More Retro Diner — Introduction to the chapter on soups and stews

Never underestimate the power of soup. Its fabled ability to cure colds, its seductive lure on a cold winter day, and its general ubiquity stand testament to the honored place it holds on our ta-bles. A hot soup, thick with ingredients and made from a homemade stock warms us just think-ing about it. Its power is evident in a story we heard of one diner owner whose customer broke into his diner after hours and filched a pint of the famous cream of mushroom.

For some, a great soup is a meal in and of itself. Some soups already come with all the prerequi-site courses in a well-seasoned broth. Chowders and bisques, start off a plunge into a seafood feast. Sitting in a small town diner on a snowy day draws a Rockwellian scene made complete only with a hot bowl of tomato served with a grilled cheese sandwich.

Diners literally famous for their soups include O'Rourke's in Middletown, Connecticut where owner Brian O'Rourke arrives every morning at two for his four o'clock opening. His day begins by preparing the soup for his busy lunch trade, followed by baking the breads that accompany his much-loved concoctions. For a great chowder, few can beat the award winning effort served at the Maine Diner in Wells, Maine. Brothers Myles and Dick Henry have owned and fostered this burgeoning Maine institution long enough to see their three millionth customer pass through the door recently with no signs of any letup. The brothers can credit their chowder (as well as their many homemade lobster dishes) as one of the biggest reasons for their diner's popularity.

Soups provide every kitchen an opportunity to prove its abilities and display its creativity. The preparation of soup allows for a broad range of tinkering and gives the chef considerable leeway in seasoning. We therefore encourage experimentation with these and all our recipes, at least af-ter you become comfortable with them and your own abilities. Though we have no evidence to support this, we suspect that the most amazing meals often happen entirely by accident. Here's to more happy accidents.