Austin Food Trailers; East Side King and Odd Duck
I am beginning to learn that a die-hard foodie visiting Austin should probably ignore most of the restaurant and set about hitting the food trailers. While San Francisco has a handful of specialty taco trucks — we boast a crème brûlée truck and one that serves frogs legs — but nothing as expansive and diverse as Austin’s food trailers. Even my hostess has been surprised at the shear number that has popped up in such a short time.
Our first round of visiting trailers occurred during lunch time. It was an attempt to hit Gourdoughs that we learned that not all of the trailers are open during the day and that an early evening venture was going to be necessary. Our first stop was at East Side King, located behind a bit of a dive bar, Liberty. Unlike most of the other trailers I saw, this one was hidden from view and you would have to know where it is and when it is open (after 7:00 p.m.). I was also informed that Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, it is open until 2:00 a.m. and many of the local chefs can be found heading there after their own establishments have closed down. The bar is amenable and has a great selection which also enables the diners to grab a drink while waiting for the trailer to open.
Of all the trailers I visited, this was one of the smallest in size and one of the most artistically decorated and what came forth was incredibly impressive. Quite a lot of food was ordered for not a lot of money starting with Poor Qui Buns, roasted pork belly in steamed buns with Hoisin sauce, cucumber kimchee, and green onions. Delightfully tender pork belly, nestled within perfectly steamed buns. So often the buns are over steamed and turn gummy, but this was not the case here. With just enough accountrement and buns to not overpower the meat, these were a great offering. Besides the pork buns, there was also an order Derek’s Favorite Chicken Buns, the same perfect buns holding small bites of tender fried chicken with a touch of spicy Thai mayo.
Considering the giant Cubano sandwich I ate earlier that day, I was happy for some vegetable options. A Fried Brussels Sprouts Salad was a bit on the spicy side for me. Since Brussels sprouts are not in season, it was not a surprise that they were more of a part of a whole, than a showcased single ingredient. Served with shredded cabbage, alfalfa sprouts, basil, cilantro, and jalapeño, there seemed to be more cabbage and seasoning than anything. I did appreciate the bit of fried steamed bun as a “crouton” though. We also shared the Green Papaya salad and Beet Home Fries. The green papaya salad was quite good — about what I have had at better restaurants in San Francisco — and the fried beets were just plain interesting. I don’t think I can remember an occasional when I have ever had a deep-fried beet and the crispy exterior complemented the firm, tender interior. Served with classically Japanese Kewpie mayonnaise (yes, it IS different!) and a bit of Shichimi tougarashi, these were quite a treat.
Eric was the guy working the trailer the evening I visited and he was accommodating despite my sneaking in to get photos, answering questions and doing all of the prep, cooking, and service himself. What surprised me was the fact of tableside service. Yes, we were given a number after we placed our order and I assumed we would be called when our order was ready. Heck, there were easily a dozen people there, waiting for food. Instead, Eric brought the food out himself when he easily could have just called from the trailer and had us pick up our own food. Also, our entire meal was under $30 and that just blows me away.
Despite being mostly full from East Side King, stalwart gourmets that we are, Jane and John drove me over for my much-anticipated Gourdough’s visit. And while we were waiting for our pile of fried dough, we were able to sample a few of the offerings from Odd Duck Farm to Trailer. Jane informed me that the proprietor of Odd Duck, Bryce Gillmore, cut his culinary teeth in his father Jack’s kitchen of Z’ Tejas Grill. This may have given him a little advantage which the people of Austin would be crazy to not take advantage of. While waiting for doughnuts, Jane ordered two dishes, a slice of grilled zucchini bread atop which sat some freshly-sliced grilled peaches, a bit of goat cheese, and a large chunk brunoise of vegetables, zucchini mostly. This combination showed integrity of ingredients and thoughtfulness on the part of the chef; the peach was just firm enough to hold up to grilling while still depicting ripe flavors that complemented the creaminess of the goat cheese.
Another open-face dish was shared, ciabatta toast served with chunks of rabbit leg, grilled squash, eggplant, and goat feta. Again, there is a great deal of consideration given to the combination of ingredients. There is ample freshness in the vegetables with juicy, delectable rabbit. No hint of dryness was detected in the meat, juxtaposing well with the bright vegetables and slightly charred flavor applied to the bread, giving a great crunch against the tender meat.
At this location, we saw many showing up with their own wine and beer and it saddened me that I may not be able to go back to this particular trailer before my departure. The two dishes we tried were a total of $10 and their entire menu could be had for a mere $32; again, a screaming deal. Tiring so much of the $28 entrées in San Francisco and other, large cosmopolitan cities, this form of dining — if truly manageable with food and labor costs — is a sign of how things SHOULD become. I am a huge fan of small plates and lots of flavors and I have often lamented that even the small-plates restaurants have to contend with dramatic overhead, thereby driving up the costs, making it not even that cost-effective way to dine. To scour the trailers of Austin is an enviable way for foodies to taste through literally hundreds of trailers with innumerable variations of a potential meal.
East Side King:
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