24 restaurants to compete in South Side Soup Contest

Candy Williams, Freelance Reporter
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The soup du jour Saturday on the South Side will be a delicious mix of chowders, bisques and cream soups as 24 local restaurants compete for top honors in the sixth annual South Side Soup Contest.

For Chef Matt Helon of Tom's Diner along East Carson Street, it's a chance to maintain bragging rights. Voted on by the public and a team of judges, Helon won both categories last year for his Exotic Cream of Mushroom Soup in the competition sponsored by South Side Local Development Co. as a fundraiser for The Brashear Association's Food Pantry.

This year, Helon is up for the challenge with his Chicken Dumpling Soup, a thickened chicken broth-based soup with carrots, celery, onions, fresh chicken stock, chicken tenderloins and homemade dumplings. His soup creation is a favorite among his restaurant patrons, he says. He'll be making 25 gallons of it for Saturday's event.

"I came up with the recipe on my own. It's the chef's secret recipe," he says.

Jim Dietz, head chef and owner with his wife, Melanie Evankovich-Dietz, of Gypsy Cafe, has participated in the contest for the past five years. This time around, the biggest challenge wasn't in creating their soup, but in naming it.

Originally tagged as Purple Panda Soup because of its color, the couple toyed with the idea of other purple-inspired names and finally settled on Gogol Bordello Start Wearing Purple Soup as a tribute to the Gypsy punk band and one of its hit songs. The soup's ingredients include red cabbage, potatoes, parsnips and carrots.

"It's very thick, hearty and creamy," Dietz says. It has a vegetable stock broth and contains pureed vegetables, with sour cream and a little Romano cheese added for flavor. I originally made the soup with ingredients I had on hand. I created a special version for the contest. I hope it's the best one yet."

Dietz says his wife, Melanie, is one of the founders of the contest. They believe the event is good for the community.

"We like that it brings people here," he says. "It's also a good way to touch base with our restaurant friends."

Izayana Rivas, whose family owns and operates Rivas Restaurant along East Carson Street, is participating in the contest for the first time. Their restaurant opened in July, after having previous locations in Etna and Carnegie.

"We decided to come to the melting pot, which is South Side, which offers a variety of restaurants by different ethnic groups," she says. "We are very happy here and don't see ourselves moving anytime soon."

Rivas' contest entry, Sopa de Marisco, is a seafood soup that contains crabmeat, orange roughy and shrimp along with mixed vegetables and a cream broth. Her mother, Angela Rivas, is the restaurant chef who will be preparing 20 gallons of the soup.

"She's ready for it," Izayana says. She and her family moved here from Nicaragua, and they recently traveled back to their former country to visit. "My mother picked up a lot of ideas we are going to try in the restaurant," she says. Her father handles the finances, and her husband, Abraham, coordinates the wait staff and manages their Web site.

They decided to participate in the soup contest because, Izayana says, "It makes us become familiar with the community and part of the family of South Side."

As a result of the popularity of the contest, a limit was placed on the number of attendees they could accommodate this year. Only 1,200 tickets will be sold. Last year, 1,500 people participated, and some restaurants ran out of soup.

"This event is so popular and so much fun," says Rick Belloli, executive director of South Side Local Development Co., who encourages patrons to purchase their tickets in advance. "We want to keep it a positive experience."