Warm soups for cold days

Soups are more than meals.

Each recipe is unique, crafted with care and often handed down from generation to generation. They provide nourishment not just for the body, but for the soul.

For chef Kate Buchanan, owner of Indigo Coastal Shanty in Brunswick, soups are recipes of reminiscence.

“Soups are supposed to evoke memories,” she said. “They’re homey, and genuine. It’s hard for a soup to be pretentious.”

For Dan Dickerson, proprietor of Jekyll Island’s Driftwood Bistro, soups should be authentic and skillfully spiced with the perfect blend of ingredients.

“To make a good soup, you have to love the art of cooking,” he said. “You have to blend the right ingredients and know how the seasonings pair.”

Whichever recipes you prefer, there is no shortage of stand-out soups in the Golden Isles. Here’s a small smattering of some of the most unique, spoon-ready soups in the areas.

If you’re looking to warm your taste buds on a cold day, mosey downtown to Island Jerk, 1519 Newcastle St., Brunswick, for the restaurant’s signature jerk chicken chili.

You’ll need a cold drink to wash down the spicy blend of tomatoes, beans and shredded jerk-seasoned chicken, but Island Jerk owner Bernie Gendron doesn’t want that to scare anyone away.

“It’s got just enough heat that it’s enjoyable, but it’s not going to burn you up,” Gendron said. “It’s very popular. We go through about 12 gallons a week, and we won ‘most unique’ at the chili cook-off a few years ago.”

For $5.50, Gendron is more than happy to serve up a healthy portion of her house-made chili, complete with a scoop of rice and plantains. It’s a Caribbean twist on an American favorite, and if you love chili, you won’t want to miss it.

With options that can be tailored to just about any taste, the Vietnamese-style Pho at Basil Thai & Sushi Bar, 1401 Newcastle St., Brunswick, is sure to please.

Manager T.C. Dao said the beefy noodle soup — complete with its bean sprouts, green onions, cilantro and peppers — can be ordered with chicken, shrimp, beef, pork or tofu. And, Dao added, he can make it as spicy as you’d like.

“It’s something different,” Dao said. “It’s got a good flavor, and you can spice it up. I recommend to add spice just a little at a time, because you can always add more.”

The Pho soup at Basil Thai can make for a quick lunch, or a filling dinner, Dao said, and starting at $10.25, it always makes for a good value considering the size of the bowl.

Stay close to home with the flavor of fresh-caught seafood in the crab bisque at Driftwood Bistro, 1175 Beachview Drive, Jekyll Island.

The restaurant’s owner, Dickerson, insists on fresh blue crab from City Market on Brunswick’s Gloucester Street. But he doesn’t add the crab until the very end, he said.

“We don’t want it to get all shredded,” he said of the delicious crab meat. “But believe me, there’s a ton of crab in it.”

The bistro serves about five gallons of its distinguished crab bisque each day, Dickerson said, with every drop made fresh in house.

“And it pairs well with any food,” Dickerson said. “It makes a great appetizer.”

At $3.50 for a cup and $5.95 for a whole bowl, Driftwood Bistro’s crab bisque is a must-have addition to each visit. And if you have leftover bisque, make sure to ask Dickerson about using it in an omelet.

You never know what new soup Eric Bond, chef at Tipsy McSway’s, 1414 Newcastle St., Brunswick, will cook up on any given day — but today, it’s white chicken chili.

“What makes it so special is the roasted poblano peppers,” said the neighborhood bar and grill’s owner, Susan Bates. “It’s not particularly calorie conscious, but Eric really has a knack for soups. There’s a lot of depth to the taste, and there’s a lot to taste.”

No matter what soup Tipsy’s is serving up, you can bet on one sure thing: It won’t be microwaved.

“One thing that sets us apart is it’s never frozen,” Bates said. “It’s extremely fresh and you can taste that. There’s not even a microwave in the kitchen, and that’s on purpose. I don’t want any reheated food.”

Roll the dice and check out the special soups at Indigo Coastal Shanty, 1402 Reynolds St., Brunswick. Owner and chef Buchanan’s island-inspired recipes are aimed at soothing the soul and delighting the palate.

“The food here reflects vacation inspiration,” Buchanan said. “I typically make up my recipes as I go — it’s sort of whatever I feel like eating. I do have a tendency to gravitate to Latin American food, though.”

While her soups vary day to day, keep an eye out for the pozole verde, a rustic Mexican chicken soup. Fresh tomatillos, hominy, cabbage, radishes and squeezed lime come together to create an authentic flavor that will transport your taste south of the border.

“You can make an entire meal out of it,” Buchanan said. “It’s our best soup.”