Soup king of SOPO

A soup a day at Bustolini’s during a stormy winter week

Bustolini owner Bob Backstrom prepares the soup of the day—vegan spicy black bean.

Bustolini owner Bob Backstrom prepares the soup of the day—vegan spicy black bean.

Photo By matt siracusa

Bustolini’s Deli & Coffee House 800 Broadway, Chico, 892-1790. Hours: Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-4 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m.-4 p.m.; closed Sundays. See weekly soup menu online at

Bustolini’s Deli & Coffee House

800 Broadway St.
Chico, CA 95928

(530) 892-1790

Rainy weather is soup weather. And, boy, was it rainy when I decided to check out the soup at Bustolini’s Deli & Coffee House last week.

Word has been going around the SOPO (south of the post office) neighborhood inhabited by Bustolini’s that its soups are exceptional. Metal artist David Richer regularly strolls two doors down from his neighboring studio to eat the made-from-scratch soups cooked up by Bustolini’s owner Bob Backstrom (often using some of the same ingredients that go into the deli’s sandwiches, such as roast beef or gouda cheese). He enthusiastically refers to Backstrom as “the soup king.”

I started my Bustolini’s soup-of-the-day investigation on Monday, when its soup offering was broccoli cheddar. Backstrom prepares only one soup on Mondays, as it is his first day back to work after being closed on Sunday. His Monday soup routinely rotates between broccoli cheddar and Hungarian mushroom.

I decided on a bowl ($5.50, includes sliced baguette and butter—a cup is $3.75) of broccoli cheddar, and hunkered down with my soup to the sound of rain pouring outside.

The soup’s pureed broccoli was not mushy, but had a nice, firm, meaty texture. A couple of florets seemed to have escaped the blades of the blender, but no complaints here. The delicious, creamy—and not overly cheesy—soup was the perfect complement to the wintry weather.

By Tuesday of each week, Backstrom has two soups on offer—what’s left of Monday’s soup batch, plus a newly made vegan soup (“Tuesday and Thursday is always ‘vegan day,’ ” said Backstrom). This particular Tuesday it was vegan Thai vegetable.

So, another rainy day, another bowl of hot soup. The aromatic, coconut-milk-based, vegan Thai vegetable was filled with chunks of eggplant, broccoli florets, sliced zucchini and fresh green beans that maintained their crispness (a nice complement to the buttery softness of the eggplant). Very, very good soup.

Photo By matt siracusa

On Wednesday, I got to Bustolini’s at lunchtime just as Backstrom was locking the front door due to a power outage from the storm that day.

He let me in anyway for a chat and, of course, a bowl of soup (by this time, he knew what I was up to with my soup-tasting project).

We talked in the half-dark of the dining room over steaming bowls of Italian roasted-prosciutto/vegetable soup, made, as Backstrom would tell me, with chunks of roasted meat cubed from the “butt” of the sandwich-prosciutto that becomes too small to run through a slicer.

“It only happens about every two months,” offered Backstrom.

I enjoyed the precious, bimonthly soup—the hearty pieces of meat, and the ample vegetables—spinach, green and yellow squash, red potato—and pieces of tender garlic commingling in a tasty tomato-based broth laced with oregano, rosemary and basil (“I like cooking with garlic and basil,” Backstrom said).

Other soups in the Wednesday rotation, said Backstrom, are one made with chicken, smoked gouda and artichoke hearts; and another equally exotic-sounding one—roast beef, pepper jack and mushroom.

Photo By matt siracusa

Chowders—clam, potato-corn and chicken-chipotle—are the norm on Fridays, as one would expect, and Backstrom has other soup tricks up his sleeve as well, such as vegan sweet-potato-and-ginger and vegan zucchini-corn.

As I write, I am looking out the window of my CN&R office, dipping my spoon and chunks of buttered bread into a to-go cup of Thursday’s new soup, a vegan spicy black bean offered alongside Wednesday’s prosciutto-veggie soup. It’s a perfect, overcast, soup day on which to enjoy another perfectly scrumptious soup.

Thank you, Soup King.