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The Souper Bowl is this weekend, and we already know the winner.

It’s you – if you show up at Mackle Park on Saturday to sample some delicious soup and at the same time, contribute to help some area kids go to college. You will get a taste test of some of the island’s finest restaurants, and also know you are helping deserving area students attend college.

Held from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Mackle Park “airnasium,” for a $15 contribution, the Souper Bowl gives you a hand-decorated bowl, which you can then use to visit the restaurants’ booths to try their soups. These range from proven crowd favorites such as the cream of wild mushroom soup from Petit Soleil and the loaded potato soup from Stonewalls to the “new kid on the block,” Pinchers, offering their corn and crab chowder.

In all, four of the restaurants are billing their offerings as “chowder,” including the chicken corn chowder from Mango’s Dockside Bistro, the Speakeasy’s potato corn chowder, and the Bahamian conch chowder at the Marker 8.5 booth. Fittingly for a restaurant whose name has a “.5” in it, after a non-existent navigational aid next to their location in Goodland, their chowder is an intriguingly different “half and half,” with Manhattan-style tomato-based and New England cream-based soups ladled out into the same bowl from separate kettles.

This is the fifth outing for the Souper Bowl, begun in 2013 and traditionally held on the Saturday before that other event, the similarly named football game. The (Saturday) Souper Bowl is sponsored by the Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce, and is a fundraiser for the Leadership Marco scholarship fund. Last year, between the Souper Bowl and the Wet Paint Live event, scholarship funds totaling $20,000 were awarded to local high school seniors.

Petit Soleil and Bistro Soleil co-owner Lisa Meurgue was in charge of lining up the restaurants to participate, and she has persuaded chef and co-owner Denis Meurgue to be part of the event since its founding. CJ’s on the Bay, Mango’s, and the Marco Island Marriott have also “souped up” for the Souper Bowl each year, although this year, it’s the new Maia restaurant and the hotel is the J.W. Marriott. They are featuring their kale and quinoa minestrone, while CJ’s will offer stuffed pepper soup. Rounding out the entries, Philly Grille will serve their escarole and bean soup. Lisa Meurgue deflected credit for coming up with Souper Bowl to Boathouse Motel co-owner Desiree Buhelos.

“This is her baby, her brainchild. She’s the one who made it happen,” said Lisa.

Buhelos said she wanted to honor her mother, a ceramics teacher, who ironically passed away eight years ago, one day before the Super Bowl.

“I said, ‘we have to do something. And all kids need scholarships – families need help to put their kids through college,” she said.

Over the past year, hundreds of ceramic bowls were hand-decorated and fired for the event, with the Clay Guild, Marco Island Center for the Arts and Lely High School providing most of the bowls. The chamber’s Donna Niemczyk offered a special to Barney Halaschak, who was instrumental in “rounding up” the bowls.

But there are bowls within bowls. Most people at the event take advantage of the disposable bowls provided, inserting them inside their ceramic bowls, keeping the “keeper” bowls from getting dirty or having to be cleansed between bowlfuls, a la the palate at a wine tasting. Along with the standard bowls, a selection of area artists have decorated fine art bowls that will be auctioned off in a silent auction.

The event is for a good cause, and as the old Campbell’s ads used to remind us, “soup is good food.”

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