Wah Lah is the ideal lunch location for a cozy cup of soup or a delicious pressed sandwich, with a side of small town charm. A fast-casual restaurant that focuses on the holy lunch trinity of soups, sandwiches, and salads, Wah Lah sets itself apart thanks to its amiable and talented owner-chef Keith Burke, and a well-executed and consistent menu that honors classic and wholesome recipes.
Keith opened Wah Lah in 2010. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, he worked in the foodservice industry for 14 years, traveling across the country before deciding to change his pace and put down roots in the small Connecticut town of Bethel. The fast casual dining concept appealed to him, and he decided to marry that approach to the lunch-friendly category of soups with salads and sandwiches soon following.
Wah Lah’s menu is a list of eight to twelve soups made fresh daily, in addition to a creative special each week. They range from classic soups such as split pea with ham, chicken and rice, chowder, butternut squash, chicken pot pie, chili and chicken gumbo, to seasonal specialties such as gazpachos in the summer.
Keith and his team make the broths for the soups, 1 to 2 times a week, and soup ingredients are prepared and made daily, because as Keith explains, “it’s all about preparation.” This shows. There is a wonderful consistency and devotion to preparation and details that is evident in the construction of each soup. For example, the chicken pot pie soup does not take kindly to being made in large batches so Keith must make that one in smaller batches more frequently. Another example is a simple yet rewarding chicken and rice soup I can’t seem shake–I’ve ordered it at least once a week for the last year or so. The rice that is used in the soup is prepared separately and added to a base chicken and vegetable soup, a rich and clear broth filled with perfectly diced vegetables and chunks of white meat, so the rice doesn’t bloat from extended time in the broth.
Although I’ve spent much of my time exploring Wah Lah’s soups, its twenty or so sandwiches are worth getting to know better. The sandwiches, with the exception of the two named after his parents, are named after cities Keith has traveled to reflect their signature flavors. Offered as both “hot presses” and “cold folds,” they include: Astoria, Carolina, Flagstaff, Key West, Philly, and of course, Bethel. One of their most popular sandwiches is the Annapolis–a combination of roasted turkey, Granny Smith apples, honey mustard, and smoked gouda.
I asked Keith what he enjoys most about being a chef/owner and being in Bethel, and he reflected: "I’m grateful, and it’s a blessing to own this business. I know there are types of places to eat. It makes me smile every time people come through the door. Being in Bethel, customers are so supportive, which you don’t get in bigger cities that I’ve been in."
Consistent, rewarding, and always delicious, Wah Lah has sealed its fate as one of Bethel’s hidden (and hearty) gems.
CTbites’ Highlights: Chicken Pot Pie Soup; Chicken & Rice; Annapolis Press; New York Press
281 Greenwood Avenue, Bethel, CT