A server pours one of Rooster's signature soups for a customer. A server pours one of Rooster's signature soups for a customer. A server pours one of Rooster's signature soups for a customer. (Photo: Zach Pontz)

We tried the soup that’s helping to end homelessness

This unassuming storefront in Philadelphia is making lunch a charitable affair.

In pursuit of hot soup on a cold day in Philadelphia, my colleague and I found ourselves swooning over the simple pleasures of lunch at Rooster Soup Co., a cozy and endearing new luncheonette co-founded by Israeli-American chef Michael Solomonov.

It's what they do behind the scenes that really warms the heart. One hundred percent of Rooster's profits goes to charity. And not just any charity: Broad Street Ministry, an alternative nonprofit church community in town that runs a homeless shelter and specializes in showing the ultimate hospitality to all who enter: rich, poor, young, old, privileged and needy.

Rooster serves a full line of soups, sandwiches, salads and beverages, including their chicken cutlet and BLT sandwiches.Rooster serves a full line of soups, sandwiches, salads and beverages, including their chicken cutlet and BLT sandwiches. (Photo: Zach Pontz)

The restaurant divvies up salaries among its staff, sets aside a little to keep the lights on, and donates the rest. They've been doing it every week since they opened in January. And they don't plan to stop. Ever.

And as a result, there's an understanding within the walls of this basement cafe that everyone is doing their part for real, tangible social change.

Eat Well Do Right is the slogan for Rooster Soup Co, which donates 100 percent of its profits to charity.The slogan on the side of Rooster's bar, and also emblazoned on their T-shirts, keeps the purpose in mind. (Photo: Zach Pontz)

So with that alone in mind, it's easy to enjoy your meal, since the food here is just tremendous. It's not complicated. It's not expensive. And it's definitely not fancy. Take, for example, the vegan cauliflower soup, one of manager John Nicolo's favorite dishes and one of Rooster's most popular (and not just among vegans!). It's served in a coffee mug, with nothing but a spoon and a saucer to accompany it. No frills, no garnish, no pretense.

So I proceed to sip. I'm not a vegan, so I know what creamy tastes like. And this ... this is creamy. Impossibly so. But it's vegan? How in the ...

The restaurant's signature vegan cauliflower soup has a creamy texture but contains no dairy.The restaurant's signature vegan cauliflower soup has a creamy texture but contains no dairy. (Photo: Zach Pontz)

"I know, right?" said Nicolo, a thirtysomething veteran of the restaurant industry who previously worked at Zahav, Solomonov's signature modern Israeli fine dining spot, before taking the reins at Rooster. "It's all about the cauliflower. You can do amazing things with it. You can mash it up and it tastes like mashed potatoes. You can turn it into rice. And in this soup, it's all you need. You would never know it's vegan."

And with the backing of Solomonov – a renowned chef and a winner of the James Beard Award – it's also perfectly acceptable to have a little fun. Enter the Rooster BLT, where the "L" actually stands for two things: lettuce and latkes.

One of Rooster's most popular sandwiches is the BLT, which contains the usual BLT ingredients (bacon, lettuce, tomato) but also a bit of a bonus: potato pancakes.One of Rooster's most popular sandwiches is the BLT. (Photo: Zach Pontz)

It's their house-made potato pancakes, fresh off the skillet, between two slices of fresh bread, with in-season tomatoes (that means green, not red, since it's still winter) and locally sourced bacon (Leidy's in Harleysville, Pa.). A little crispy, a little hearty, a little sandwich of the gods.

Bar at Rooster Soup CoOn a typical lunch shift at Rooster, there's a waiting list to sit at the bar. (Photo: Zach Pontz)

A few other noteworthy items: Thai salad, which is terrific if you're a cilantro person (and even if you're not, you still gain an appreciation for the flavor combo); smoked matzo ball soup; the chicken cutlet sandwich, punctuated by a pickled beet spread with capers that's a subtle homage to Zahav's popular beet-tahini salad; and coconut cream pie. Oh, the pie. I imagine it's akin to feasting on a cloud.

coconut cream pie at rooster soup companyI almost ran out of words for the pie. Almost. (Photo: Zach Pontz)

"We source locally wherever we can," Nicolo explained. "We don't cut corners. We have the same goals and the same margins as every other restaurant." Much of their broth comes from Federal Donuts, Solomonov's beloved chicken-and-donuts shrine, which is where the idea for Rooster hatched. (Get it?)

Rooster Soup Co. is located on Samson Street in a downtown nook dominated by restaurants and bars.Rooster Soup Co. is located on Samson Street near Rittenhouse Square in a downtown nook dominated by restaurants and bars. (Photo: Zach Pontz)

"People are starting to think about restaurants differently than they used to," Nicolo said. "It's not enough to just have really good food. You have to really set yourself apart."

Keep crowing, Rooster.

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