Let us pause for a moment to praise the soup and sandwich combo.
No, there's nothing particularly sexy about it. It's not extreme. No one ever won a James Beard award for making soup and sandwiches. They'll never score anyone a spot on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. They don't even fall into the now-celebrated category of folk culinary art like barbecue and spicy fried chicken. For a working-day lunch, though, half a sandwich and a cup of soup is just right, especially when there's a nip in the air outside. No need for greasy fries or salty chips on the side. The warm soup is filling and comforting, and the sandwich gives you something to chew: a beautiful balance that sends you out into the world satisfied but not overly full, re-energized and ready to go.
If you want to do a soup-and-sandwich combination right, you'd be well advised to head over to Mt. Pleasant's Five Loaves Cafe.
Rumor has it that the restaurant serves more than just soup and sandwiches — salads, for instance. Sources report that at night there are even some respectable entrées like chicken marsala, mustard-glazed salmon, and curried chicken over jasmine rice.
But we're here to talk about that particular partnership of slow-simmered broth and fillings between bread slices. The lunch menu at Five Loaves is explicitly designed to support such a pairing, since all soups are sold by both the cup and the bowl and the sandwiches half and whole.
A small card on a wooden clipboard lists a half dozen or more soups of the day ($4 a cup, $5.50 a bowl). If you can't whittle the tempting list down to just one (and I never can), you can always default to the soup sampler, which delivers your choice of three soups, each in a small white cups ($4.25).
The soups are made daily with fresh ingredients, and it really shows in the sparkling array of flavors that wind up in the cup. There are creamy, filling varieties like the potato, broccoli, and cheddar or turkey bacon chowder. Others go the savory route, like a basic tomato tarragon with a sprinkling of crab meat to give it a little boost.
I've been pleasantly surprised by the vegetable-based soups that, despite forgoing meat stocks, are rich and flavorable. There's a zip of sweet spiciness to the carrot, ginger, and cilantro, and chipotle peppers add a subtle, smoky heat to a thick cheddar and potato puree.
The Mexican chicken chili is more soup than stew — a thin, spicy broth with a big dose of lime. The asparagus and bacon soup is creamy and rich enough on its own, but when you hit one of the semi-melted bits of blue cheese hidden away inside, it becomes sublime.
Unlike the rotating soup selection, the sandwich menu is fixed, though there are always a couple of daily specials. For all of them you choose your bread: baguette, sourdough, rye, multigrain, and, for an extra quarter, a croissant or gluten-free bread. (There's a spinach tortilla option, too, but why anyone would want to degrade a sandwich by transforming it into a lowly wrap is beyond me.)
Sourdough is ideal for the "Ultimate" BLT ($4.35 half, $8.50 whole), which adds cheddar, red onions, and basil mayo to the standard ingredients. The key is the excessive load of bacon — four strips on a half sandwich — a double-layer stack of crispness that contrasts perfectly with the smooth softness of the tomato and cheese. (Be sure to have the sourdough toasted, so it won't crumble beneath the generous fillings.)
If one were concerned about neatness, I would advise against selecting a baguette for the grilled pork loin sandwich ($4.35 half, $8.50 whole). It comes stuffed with a thick, tender slab of tasty pork goosed up with a spicy blue cheese spread and caramelized onions, a huge wad of baby spinach mounded on top.
But if it's flavor you're after, the baguette's just right. My plate quickly became a sloppy disaster of spinach leaves and tomato slices coated in oozing sauce, but I plucked every last scrap of baguette out of the mess and chewed it down.
Last year, the Mt. Pleasant Five Loaves moved locations within the same shopping plaza, taking over the larger space once occupied by the Village Tavern and adding a cocktail list and a half dozen rotating craft brews on tap.
The large room is open but loud and bustling. It's finished with lots of reclaimed cypress, and woven baskets have been repurposed into light shades. You're likely to have to wait for a table, especially if you get there just after noon, and at lunchtime you'll see almost everyone in the place eating a soup and sandwich combo.
As well they should. Forget burgers and chicken fingers. Done up the way Five Loaves does it — good bread, fresh ingredients, and an ever-changing selection with plenty of tempting twists — the soup and sandwich combo has enough star power to carry the show.