FANWOOD/SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ -- As the month of August is now far back in the rear view mirror, Chef Paul Watterson of the Fanwood Grille (34 So. Marine Ave., Fanwood) is celebrating what he calls "Soup-tember," when local residents have returned from their summer vacations and cooler air rolls in.
In 2018, Fanwood Grille was named "Best Soup in New Jersey" by food website TheDailyMeal.com. In determining its rankings, the website considered eateries that make their soups from scratch and sell a variety of soups that change regularly -- on a daily or weekly basis based on what’s fresh and in season.
Since gaining the designation based on its New England clam chowder, Watterson has expanded his stable of soups. Chicken noodle is by far the best seller, followed by the chowder, Maryland crab bisque, lobster bisque, French onion soup, and butternut squash soup (traditional cream-based and vegan styles). "Grandma's Spanish Chicken Soup," based on a family recipe, uses a variety of South American vegetables and has developed a cult-like following.
Watterson finds that demand for vegan (no animal products used) soups is on the rise. Currently, The Fanwood Grille offers vegan split pea, lentil and butternut squash soups. Corn chowder and tomato bisque are popular vegetarian soups that are not vegan because both are made with a cream base.
Periodically, he unleashes his creativity with his inventions: Italian Hot Dog soup, vegan falafel soup, and mango chicken habanero, which was inspired by watching one of the restaurant staff eat a mango with some cayenne pepper sprinkled on top. Watterson also offers soups that are not commonly found in the area, including Mexican chicken tortilla soup and New Orleans chicken gumbo.
Later in "Souptember," the Fanwood Grille will donate a vat of vegan butternut squash soup to the 3rd annual Farm to Table Dinner event, sponsored by the Scotch Plains Farmers Market, which will raise money for veterans' causes.
“Once the calendar flips to September, people come in looking for soup again.Some of them buy two or three at a time and stock up for week,” Watterson said.
In November, his "Cream of Thanksgiving Soup" -- a cream-based soup with chunks of turkey with stuffing, potato, and fettuccine pasta -- will return.
"It's like a holiday meal in a bowl," quipped Watterson, who this year plans to sell gift packs of soup that people can give as gifts.
To accommodate Fanwood Grille customers who asked the eatery to stay open for dinner, Watterson has changed the weekday hours to an 11:00 a.m. opening time with a 9:00 p.m. closing. On weekends, the restaurant opens at 8:00 a.m., serving brunch through 1:00 p.m. and staying open until 8:00 p.m.
The notoriety of having the "Best Soup in New Jersey," has attracted customers who are fans of other offerings. One of the regulars at The Fanwood Grille, John Fox, is America's top hot dog expert and recently brought his annual Hot Dog Nation Tour of NJ to the restaurant for the second consecutive year.
"I love all the food here, not just the hot dogs," Fox told TAPintoSPF.
“Soup is a convenient dinner to pick up on the way home or have deliverd to your door. We keep it in our refrigerated case, along with our popular meals to go," Watterson said. "Everything is made fresh, with produce delivered daily. It’s real home cooking without cooking at home."
The Fanwood Grille
34 So. Martine Ave.
Fanwood, NJ 07023
Editor's Note: TAPintoSPF publisher John Mooney is owner of The Fanwood Grille.