Stay warm with soup from the Summit

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Kevin Nerney's decision to open a restaurant here had a little to do with a firehouse kitchen, a little less to do with Jerry Seinfeld and a fair amount to do with the New York Institute of Technology.

But mostly it had to do with his new neighbor, Jason Lee.

"My friends all said, 'What, are you, crazy?'" Nerney said in a gruff voice this week as he stood in the bar of the new Jade Summit restaurant.

All Nerney wanted to do when he retired from the New York City Fire Department a few years ago was move to Steamboat Springs and get a job as a bartender or open a little soup kitchen. Now, he has the soup kitchen, a bar of his own and one of the largest dining rooms in Steamboat.

"Here we are with 5,700 feet," Nerney said. "We can seat more than 150 people. I'd like to tell you we did a lot of research, but the long and short of it was that opportunity presented itself in the form of this building."

Jade Summit, which Nerney and Lee own together, is open for lunch and dinner in the former Mattie Silks space in Ski Time Square. The upstairs bar is called the Pirate's Pub.

The restaurant was still in turnkey shape, with all of the kitchen and bar equipment in good order, he said. They installed new carpet and sprang for a fresh coat of paint, and the restaurant was ready to greet diners.

Nerney said he would lean heavily on Lee's knowledge about the business side of running a restaurant.

Most people know it's traditional for firefighters to cook large meals for each other in the fire station. When Nerney and his firefighting colleagues in New York weren't sharing lunch, he often stopped by Al's Soup Kitchen, the same joint that served as the basis for the famous "Soup Nazi" episode of "Seinfeld" (No soup for you!). Jerry Seinfeld wasn't the only wise guy who was inspired by Al's service without a smile.

Eighteen years into his firefighting career, with retirement in sight, Nerney decided to attend classes in "Soup, Sauces and Condiments" at the New York Institute of Technology. He envisioned opening a little soup kiosk to warm skiers and snowboarders coming off Mount Werner. It didn't happen quite that way.

Nerney didn't find his opportunity until a new neighbor moved in next door. Lee is the proprietor of Canton Chinese restaurant on Lincoln Avenue. Nerney did some handyman work for his new neighbor, they began talking, and in a short time, Lee was urging Nerney to open a restaurant with him.

Don't get the idea that Jade Summit is a carbon copy of Canton. For one thing, there's a modest Thai menu -- Thai spicy shrimp and tofu ($12.95) for example. And Jade Summit employs two Taiwanese chefs with their own recipes. They'll serve a sushi brunch on weekends, too.

Nerney has his own special influence on the place. Every afternoon, he offers a choice of hearty soups like those he studied at culinary school. He sells a bowl of soup, a piece of fruit and bread for $7.95.

For late night, after-theater diners and date-night couples, Nerney is importing authentic Italian pastries from Ferrara's in Little Italy. That's right, it's not Chinese food. Who cares? If you know enough to appreciate real Palermo-style cannoli made with fresh ricotta, you'll want to visit Mr. Nerney.

Jade Summit's traditional beef, chicken and pork entrees range from $9.55 to $10.95. Duck and seafood range from $12.95 to $14.95. Lunch prices are fixed at $7.45 and $6.45 and include soup (oriental soup, not minestrone), an egg roll and rice.

"I'd rather have a whole bunch of nickels than a dollar," Nerney says of the prices.

If you like your Asian food really spicy, just tell the server.

The Pirate's Pub will feature live acoustic folk rock by 3 Wire on Friday nights.

Finally, a few words about Al's Soup Kitchen at 55th and Eighth streets in Midtown.

"On Seinfeld, they made it look like a real restaurant," Nerney said. "But the guy just had a garage door he'd roll up every day.

"There were three people with three big kettles of soup and about 60 people lined up outside all the time. They didn't have time for conversation. They just served soup."

Nerney promises to be more outgoing with his customers.

-- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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