For weeks now, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the flaczki soup at Soup & Sausage Bistro, a new north Phoenix restaurant serving a motley menu of Ukrainian and Polish cuisine.
The soup is on the menu under “tripe soup,” and it has the hearty, herbaceous, near-medicinal quality of a good bowl of chicken noodle. It’s well-seasoned, almost a little briny, and thickened with potatoes and onions. Long, soft strips of tripe float around the bowl like noodles, and every quivering, long-cooked piece represents a gorgeous melding of texture and flavor. It’s the kind of dish you want delivered to your bed after feeling the first nascent chills of a cold move through your body.
The flaczki at Soup & Sausage Bistro is a soup worth obsessing over, but it’s far from the only star dish at the restaurant. The small counter-service spot, which is operated by Ukraine-born chef-owner Oleksii Koshalko, opened earlier this year at Shaw Butte Plaza, is quietly turning out top-notch East European fare, including staples like borscht and dumplings.
After eating my way through the menu, I’ve become convinced that Soup & Sausage Bistro is the ideal place to spend a rainy day, metaphorical or otherwise. The traditional meat-and-potatoes menu — which also includes a few vegetarian options — offers the kind of consistently well-made comfort food that is universally satisfying.
True to its name, soups figure heavily on the menu. Apart from the memorable flaczki, there is a wonderful house borscht, a sweet-sour, oniony soup dominated by the flavors of stewed tomatoes, beets, and garlic. It’s less sour than other borschts you may have enjoyed in the past, with a distinctly light and refreshing quality.
There’s a very good green borscht, too, heavily perfumed with the fresh, tangy notes of sorrel, and thickened with egg and potato. If borscht isn’t your bag, there’s solyanka, a hearty sweet-and-sour pork soup with a deliciously smoky and citrusy kick.
Sausages are not made from scratch at Soup & Sausage Bistro, but the kitchen makes up the difference by producing its own bread. You get a taste of the kitchen’s handiwork in a dish like Sausage in Dough. The sausage is not particularly memorable, but the bread is — the well-cooked, run-of- the-mill hot dog is encased in an exquisitely crafted pretzel-like bun.
Sausage in Waffle, another popular menu item, features a hot dog sealed inside a circle of freshly fried, doughy, chewy bread. It’s a delectable snack, marrying the salty meat with the sweet-savory dough.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better than fresh bread stuffed with cured meat, you order a cabbage roll. There are two to choose from — beef or pork. Trying to decide which one is better is like trying to split hairs with a cleaver. Both versions are generous in both size and flavor, the massively juicy lumps of meat wrapped in leafy tendrils of stewed cabbage, and topped with a deliciously acidic tomato sauce.
If you prefer to consume your meat without cabbage, try the homemade meatballs. They are beautifully rolled and seasoned, and sing with notes of garlic and onion.
Remember meatloaf? The dish is often disparaged as lowbrow culinary kitsch, a throwback to the dawn of lukewarm TV dinners. At Soup & Sausage Bistro, though, meatloaf is so irresistibly good, it feels like a minor, yet delicious, revelation. It’s a thick, porky meatloaf, pink as a steak and almost as juicy.
The “potatoes” part of the restaurant’s meat-and-potatoes equation comes in the shape of homemade dumplings. You can order them fried or boiled. Either way, they are very starchy, chewy, and totally swoon-worthy.
An order of boiled dumplings yields a small mountain of dewy, slinky, potato-and-flour pillows, garnished lightly with crunchy flakes of bacon and served with some sour cream on the side. If you order them fried, the dumplings evoke the gorgeous airiness of fresh yeast doughnuts. Boiled or fried, though, it takes an iron will not to eat them all in one sitting.
Side dishes at Soup & Sausage Bistro are nearly as decadent and flavorful as the various meats, sausages, and soups that make up the heart of the menu.
The essential side at Soup & Sausage Bistro is probably the stewed sauerkraut, which is considerably sweeter and richer than other sauerkrauts. The cabbage, on a recent visit, was cooked to a soft, lush consistency; a sprinkling of chopped bacon helped punch up the flavor and texture.
Sturdy, thick potato pancakes, another side, have a nice, oniony richness that transforms them into a small, starch-laden feast. For a less carby option, try the simple, yet highly satisfying, tomato salad. The tangle of tomato slices and onions are dressed in pepper, vinegar, and dried herbs. It’s a bright and refreshing counterpoint to a largely heavy menu.
For dessert, the restaurant offers a small assortment of homemade fruit pies. The peach pie, in particular, begs to be eaten. Like everything else on the menu, a single serving is big enough to feed two. The pie is notably thick, built with a well-defined crust and packed with slices of fresh peaches. It has a bold tang as the peaches are dressed lightly in lemon, which helps cut through the heartiness of the dough beautifully.
In the end, you won’t come to Soup & Sausage Bistro for the ambiance of the place, or for anything resembling trendy cooking. The dining room, with views onto Shaw Butte, is small and pleasant but otherwise plain. You’ll come for simple, highly satisfying dishes, like a slice of freshly baked peach pie or maybe a bowl of tripe soup, which you might, like me, dream about for days.
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Soup & Sausage Bistro
13240 North Seventh Street
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Flaczki (tripe soup) $5
Beef cabbage roll $6
Boiled dumplings $6