Review: Cafe Zupas, Meridian, Idaho
Cafe Zupas just opened in The Village at Meridian. I was invited to attend their pre-opening VIP event for a free sampling of their menu. What a fun experience! They invited 200 people, and had close to that number attend. They told me that it was their largest turnout in their history of their openings. Boiseites either love free food, or they were really excited to get a Zupas nearby. In speaking to the folks around me in the long line outside, it was apparent that it was the latter….they were genuinely excited about the opening of this soup restaurant! And for good reason……their soup is exceptional! They are known for their soups, but also serve sandwiches and salads. A perfect lunch destination (at last). Continue reading for our full review. But first, who is Cafe Zupas and why all this hype?
Well, if you’ve lived in Utah, Nevada, or Arizona in the past 10 years, you likely know all about Zupas. But if you haven’t (like me), you’ve probably never heard of them. So I had to look them up. They have 18 locations throughout Utah, 5 locations in the Phoenix metro area, 3 locations around Las Vegas, and now 1 here in Idaho. Their history, as printed on their website, is as follows: “Café Zupas first opened it’s doors in 2004 in Provo, Utah. Founded by two ambitious professionals working in the tech industry, it was their love of food and travel that led them to begin a new life as restaurateurs. Inspired by the delicious variety of food they encountered when traveling abroad, they named their restaurant loosely after the Italian word for chowder (zuppa), and began developing the perfect soup recipes. Unfamiliar with the typical preparation customs and methods of many restaurants, they chose to cook every soup from scratch, beginning with whole produce and fresh ingredients. Even salad dressings and sandwich spreads were blended in their kitchen to ensure the most creative and delicious food possible. Since then, we have grown to many locations and learned a lot about how other restaurants save time, money, and effort to “make” their food. But we have persisted in–even improved–the way we create each dish, just like we did in the beginning: fresh, in our kitchens, from the best ingredients.”
So how is their food? Is it worth the $9 experience?
Fresh Salads, Soups, and Sandwiches at Cafe Zupas
Upon walking into Zupas, a brightly lit menu board beckons you to the counter, where fresh salad ingredients and piping hot soup pots great your rumbling stomach. There are choices galore, all of which sound and look very inviting. First up are their salads…
They have 18 salads to choose from, including the tantalizing sounding Maui Tropical Chicken (house-chopped mixed greens, house-made caramelized pineapple vinaigrette, chicken, tri-color peppers, pineapple, mangos, toasted coconut, macadamia nuts, and wonton strips). If none of those suit your fancy, you can built your own salad with whatever you’d like. I didn’t get to try a salad on this trip, but plan to next time I go.
Moving down the line, we come to the soup bar, filled with 10 different house-made-from-scratch soups!
Cafe Zupas, Possibly the Best Restaurant Soup Available
I’m pretty skeptical of restaurant soups. Most are actually canned/boxed processed soups. Those that are made in house are usually bland and unexciting. So it was with great surprise to find that Zupas made-from-scratch-daily soups are actually quite delicious. Exceptional actually. My first taste was their Chicken Enchilada Chili.
The menu says, “You’ve never tried chili like this before! Made with red and green enchilada sauces, delicious chicken, black beans, and fresh southwestern vegies.” It looked good, and certainly smelled delicious. As I took a bite, I was greeted with a strong cumin flavor, balanced nicely by a mellow masa flavor. Those two flavors set the stage for the rest of the tasty ingredients. It was really very good, and reminded me a bit of masa-thickened tortilla soups found in Mexico. But unlike Mexico, I believe Zupas may have been cream based. Regardless, it was hearty and delicious and I figured this must be one of the best soups on their menu. But then I tasted the Roasted Red Pepper and Lobster soup. Damn!
This soup was amazing. It was basically a lobster bisque that had been thinned with a roasted red pepper puree. Those peppers were mostly red bell peppers, but there must have been a few red chilies as well because there was a touch of heat to the soup. There were chunks of lobster in the creamed pepper puree, which was a pleasant jewel of seafood goodness each and every time one filled my spoon. The soup had a fantastic balance of flavors, and was just simply delicious. Please sir, may I have another? The suggested garnish of goat cheese was spot on too. Zupas’ goat cheese is very mellow, creamy, smooth, and fresh tasting. It was exceptional with the soup. Thank you for serving me a perfect soup Zupas!
Cafe Zupas Sandwiches are Good Not Great
After this crazy delicious soup experience, I had hopes that Zupas’ sandwiches would be equally memorable. But alas, they were not. They were good, don’t get me wrong, but were not on the same level as the soups. My buddy summed it up perfectly when he described them as “restaurant style sandwiches without being $10.” They were high quality, but not high deliciousness.
We tried the Italian Club sandwich first. Ham, Genoa salami, turkey, toasted red peppers, muenster cheese, fresh mixed greens, tomatoes, and house-made balsamic spread. The ciabatta roll was good, and all the ingredients were high quality. It was a good sandwich, but wasn’t the Italian hero I think of when ordering an Italian sandwich. I think that was mostly due to the high ratio of bread compared to Italian meats. The meat just got lost in the mix. The balsamic vinaigrette was like a balsamic dressing mixed with a garlic aioli. The sandwich as a whole had tons of flavor, but was mostly the flavor of dressing, garlic, and roasted peppers.
We then tried the Cuban Grilled Pork, which was recommended to me by their Salt Lake management who was up for the opening. This sandwich was also good, but not exceptional. The positives were the pork, which was extremely tender and moist; the perfect use of spices, being present without being overbearing; and the crunchy pickles. The negative was the citrus dijon spread. It just wasn’t a good match and made the sandwich too sweet. Leave that spread off and this sandwich would go from a 6 to an 8.
Surprisingly Good Desserts at Cafe Zupas
We were offered a dessert to try as well, so we went with it. This little beauty is their Salted Caramel Creme Brulee. It stood about 4-inches high and looked beautiful with that golden caramel sauce. The caramel was very nice, having just a hint of salt in it. But the only thing I could really think of when I put a heaping spoonful of caramel and creme brulee in my mouth was, “wow, that’s rich!” It was actually too rich for my taste. Each component was great, but combine the two and enter a sugar coma. The creme brulee itself was very creamy and had a great egg custard flavor. This was a very good made-from-scratch-daily creme brulee. Their other creme brulee option just had fresh berries on top, which now sounds just perfect. I recommend going that route when ordering one of their creme brulees.
We also took this gooey caramel covered chocolate brownie. My buddy said it was really good, but having just consumed a 2-month’s supply of sugar in the creme brulee, I couldn’t handle tasting even a little bite. It looked delicious though.
Complimentary Chocolate Dipped Strawberry is a Nice Cafe Zupas Customer Service
Seldom do you find such a nice gesture from a restaurant as a free “thank you for your business” chocolate dipped strawberry. They must make hundreds of these daily at each of their locations. Thanks Zupas! They were tasty and appreciated.
Cafe Zupas is Recommended for Great Soups and a Great Atmosphere
I was pleasantly surprised by Cafe Zupas. Their fresh, high quality ingredients are top notch. Their friendly faces and bright and clean settings are very inviting. Their sandwiches are above average for their price range. And their soups are quite fantastic. Guess I’m sold. I’ll be back.
The Bald Gourmet finds a perfect lunch spot in Cafe Zupas, Meridian Idaho.
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