Background: With two little kids in the house, I never fail to spend a solid portion of the winter fighting a cold. In addition to being on a first-name basis with my pharmacist, I'm a big fan of matzo ball soup as a cure for anything that ails you. A Jewish culinary tradition of eastern European origin, matzo ball soup (or "kneydls" in Yiddish) may be clinically unproven as a cure, but I find it does the trick every time.
For me, a satisfying bowl of matzo ball soup is about balance -- the broth should have some heft and the matzo balls should be uniformly fluffy. "Sinkers" versus "Floaters" are a matter of personal preference but heavy, gummy matzo balls are usually perceived as kitchen failures, resulting in a lifetime of shame and Jewish guilt for the cook.
In this corner: Scott's Generations
The Setup: Located near 7th Street and Missouri just a few feet from Karsh's Bakery (thus giving it instant Jewish street-cred), Scott's has been around since the late 1980s. It definitely has an old-school Jewish deli vibe, replete with 70's vintage bar mitzvah photos on the wall. The servers are wrinkled, sassy and they know their Jewish food.
The Good: This is a hearty bowl of soup. Don't be turned off by the oil slick on top; that's the result of "shmaltz" and it's precisely why this is such a good bowl of soup. It's not "health food;" it's food that will make you healthy. So embrace the rendered chicken fat that goes into the broth, and enjoy the nice balance of soft carrots, celery and herbs. This soup is heavy on flavor and I choose to believe that, because of that, it's packed full of whatever mythical healing benefits that matzo soup allegedly possesses. The matzo ball itself was small-ish, but fluffy and obviously hand-made. It was a tad denser in the center. Scott's reminded me of my mom's soup and was well worth the drive from Scottsdale despite several other options that are geographically more desirable.
The Bad: I ordered the "small" soup and was left wanting more. People looking for a lighter broth will be disappointed, and the matzo ball itself was slightly undercooked in the middle.
The Price: $4.25 for a small bowl, $5.95 for a large bowl. (get the large!) In the other corner: Chompie's
The Setup: The Borenstein family has long ruled the Jewish deli scene in metro Phoenix, but two relative newcomers -- Goldman's and Abe's -- are gaining momentum. The Chompie's menu is huge. I eat at Chompie's often out of convenience, and have noticed a definite improvement in both food quality and service over the last 18 months. If you didn't love it in the past, it's worth going back.
The Good: Nearly softball-sized, this matzo ball was light, fluffy and uniform in its consistency. If it hadn't soaked up the broth, I would have expected it to defy gravity and float away into the sky. These folks have obviously got this "floater" thing down to a science.
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The Bad: The broth would have been satisfying if I didn't just have Scott's as a basis for comparison. I suggest ordering it "broth only" and forgoing the noodles; the broth is where the good stuff resides anyway. Even though it was homemade, it didn't quite taste like it. Talk about portion size...the size of the matzo ball and the small bowl meant that there was space for only several spoons-full of broth. Scott's seemed downright generous by comparison.
The Price: $4.99 for a small bowl, $6.99 for a large bowl.
The Verdict: This is a close call, but I'm going with Scott's Generations. Chompie's has a better matzo ball, but the broth at Scott's is in another league altogether and that's what puts it over the top. A little greasy and a lot flavorful, the culinary alchemy that is matzo ball soup is well represented at Scott's. Their broth with Chompie's kneydl would constitute the matzo ball soup Promised Land. Stop by for some corn rye bread at Karsh's on your way out and get well soon!