August 20, 2010 by Ashlee Clark Thompson
Food was the only remedy for what ailed me Thursday.
The day started an hour later than usual, thanks to my inability to hit “snooze” instead of “off” on my alarm. I was already behind on my to-do list before I even made it to work. And while I scrambled to catch up, a dull throbbing behind my eyes reminded me that I had forgotten to pick up allergy medicine the day before.
It was a no-good, very bad day. And soup was the only thing that could make me feel better.
I turn to soup when nothing else in the world seems right. It transports me back to the stool in my mother’s kitchen, the one with the cracked leather seat. I would sit there, groggy and queasy, while my mother stirred a can of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup for me, her patient for the day.
There wasn’t anything particularly special about what came out of the red and white can – just a mound of noodles and bits of chicken. But I slurped it up anyway, because I knew my mom would make me feel better.
I’m old enough to know that soup isn’t the elixir my mother said it was, yet I still seek out a bowl when I feel sick or out of sorts. Rarely has a restaurant’s soup made me think of that worn stool and the time I spent peeking over my mother’s shoulder. But those memories sprang back into the forefront of my mind Thursday during a visit to Mrs. Potter’s Coffee Lounge & Café.
Mrs. Potter’s opened on Main Street in downtown Louisville two years ago. The prime location, in the middle of Museum Row across from the Louisville Science Center (my former workplace), makes for an interesting lunchtime clientele of tourists, executives and young people looking for free wi-fi to go with their pastry and espresso.
A brick wall separates the lounge from the café, a great idea that allows the lunch crowd to enjoy a meal without disturbing the aforementioned young people in the lounge. The lounge resembles a typical coffee shop with a pastry display, some comfy chairs and two-top tables. The café immediately reminded me of another young Louisville restaurant, Hillbilly Tea. The lights were off, the decorations were minimal and the patrons were quiet. It was the perfect place to nurse a sinus headache.
I hadn’t even looked at the menu when I decided what I wanted. The chalkboard displaying the day’s special loomed over my table:
I’m a sucker for a good special, and this one was no different. Tomato soup and a grilled cheese is the perfect combination to cure a lousy day.
The regular lunch menu, however, offers a lovely variety of light but filling dishes that were just as tempting as the special. The panini menu includes a variety of classic flavor combinations atop brioche or focaccia, such as ham and brie ($7.95); tomato, basil and mozzarella ($6.95); and bacon and apple ($7.95). There’s even a create-your-own turkey sandwich in which you assemble your choice of cheese, veggies and spread for only $5.95 (and all the paninis come with chips or a salad).
Judging from the plates of other diners, Mrs. Potter’s also has some tasty salads. Had I been in the mood for one, I would have gone with the apple walnut with goat cheese and sun-dried tomato vinaigrette ($5.95, or $7.95 with chicken). But I couldn’t turn away from such a great deal on soup and a sandwich, so I ordered the day’s special, along with the café’s version of a white mocha ($3.70).
The croutons that rested at the top of the bowl left me flabbergasted. I didn’t have a ruler handy, but I estimate that they were at least a cubic inch – kicking the butts of their petite counterparts I usually receive atop a salad or soup. My amazement continued after I scooped up my first bite of one of the croutons paired with a little bit of soup. Croutons are usually brittle and loud, but these pieces of bread were slightly toasted to a golden brown on the outside and still a bit chewy on the inside. The croutons, which the waitress said were made in-house from whatever extra bread they had, were loaded with garlic and oregano. The waitress told me that she has eaten bowls of these croutons drizzled with thousand island salad dressing for dinner, and I don’t judge her for it. These were easily the best bits of bread I had ever had to accompany soup.
And speaking of the soup, it was fabulous. Thank goodness Thursday provided a brief respite from the humidity that has hovered over Louisville. The cooler temperature made it easy to sip down the hot soup. The dish was creamy and rich. Flecks of basil were spread throughout the soup, providing a wonderful depth of flavor. The soup cleared my congested head and was a pleasure to eat because it was so simple, yet well-prepared. And the grilled cheese sandwich, a panini stuffed with a thick layer of cheddar, was the perfect tool to sop up the last dregs of soup resting along the sides and bottom of the cup (yes, Mommy, I used my sandwich to scrap the bowl clean – it was too good not to).
My trip to Mrs. Potter’s had all the potential to be a failure – my expectations of a simple bowl of soup were high, and I could have easily been disappointed. But Mrs. Potter’s showed in their special of the day that they know how to assemble a classic dish without the bells and whistles that some restaurants might be tempted to use to jazz up an older recipe. If the rest of their dishes show this level of care, I will have to return, and not just on my bad days.
Notes on Mrs. Potter’s Coffee Lounge and Café:
- Free wi-fi. Enough said.
- The café offers alcoholic beverages and small plates during their evening hours.
- The most expensive item on the lunch menu is the roasted red pepper salad with goat cheese. If you add chicken, the salad is $9.75.
- Breakfast is available in the morning.
- Mrs. Potter’s Coffee Lounge and Café, 720 West Main Street, Louisville, Ky.
- Tomato basil soup and a grilled cheese sandwich: $5.95
- White mocha: $3.70
- Subtotal: $9.65 (sweet, mission accomplished, right?)
- Total (with tax and tip): $11.44
Mission: Failed (darn tax, but completely worth it)