Exquisite Eastside

by Sarah on February 11, 2011 · 8 comments

I showed you earlier evidence of even fifth graders’ disapproval of taking a date to feast on fast food. But, if McDonald’s is an unacceptable first (or second, or third, or fifteenth) date location…well, then, what does fit the bill?

Someplace exactly like East Side Cafe.Beyond the somewhat diner-esque and poorly lit (although I’ve come to prefer to think of it as unassuming) signage, lies not one, but two cozy little houses……inside of which lies a restaurant of whose culinary repute had become somewhat legendary in my mind.
I actually had first heard of East Side Cafe when I was in Asheville, North Carolina of all places. A lot of y’all haven’t been reading my blog that long, but when I was moving to Austin, Sister Smart and I stopped in Asheville and ate lunch at Rosetta’s Kitchen, where the two random men I asked to take our picture just happened to be from Austin. Of course, I immediately bombarded them with questions about food and restaurant suggestions (and simultaneously decided that this was a sign that I was destined to move to Texas)…the first of which was East Side Cafe.So when I got to pick anywhere in town that I’ve always wanted to try, I decided now was a great time to put the “You mean YOU haven’t been there yet, Sarah?” jaw drops to and end (or perhaps ‘a close’ is the better term?).

Not only does East Side Cafe boast its own organic garden (the bounty of which is featured when possible on the menu), visions of chalkboards through the windows let me know I would like what I was about to experience.
We ended up being seated in the second little house, The Garden Room, because half of the main restaurant was without heat. Turns out The Garden Room was quite adorable and comfy cozy, and, although it bears a slightly upper crust-country club-esque moniker, wasn’t pretentious in the slightest
It was a good thing I had called to reserve a table, though. [And no, I didn't leave my name as Miss Smart. Although I have done that before. It makes me giggle a bit to mess around sometimes.] Considering that it was a random Wednesday night, and the only table open was this extra large one…it is a very popular spot, and you should probably call ahead.
As per usual, I was drawn to the list of specials, since I tend to believe they are always what will be the best dishes on the menu. I struggled back and forth with those, as well as the Artichoke Mannicotti; I’ve never been a huge pasta eater (and I cannot even think of a time I’ve ordered it our at a restaurant), but the idea of carrot pasta stuffed with artichoke hearts, sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, pistachios, ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, then topped with a sundried-tomato cream sauce had my mouth watering.*

*They had me at “carrot pasta” really. The rest was just icing on the cake. [Or, stuffing in my manicotti in this case.]

I chose to get my mushrooms and artichokes in a cup of Cream of Chicken with Artichoke Hearts & Mushrooms Soup.
That is an extremely dramatic photograph for a not-so-dramatic soup. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. It was thick and flavorful, the right balance of herbs and mushroom, with nice chunks of chicken and artichokes. There was nothing fancy about it, but it was delicious nonetheless.

And that is pretty much the key to East Side Cafe‘s success: simply prepared, scrumptious food, with nothing altogether too dramatic or necessarily “innovative,” but good, fresh food, made with seasonal ingredients and developed flavors, with a subtle surprises of novelty or the slightly unexpected thrown in just to keep you on your toes.

Case in point: Acorn Squash with Soy Ginger Sauce.I’m not even exaggerating when I say this might have been the best acorn squash I’ve ever eaten (and y’all KNOW I consume a heck of a lot of both winter and summer squash). It was cooked to the perfect tenderness, so that I could cut away the squash from the skin easily…but still eat the skin, as I am always wont to do. ;) And I don’t know that I would have ever thought to make acorn squash, Asian squash, but that soy-ginger sauce was so good, I’ve been thinking for the past 24 hours or so just how I can imitate it at home this weekend.That squash was part of the vegetable plate that I asked be made for me. After deliberating over a few options, I realized I just wanted to try as many things as I could (how unusual of me….ha! yeah right…), and that seemed like the best option. Besides, you know I am a bit of a veggie monster. [When I'm not eating pork belly. :) ]
Included in my plating (that sounds so Top Chef) were the Garden Carrots with Lemon-Ginger Butter, which I chose simply because the asterisk next to them on the menu meant they had been grown in the cafe’s own garden.
I’m not usually into butter on my vegetables. I like vegetables for vegetables’ sake. But these were perfect. I mean, it was just enough to add some sultriness* and zip, but preserving the lovely nature of the root. Also, please note, they were not peeled…love it. And, while they were slightly tender, they still had enough bite so you knew you were eating a carrot. [You might not get that if you aren't a veggie lover...but just trust me.]

