borscht right now.”
We actually have a jar of Lithuanian Borscht, Šaltibarščiai, that we purchased at Medeo European Market in Westbrook. It exists in our cabinets because The Missus will buy anything she can that’s Lithuanian, but it looks more like red sauerkraut than soup.
But all of that changed when I had my first chance to try Borscht at Schulte and Herr last month. I was a bit surprised when it was offered on the menu (it’s not a dish I associate with German food), but then owner Steffi told me that it was a compromise with her and her husband, Chef Brian Davin. He wanted to do a Borscht, while she wanted an Oxtail Soup. They met halfway and I’m very thankful that they did.
Just take a moment and look at that beauteous red bowl of home cooked comfort.
Makes you want some Borscht, doesn’t it?
I can tell you, without doubt or hesitation, that it tastes as good as it looks. You may not have a tendency to crave a warm soup on an equally warm day, but this may have you thinking a bit different. The broth, with all of its chunky, meaty goodness, is surprisingly light in both texture and flavor and a far cry from the cold weather gruel one mentally associates with Borscht. The beets and carrots, along with marjoram, provide an all around pleasant sweetness, but the natural earthiness in the beets (you know, that flavor profile that causes some to compare it to dirt) keeps that pretty level. A bit of red wine vinegar adds a touch of acidity and helps to further lighten the dish, which is also packed full of potatoes and celery. It’s a simple soup that’s wonderfully crafted, but they really had me at ‘oxtail.’
The meat, braised separately and then added later on in the process, is ridiculously tender. It stews just long enough in the soup to take on a bit of color and sweetness, but never gets lost. While oxtails are naturally fattier, the soup lacks any residual greasiness from their inclusion. However Chef Brian Davin prepares his oxtail for the soup, he seems to take great care to remove any excess fat from the shredded pieces that make their way into each bowl. The first time we shared the soup, which was not a mistake repeated the second time, The Missus was kind enough to give me the last little nugget of oxtail in the cup. Tell me that’s not love.
Served with a few slices of homemade rye bread, a bowl of their Borscht easily makes for a satisfying meal. A cup more than suffices as a starter but, as I’ve just said, don’t make the mistake of trying to share it. Order your own and save the bread for the end to soak up the broth.