Pea Soup Soto’s
One of my favorite things to do is to drive along the coast of California. I went to college in Santa Cruz, and I used to make the drive back and forth to LA all the time. Those trips in my little Ford Escort were most certainly where I cemented my love of road trips. I get how long drives might be tedious to some, but I adore the in-between space it affords: open road, open time ahead of you, tunes, a view. Somewhere along the way, I discovered Pea Soup Andersen’s–a small roadside diner specializing in pea soup. The diner looks like the Tiki Room at Disneyland gone Swedish (cuckoo clocks instead of singing birds). And the soup, for all the hype, is truly fantastic.
The best eateries in the world are roadside diners. To get people to turn off the highway and get out of their cars, roadside restaurants know they have to be pretty special. The Madonna Inn, for instance, is just up the road from Pea Soup Andersen’s, and does nothing less than a pink-and-brass mambo all over your senses–pink sugar, waterfalls in the men’s bathroom, amazing pancakes. Can any place match the roadside genre in themes, decor, and comfort food? When there’s nothing but the lonely road ahead of you, you want something that sticks to your guts, both in food and funky kitsch.
This is a soup that you want with you on the open road. There are a million ways to approach it, but here’s a rustic, hearty one. Vegemetarians can easily skip the bacon and cook the veggies in olive oil instead.
1 c. dried green peas
3 garlic cloves, peeled and diced
1/2 yellow onion, peeled and diced
1/2 lb. of thick-cut bacon, roughly chopped
3 bay leaves
6 sprigs of thyme
1 c. white wine
2 russet potatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
16 oz. stock
2 c. water
In a sieve, rinse the peas and set aside.
In a large pot over medium heat, cook the bacon until the fat renders, but don’t let it get too crisp. With a slotted spoon, remove the bacon and set aside.
Add the garlic, onions, and carrots to the bacon fat, and sprinkle salt and pepper over them. Let them cook until they soften, about 5 minutes. Cover the veggies in the wine and let it reduce for a few minutes. Throw in the bay leaves and the thyme.
Add the peas and potatoes and coat them in the veggies and oil. Cover in stock and water and turn the heat to medium-high. Let it come to a boil and continue to boil for awhile, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium and cook until peas and potatoes are cooked through. Add the bacon back in. Add salt to taste. With a potato masher, smoosh everything to desired consistency (smooshy).