When the weather outside is frightful, there’s nothing better than a steaming hot cup of matzah ball soup.
Some are large, some are small, some are more oily than others, some come sans chicken, but when you truly can’t decide on your brothy bowl of choice, why not try them all?
We mapped out a few of our favorite places across Center City, à la a typical bar crawl. But instead of discounted libations, we’re taking shots of soup.
As it was about 20 degrees out, we limited the crawl to walkable stops in Center City. But those outside city limits have plenty of options. If we could’ve walked (we figured hitchhiking would be frowned upon), we would have stopped at joints like Hymie’s and Ben & Irv’s for their hearty bowls of soup, too.
So instead, here are the stops we made to defrost and eat some soup:
Honey’s Sit ’N Eat, 2101 South St.
Our first stop for a cup o’ matzah ball soup was filled to the brim with shredded chicken, celery, carrots, fresh herbs and a very soft matzah ball that took up much of the cup.
We couldn’t resist and ordered a side of hefty latkes, which sat atop a doily. The meal altogether felt very homey and set the bar high, as it ranked one of our favorites by the end of our course (the broth had a distinct chicken flavor and wasn’t too salty).
Rachael’s Nosheri, 120 S. 19th St.
As we walked into Rachael’s we really got that Jewish deli vibe listening to an older woman wail into her cellphone, “Where are you? I’m at Rachael’s!”
In contrast from our freezing bodies, the soup burned us to our cores, but it was pretty tasty so we kept eating.
It came in a no-frills styrofoam cup, but to our surprise we rolled over the top matzah ball to find another underneath. A miracle!
Although saltier, the broth balanced with a more vegetable taste, and the matzah balls were fluffy, airy and light.
Marathon, 121 S. 16th St.
Our expectations were high as we ordered Sally’s Matzoh Ball Soup, which the menu noted won Best of Philly. Named for the owner’s mother, according to some unsure employees, the hefty bowl came with two packets of crackers.
Sadly, it didn’t taste as good as it smelled. The matzah balls were lumpy and kind of crumbled apart in the bowl. There was less flavor in the broth, which was more watery and oily than the others.
Rooster Soup Co., 1526 Sansom St.
When you go to a place that has “soup” in its name, it’s OK to set the bar high — and even more so when the people behind the place are Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook.
Luckily, this soup not only reached the bar but plowed right through it. It was super flavorful and with the added schmaltz, you definitely get a sense of the smoky flavor in not just the matzah ball itself but the broth as well.
It was a bit oily, but the flavor made up for it.
Schlesinger’s, 1521 Locust St.
Even though we were incredibly full, we picked up steam at Schlesinger’s (and the complimentary pickle bar).
We ordered Harriet’s Matzo Ball Soup, also assumed to be named after a relative, as well as a side of fries. (We caught a second wind.)
The matzah ball was larger than a fist. We took a few bites, and it actually grew in size.
But this was the most traditional soup thus far: It had more of a matzah taste reminiscent of Passover seder. And surprise! Once you get around the largest matzah ball on the planet, there’s one piece of chicken. Whether it’s supposed to be there we’ll never know, but it was good.
Hershel’s East Side Deli Market, 51 N. 12th St.
Over at Reading Terminal, we made many wrong turns before finding Hershel’s tiny deli counter surrounded by Amish shops.
This matzah ball was definitely the hardest of all, with a texture so thick we needed two spoons. However, that did not diminish the quality or the flavor. There’s a thin yellowish tint and film that sticks to a matzah ball — a personal favorite — which is just absorbed broth, but it adds for a tasty experience.
Famous 4th Street Delicatessen, 700 S. Fourth St.
We took the long trek from Reading Terminal to Famous 4th Street by rolling our way down. (Remember the scene in Willy Wonka where the girl turns into a blueberry? That was us, except matzah balls.)
As the waiter placed a single serving of matzah ball soup on the table, it became clear that all the other matzah balls prior were leading up to this point. This was the one ball to rule them all: The softball-sized matzah ball came in a bowl the size of a large plate.
Expanding stomachs aside, it was super soft and moist, accompanied by bow tie noodles, carrots, chunks of chicken, and a semi-sweeter broth.
This is the ultimate way to end the crawl. Godspeed to those who finish it in entirety and live to tell the tale.
Now that we have become one with the matzah ball, here are some tips: Just like a bar crawl or a night of drinking, prep with lots of water before and in between soups. Pace yourself. All that salt and walking around town do not mix well.
Speaking of salt, do not question how many calories are in matzah balls until after participating in this crawl. You’re just better off not knowing.