Uncle Cheetah's Soup Shop

(Grand Rapids, MI) — Across from Wealthy Street Theater is a small restaurant called Uncle Cheetah’s Soup Shop. Once upon a time, it began life as The Electric Eel, serving sushi and noodles, but owner Cory DeMint pulled the plug on that concept after only a few months. Shortly thereafter, it reopened to serve a variety of soups, sandwiches, wraps, and salads. We seldom get down to that end of Wealthy Street, though the recent Thriller! Chiller! film fest gave us cause to spend some time in the area and it was only a matter of time before we scheduled a time to explore Uncle Cheetah’s menu...

He Fed:

It’s shortly before noon on a Sunday. I’m worried the church crowd will descend on Uncle Cheetah’s, taking up all the available space, but we just manage to beat the crowd. Inside, the space is pretty small. There are just a few tables, plus a half dozen tall chairs at the counter. Over the counter is a chalkboard with today’s soup offerings and the rest of the menu. Soups run the gamut from traditional like Chicken Noodle to crazy stuff like Curried Squash and Apple. The wraps and grilled cheese sandwiches have fun names with inspired ingredients. It takes a few minutes to choose a combo, then we place our order at the window and get ice tea.

We grab a couple chairs and wait for our name to be called. Despite the small size of the dining area, it’s a comfortable, cozy place to wait. Laughter and smiles from nearby patrons telegraph their joy. There’s something deeply communal about soup, especially on a sunny fall day. I can smell the soups cooking, hear the sizzle of hot cheese on a grill. More people flow in, waiting patiently for their orders. My name is called.

I’ve ordered the Reuben soup. It’s a small container filled with a thick, cream-based stock, chunks of corned beef, shredded cabbage, and a few threads of carrot. Crouton cubes help add texture. It’s a concoction that walks a risky line. If you make it too close to an actual reuben, with Thousand Island dressing, it might have wavered into unpalatable territory. If you avoid it altogether, it could end up an anemic stew. This version is just about right, almost a riff on the reuben. It just gets better with each spoonful (with generous dunks of my pretzel roll).

For my sandwich, I choose the Smoke Signal. It’s charred jalapenos, smoked bacon, sharp yellow cheddar cheese, pineapple and BBQ sauce, on a three cheese bread. I probably should have ordered the half sandwich, but my eyes have always been bigger than my stomach (as my grandmother used to tell me). My first bite lets me know the charred jalapenos haven’t been all the way deseeded. Tears spring to my eyes, partly because it’s much spicier than I’d expected, but also from happiness. I love when a restaurant refuses to “dumb down” ingredients. Let that jalapeno shine, baby! I finish it all.

Reluctantly, we give up our seats and dispose of the trash. I am full. This will easily function as a meal-and-a-half for today. Next time I’m getting the Cubano Perfecto and Tomato Saffron soup.
She Fed:

We’ve been wanting to get to Uncle Cheetah’s since it opened and we finally get the chance today. I just got in from a long four day business trip; I’m tired and fighting off a head cold. Truth be told, I’d like to be snuggled under the covers right now, but a day off in town with my husband is a rarity this time of year. The bright sun takes the edge off this chilly autumnal day, a perfect day for soup!

Uncle Cheetah’s is much smaller than I expected. For a moment, I even wonder if we’ll be able to score seats. The chalkboards overhead detail the salads, grilled sandwiches, wraps and beverages and there’s a window where you place your order. This is one of those places where I feel slightly awkward at first until I get the flow of things. I know right off I want the cheddar ale soup. I eventually decide I also want one half of a “Lee’s Comeuppance”...a grilled cheese with smoked ham, brie and maple chutney. As we place our orders at the window, we’re informed they just ran out of the cheddar ale soup. Well, that will teach me to dillydally around. I spy the lobster bisque and figure it will make a tasty substitute.

We both order large ice teas and take our seats waiting for the soup and sammies to come up. The tea is brewed, not instant, and strong even over ice. I like that a lot. Our wait is short as our names are called in under ten minutes. My half a sandwich is quite large and my soup is not only garnished with huge croutons, it comes with a pretzel roll. The soup is everything lobster bisque should be—decadent, briny, and rich with lobster tidbits. I’m normally not a huge fan of croutons, but these are clearly housemade and I push them under the soup so they can soak up some of that lobster-y goodness before I gobble them up.

The grilled sandwich is simply heaven. I chose the seven grain bread (sourdough and some kind of cheese bread were the other two choices) and it works wonderfully with the gooey melty brie, the smoky ham, and the sweet maple chutney. The half is certainly big enough, but had I known it was going to be this damn good, I would have ordered a full sandwich. I end up licking all the chutney juices from my fingers not wanting to waste them on a napkin.

Uncle Cheetah’s lobster bisque is better than most I’ve had in fancy shmancy seafood restaurants. I’m already plotting my next visit. Honestly, what’s better than a crusty grilled cheese and made-from-scratch soup?

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