Our award winning chowders
One never really knows when a new concept will establish itself as an important item on your menu. Such was the case with the Chowders and Bisques we now serve at Cafe Heavenly.
When we started Cafe Heavenly 22 years ago, I’m not sure if we even offered a soup, and if we did, it was only on occasion and probably nothing too special. I was thinking at the time that a special soup might be a good addition to our sandwich menu. As I was attending a Food Supplier Show in Orlando back in 2005, I met up with an old chef friend of mine and another food professional I had worked with many years ago. We were having A coffee break before heading back into the Food Hall of the show.
We were chatting about no great subject and certainly didn't realize that a very important future aspect of Cafe Heavenly was about to take shape. I had attended college at a school located in Charleston, SC, and happened to mention to my chef friend about a soup that was established there back in 1925, She Crab Soup.
It’s a delicate blend of a creamy white base, sort of a cross between a bisque and a chowder, into which is blended crab meat and fine bits of onion, celery, and herbs. Sherry is the classic flavoring, and some restaurants even offer it on the side, letting diners adjust the sweetness to their own tastes. Perdita’s Restaurant, for years considered the only "gourmet" restaurant in town, was famous for the soup, as were four other Charleston restaurants, Cavallero, Everett’s, The Frosty Manor, and the Francis Marion Hotel’s restaurant.
But for some reason I could never find a restaurant in Charleston that served a good example of one, or maybe I just didn't understand what it was supposed to be in the first place. The problem I always encountered was that the soup was always extremely thick, so much so that you could almost turn the bowl upside down and nothing would spill out! (I now know that this will sometimes happen if the soup is kept in a kettle too long without stirring it and without adding a little more milk to make up for the steam that has been evaporating out of the soup over several hours of holding time).
I happened to mention this to my chef friend, a very well respected chef who had owned restaurants in the Orlando area and who also now worked as head chef at Disney. He responded to me, “I’ll show you how to do a great She Crab Soup, and I’ll also show you a great Lobster Bisque. So, the following week, both of my friends traveled over to my home in New Smyrna Beach, and we made Soups, Chowders and Bisque all afternoon (along with stops for his needed puffs on a cigar sitting on our outdoor deck overlooking a golf course, with maybe a glass of wine too).
It was a very enjoyable afternoon, and little did I realize it would transform the business at Cafe Heavenly. This is all part of ‘It’s a Lifestyle’ in the running and operation of Cafe Heavenly. We’re always seeking out something new. Sometimes the ideas don’t work, but sometimes they do, and when they do, it can change your business considerably. Without trying new ideas even if they sometimes fail, you risk falling behind and becoming stale and complacent.
We began offering She Crab Soup and Lobster Bisque, tweaking the recipe until we got it perfect, and I think we did get it perfect. There isn't a day that goes by that a Customer doesn't stop and say it’s the best chowder they have ever tasted. Really, this happens every day!
We then began offering other Chowders, a fabulous New England Clam Chowder and a Corn ’n Crab Chowder. The Clam Chowder came from another one of those trips to Maine I've written about before in one of these Blogs. We were having lunch at a well known old seaside mansion overlooking the cliffs of Maine and ordered a bowl of Clam Chowder. 'Too Die For’. It was the best Chowder I had ever tasted.
It had a blend of spices that you’d never think of. We came home and began a quest of trying to replicate that recipe. We had quizzed the waiter and had gotten a few hints of what the spices were. We dug out our own Family Chowder Recipes, researched dozens of Clam Chowder recipes online and began to formulate a recipe very close to what we had experienced in Maine. We continued to tweak it for several weeks until we nailed it. Again, this is all part of ‘It’s a Lifestyle’ and is such fun, at least it is for us!
As great as these Chowders and Bisques are, we also had requests for other soups, maybe a soup that wasn't milk based, and came up with an incredible Authentic Cuban Black Bean.
We also added a Roasted Tomato Basil Bisque for another vegetarian option. It’s a little odd that we don’t now make the She Crab Soup very often, only when a special request is made as few understand what it is and tend to order something else. We've settled into making 3 Chowders each day: Lobster Bisque, the most popular, followed closely by Clam Chowder and Corn ’n Crab Chowder.
For a while we even shipped the Chowders to the lower 48 states, but that got to be too time consuming to prep the shipment with dry ice (not easily found in New Smyrna at the time), plus the time to package it and then take it to a shipping carrier. We now sell quarts that can be frozen, and in a Styrofoam cooler will last several days on a trip back to home from New Smyrna Beach!
I’m always amazed at the number of Chowders we sell each day, even if the temperature outside is in the high 90’s. Doesn't seem to matter. Our Customers demand those freshly made Bisques and Chowders that have won ‘Best Chowder’ each year for the last decade!