by Larry Austin
The Village Inn and Serene Gardens were winners Sunday at the third annual Buffalo Soup Fest, held at the Hearthstone Manor in Depew. Village Inn owner Mike Carr and Sarah Mallare took home the Best Chili award at the event for their Mayan Chocolate Chili, while Satomi and Dr. Joshua Smith of Serene Gardens took home an award for Best Kept Secret.
The festival, in its third year, was founded by Margaret and Matt Carlucci, who were inspired when eating soup one day at the kitchen table. "So Margaret said to me, 'Why isn't there a festival of soup?' And I said, 'Well, we're going to have to fix that," Matt said.
A few phone calls later, and a legend was born, he said. Sunday's event had 30 restaurants, with more than 60 types of soup, chowders and bisques, Carlucci said
"Everything that you can do liquid with food is being done in this room," Carlucci said. The festival has taken off. Sunday's event drew a crowd approaching 10,000 over an eight-hour period. Cups of soup served numbered in the tens of thousands, Carlucci said.
"We conservatively estimated we'd maybe get 1,000 all day long," Carlucci said of the first festival. "We did 7,000 the first year."
Proceeds benefit B Team Buffalo, which enable young professionals to do community service work.
The success of the festival is tied to soup's ability to take the hungry and cold back to la dolce vita of days past, gathering at home with friends and family, watching football.
"It brings you back to that feeling that you got when you were with your grandma and your family," Carlucci said. "Plus, Buffalo loves to gather. We love gatherings, and if it's a gathering with food, it's home run."
To hear Sarah Mallare of the Village Inn explain it, it takes three things to make a good soup: "Love, love and more love."
And, like love itself, making great soup is unplanned. Mallare said she never uses recipes, but instead throws ingredients all together and taste-tests. "It's all about layering," she said of making soup. "Layering the flavors."
"You try to do something unique and different," she said. "I don't know, it's kind of like science. It's like a good bartender. You've got to be a good mixologist."
Carr of the Village Inn said the restaurant won for best spicy soup last year in the restaurant's first appearance at the festival. This year, the Village Inn won again in a category sponsored by Southern Tier brewery. Mayan Chocolate Chili was a chocolate stout chili that included beer, steak, ground beef and black beans. Carr brought butternut squash bisque and lemon Tabasco chowder as well. Festivalgoers who returned for seconds provided the best feedback, Carr said.
"That's always a good compliment," Carr said. Attending the festival is one marketing method as well for the Village Inn, located on Ferry Road.
"We bring our menus and some coupons and we give them out and we hope that people find us," Carr said. "We just do it to show people how diverse we are."
Serene Gardens was a late entry in the fest.
"Somebody cancelled, and they really wanted somebody different. They said we're tired of clam chowder, we're tired of the Buffalo wing soup. So they thought we'd be a good addition for some diversity," said Dr. Joshua Smith, of Serene Gardens, who attended with his wife Satomi. The Grand Island Boulevard restaurant/garden center presented four offerings: ocean chowder, a fresh ahi tuna, salmon, and haddock with vegetables and rice in a creamy soup; cream of pumpkin miso with chicken, a pumpkin and acorn squash mixed with a creamy miso based soup with hearty chicken chunks ("That sold out real fast," Smith said.); Japanese braised pork stew, braised pork with vegetables in a traditional flavored stew with soy sauce; and tonjiru, a traditional Japanese miso soup with pork and vegetables.