By Kathleen M. Schurman
Watch out, clam chowder! There's a brand-new soup looking to muscle you out of the way. No, wait - make that "mussel", as in the blue-shelled mollusks that line the rocky shores of New England.
Until early this week, if you asked Bobette Moore and Gary Caulfield, owner's of Bobette's Takeout at 90 Post Road, about the new variety of soup they were about to launch, they clammed up. Their new "soup concept" was a total secret until noon on Monday when Mayor James Richetelli Jr. cut the ribbon draped before the cauldron of steaming hot chowder. Even then, the culinary couple refused to tell people what the secret ingredient was until they tasted it.
"Mussels?" people exclaimed, acting as if they had just ingested the equivalent of sea squirrels.
But did they like it? Well…
Edward Beichner, who stops in for lunch every day and says he's particularly dedicated to their butternut bisque, was hesitant to try the new soup du jour, even though he proclaimed all their other soups, "awesome."
Moore quickly dished up a sample and handed him a spoon, and a small crowd of onlookers witnessed the moment of truth.
"Mmmmmm," Beichner said. "This is delicious."
He spooned more into his mouth.
"I would definitely get this again," he said.
"It's not at all fishy like I expected it to be."
"Mussels," Moore said throwing her hands in the air with exasperation, "have a bad rap. They're not fishy at all if they're fresh."
"Well, it's very good." Beichner said, finishing off his sample.
Caulfield said many of the unusual varieties of soups they've invented have been copied by others, such as their cheeseburger, baked potato, lasagna and drunk tomato tortellini soups. They expect the same thing to happen with their mussel chowder, but this time they want to make a statement proclaiming they did it first. The couple had local artist Catherine Hamill design a T-shirt to commemorate the unveiling of Bobette's Original Mussel Chowder.
"We think this chowder will become another trend," Caulfield said. "Mussels are sweeter, more tender and cheaper than clams. We think mussel chowder will overtake clam chowder which has been such a mainstay in the community."
Moore said she's dedicating the soup to her mother, Shirley Moore, who died of cancer last Wednesday at the age of 80.
Moore and Caulfield started concocting soups 15 years ago when they first opened the little shop. They decided since everyone else was concentrating on sandwiches, they'd focus on everyone's favorite food - soup.
Soon, Moore was creating more and more elaborate flavors to satisfy their growing clientele.
"Bobette is magic when she makes soup," Caulfield said.
Hamill agrees. She's been an avowed Bobette's junkie ever since the couple asked her to paint a picture of their building and she stopped in to sample soups and get a feel for the place. She says her favorite variety by far is the cream of mushroom, but their newest option quickly muscled its way into her heart.
"It's very creamy, and the texture is like velvet," Hamill said. "It tastes a little bit sweeter than clam chowder, but it has the same magic that good New England clam chowder has."
While the business's lease is up next year and the pair will move on, they plan to continue making soup, albeit on a larger scale. They hope to establish a small soup factory and make Moore's magic chowders, bisques and hearty broths a staple on everyone's kitchen table.
"We want to stay in Milford," Caulfield said. "It's been very good to us."
The couple has also made other plans for their future - after 30 years of togetherness, they've finally gotten engaged.
"I asked him," Moore said, adding they'd set a date for 2004.
The event may cause them to alter their motto, "Soup is love," to something like, "Soup-making leads to love." Or was it love that led to making soup? Whatever. The many lunchtime regulars who stand patiently at the counter in Bobette's Takeout don't care as long as lunch is hot and fresh and served with a smile.