This is a private conversation for Minnesotans only, so all you 'Sconnies and New Yorkers, clear out. Okay? Gone? Good. Now everyone who's left, gather 'round. Serious question: When was the last time you saw wild rice soup on a new menu?
There was a time when wild rice soup, our defining local dish, was everywhere. Remember? As clam chowder is to New England, as salsa is to Mexico, wild rice soup was to here. But even though restaurants are now opening with breakneck speed—wild rice soup is rarer than Babe the Blue-Oxtail Stew. Not on the menu at any of the places you'd expect—not on the menu at new "lakes and woods" cuisine Tullibee. Not on the menu at local Scando-heritage Upton 43. Can't remember ever seeing it at Minnesota heritage spot Bachelor Farmer. There was a time you couldn't open a hotel in Minneapolis without wild rice soup—but it's not on the menu of the new downtown hotel spots Oui Bar or AC Lounge. In fact, and correct me if I'm wrong, I feel like the last restaurant to open with a signature wild rice soup was Steven Brown's all-star Porter & Frye in the Hotel Ivy—and that might have been one of the best soups I've ever had. Thick and creamy, smoky with chicken, chunky with real lake wild rice, and scattered over the top, rice-crispy-like balloons made from popped real lake wild rice too.
Now, I'm not saying you can't find wild rice soup anywhere. It's on the menu at FireLake and the St. Paul Grill, it's stacked in the freezer case at Byerly's, and there's a good old-school one at the Crossroad's Deli out west. But the best one I've had in recent memory was up on the North Shore, at the Vanilla Bean Café. I can still taste it. Rich as pie, real as an old boat frozen in dry-dock. That was real! I loved it. But I'm out three, four, six nights a week sometimes—and I haven't seen a new wild rice soup in ages.
This is what I am saying: What happened to us, man? We used to know who we were.
Or am I just hanging out in the wrong places? Give me your wild rice soup picks if you've got them. I need to get a fix on whether we've lost our souls—as previously rendered in soup.