Soup 'R Natural

Bouillabaisse and a slider with guacamole by Soup 'R Natural in Parkton. The restaurant offers a daily selection of soups along with sandwiches and salads. (John Lindner, Special To The Baltimore Sun / April 28, 2011)

Parkton's many charms include gentle hills, the Gunpowder River, and the NCR trail. On the other hand, it's not an easy reach for distant diners with only an hour to spare. With light traffic, you might be able to pull off a round trip, with 30 or so minutes to spare for actual lunch. What kind of motivation would you need to risk going overtime? Soup 'R Natural may have your answer.

12:29 The restaurant's name encompasses three passions. First, the chef/owner, Nell Heneghan, considers herself foremost a soupmaker; second, she and her husband, Dan, strive to use sustainable, natural, local ingredients; third, it proclaims a faith evident in easily overlooked Bible verses affixed to the lower edges of the dining room tables.

Five or six late-stage teenagers hover around Natural's counter. They are dressed in the T-shirt uniform of their demographic. They're all fresh-faced and healthy-looking, and you may get the feeling they're treating the counter like the kids' table at a big family gathering.

12:37 The dining room is an open space of broad plank floors, exposed ceiling beams and sturdy wooden tables. A whisper of bluegrass music warms the atmosphere. Our server took our order and watched over our table with an unaffected attentiveness that contributed to Natural's relaxed-but-shy vibe.

12:47 The soups and appetizer appeared together. If the table settings are plain, the plated and bowled presentation is far from haphazard. The twin bruschettas arrived without garnish; the fanfare focused on fresh bread, creamy warm feta and — in the "Double Trouble" version — a savory bacon topper ($7.25). Plain good was made memorable by a deft touch of tarragon.

Natural's menu offers soups, salads, sandwiches (six bread choices), pastas and appetizers, and lots of gluten-free options.

Daily soups are chalked on a blackboard near the counter. Natural serves them in three color-coded bowls: red 14-ounce for $7, green 10-ounce for $6, and a flight of three 4-ounce sampler bowls ($8) in case you can't make up your mind. Premium soups, like the bouillabaisse, cost a bit more. We ordered greens.

The cheddar cauliflower warmed our hearts as well as our palates. Not the popular glutinous sort of shiny concoction you run into if you can't say no to cheddar soup, no matter where you are; Natural's take is soup, not paste, with — like a wink from the kitchen — a happy pepper torch on the finish.

The bouillabaisse ($7.80 for a green bowl) rests on a delicate tomato stock that plays gracious host to a medley of herbs, mussels, shrimp and crab. Of all the tastes in this meal, the bouillabaisse best displayed the understated extravagance of garden love at work in this setting.

12:50 Our entrees included about as good a burger as you'll find in this vicinity, certainly at this price — $9. But again, like any doting kitchen, Natural gets that there's more to a good burger than the burger. As with all the bread we tried here, the roll is fresh and pliant, a good taste in its own right. The bacon was nicely cut, not too thin or thick. Natural recommends adding guacamole and tomato for another buck. Smart move. That they would risk hiding a guac this good — stout with a nice hint of cumin but still showing the creamy avocado as the main attraction — in a burger says a lot about this kitchen. You don't need to be a big fan to want this sauce as a substitute for mayo, ketchup and/or mustard.

The whole wheat pita in the Portachoke sandwich ($8.25) was supple, especially for whole wheat. The earthy mushrooms contrasted nicely with the artichokes. But the fun was in the snapping-crisp green beans. This sandwich is another example of Natural's garden mentality.

1:07 There was no problem finishing up within an hour. Well … one problem. Coffee ice cream.

1:14 In one of those really-shouldn't-but-who-knows-what-the-morrow-may-bring moments, we tarried for coffee bean ice cream. It was a good thing, because now we know of another source of rich hot fudge. With whipped cream on top.

1:24 Without being preachy, Soup 'R Natural practices what it preaches. Each dish bore witness to the kitchen's stated quest for fresh, natural and sustainable ingredients. Soup 'R Natural is another good reason to live near Parkton. And another good reason to steal away for a visit.

Also see: Have you been to Soup 'R Natural in Parkton? Write your own review.

Soup 'R Natural

Where: 17114 York Road, Parkton

Contact: 443-491-3464

Lunch hours: 11 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Tues - Sat

Lunch entrées: $5-$9

Food: ✭✭✭1/2

Service: ✭✭✭

Atmosphere: ✭✭✭

[Key: Outstanding: ✭✭✭✭ Good: ✭✭✭ Fair or Uneven: ✭✭ Poor: ✭]

Dining time: 55 minutes