*Can you consider a carrot sultry?

To round out the plate, I basically looked at the waitress and said, “And I would like one of the two things that feature bacon.” [Bacon on the vegetable menu? That's my kind of place.] Although I was initially swayed by the cornbread stuffing with bacon, she told me that I’d be getting cornbread muffins for free…
[Amazing, by the way. Sadly, mine was taken away before I could pick up the crumbs by pressing my fingers to the porcelain plate. I was too busy talking I think. Big surprise, right?]

…so I went for the Collard Greens with Bacon.Um. Wow. Being a faux Southerner, I know my collards. And these were incredible. No bitterness at all, and the bacon was a perfect complement. [Although I did explain to my dining companion that the traditional deep-South-Georgia way* of cookin' greens involves a hacked up turkey leg bone.] I didn’t even need to ask for vinegar….and you know that signifies delicious.

*Meaning: how Bertha does it

If you were wondering how people averse to vegetables fare at East Side Cafe…well, I would say quite nicely. Please view the (rather insufficiently photographed, but this was his first time dining with a food blogger, so I had to be quick and not TOO obnoxious about lighting and/or angle) Chicken Enchiladas with Salsa Verde.*

*You can choose between three sauces. He chose correctly.

They came with a side of black beans and brown (!) rice, but my wandering fork only made it into the enchiladas….and YUM! Now y’all know I have a thing about salsa verde and am on a quest to find the most amazing ones in town (in the state? in the country? in the world?) and this one was sweet, with subtle heat…not too spicy….just perfection. The tortilla was warm and soft and Campbell’s soup good. To be fair, I didn’t eat enough to really judge fairly…but the plate was clean when we left. So there you go.

So, was it all everyone promised it to be? I think you can probably tell that it was. Now all y’all can stop shaking your head in disbelief that I’ve never been to what “is totally [my] type of restaurant.”

But yes, you were right. It totally is.
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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Maria @ Oh Healthy Day February 11, 2011 at 1:30 pm

When I come to Austin to visit, this is where I want to go. And I will choose salsa verde too. You may photograph my food as long as you want, only I will be eating it at the same time.

I'm not a big pasta person either. If we go to an Italian place, I have to make sure it's Italian with pizza as an option, because I will not pick pasta. You definitely pinged me right as a spaghetti squash person.

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Rachel (Olalliberry) February 11, 2011 at 2:10 pm

There's really nothing better than a beautiful plate of vegetables. Especially when bacon is involved.

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Amy at TheSceneFromMe February 11, 2011 at 4:11 pm

That does look like a quaint lil restaurant with great food!
Bacon cornbread stuffing? yum! I like a sweet butter on my cornbread muffins :)

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Alex@Spoonful of Sugar Free February 11, 2011 at 6:02 pm

What an adorable little restaurant! If I am ever in Austin, I am going there!!!

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Jen February 11, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Salsa Verde is the best salsa ever. If I wasn't so lazy right now I would go tell you which one I have right now that is truly amazing ;)

Jen
http://www.jenslosinit.com/

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Shannon February 11, 2011 at 9:40 pm

I think I need to take a vacation. The food sounds amazing, and I don't like enchiladas, but that one looks delicious!

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Eden February 12, 2011 at 10:43 am

They have their own garden??? My thumb is pitch black, so I comment anyone that can grow anything, even if its a cactus!
I'm glad this isn't like a "PETA-esqu" joint and that they know all goof veggies need a side of bacon.

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Claire @ Un Bello Aperitivo February 12, 2011 at 1:35 pm

That is quite a dramatic photo. It looks like it could be framed and hung on the wall for an art competition!

And the squash looks amazing. Please recreate it asap!

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