KENNEWICK — The people voted with their spoons, proclaiming the chicken enchilada soup from Sandstone Cafe the winner.
The "nice mild soup" is made with red enchilada sauce, and "it's not too spicy but is full of flavor," said Sandstone owner James Ortega said.
It's not the first time the downtown Kennewick restaurant has walked away a winner at the annual Beggar's Banquet, a fundraiser for Safe Harbor Crisis Nursery in Kennewick.
Tri-City restaurants donate pots of their best soup, the public samples each one and votes for their favorite.
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The winner gets bragging rights for a year. For many years that's been Ortega, but not last year. He was knocked out of first place in 2009 by Magill's in west Pasco.
"We're back on top again," he said.
Ortega has been entering his soups in the competition for the past eight years. He missed the first one, in 2002, because he only learned of it a few hours before the banquet.
"It was at the Clover Island Inn, which is close, so we took our soup of the day, our Reuben, down anyway and handed out samples along with some coupons," Ortega said. "It was popular, so we served it each Wednesday for a year. And then the next year, when we entered the contest with it, we won."
Sandstone won the next year too, with cream of asparagus and again the following year, with its Reuben and asparagus soups taking first and second place.
But it hasn't been all blue ribbons over the years. Atomic Ale, the Pasco Red Lion Hotel and Magill's all have taken firsts. Then there was the year Sandstone Cafe accidentally was left off the ballot.
"People wrote us in," Ortega said. "We came in second."
Sandstone Cafe's two most popular soups, Reuben and asparagus, always are simmering on the back burner along with a third, which changes daily.
Visit the cafe on Wednesdays for a taste of the chicken enchilada soup, which is the daily special.
"But we always make enough gallons of it that we have some leftover. Then we can nuke it for anyone who wants it on Thursday," he said.
All the soups served at the Sandstone are created by Ortega and his lead chef Tommy Salazar, but on the day of the contest everyone at the cafe has a hand in making sure it's perfect.
"It's our policy that everybody working stirs the soup so it does not burn or stick. It's a team effort," he said.
Nearly 800 people attended this year's event, held last month at Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick.
"We had 26 different soups from 22 restaurants and adult care establishments," said Nancy Russell, vice president of the Safe Harbor Crisis Nursery Board and co-chairwoman for the banquet.
The soups, dessert and other foods and beverages all were donated and the public bought tickets to come and taste, she said.
"The variety of soups we had was amazing and so were some of the tasters. Many of them tasted every soup and then went back for a full bowl of their favorite," she said.
Other top soups at this year's banquet were a butternut squash bisque from the Richland Red Lion Hotel, which came in second; a chicken cordon bleu soup from Clover Island Inn, third place; and bratwurst chowder from Magill's, fourth.
Proceeds from the banquet go to Safe Harbor Crisis Nursery and its programs.
Sandstone Cafe is at 104 W. First Ave. in downtown Kennewick.
* Loretto J. Hulse: 509-582-1513; firstname.lastname@example.org