by Jessica Newman • Photography by Kate Lesueur
Though the food trailer and pop-up restaurant concept has saturated Austin, one mobile kitchen on the East Side offers a few unique and interesting twists. Eden East is an outdoor dining experience that combines expertly crafted, hyper-local, high-end cuisine with rustic community-style tables and a mobile kitchen nestled amid the natural bounty, functionality and sustainability of Springdale Farm. In fact, it’s the pastoral surroundings that directly dictate Eden East’s very menu, as well as what goes on in the kitchen and what happens between courses.
The whitewashed kitchen rests on just under five acres of farmland, under a canopy of pecan boughs, and acts as a buffer from the street view. The seasonal growth all around is where Chef Sonya Coté harvests the majority of the items for her multicourse menus. Guests are encouraged to roam the lush rows of greens and heirloom blooms, admire over a hundred chickens in the maroon coop and wander down to the greenhouse where seedlings are grown for transplanting.
In many ways, Eden East is a kind of antithesis to the food trailer movement. Here, there is no rush to move to the next thing. Reservations are required for each of the 50 spots, and porcelain plates, stemware, flatware and cloth napkins are used. The food isn’t passed to a line of waiting patrons, but instead delivered by servers. And each week brings a new menu and presentations inspired by what can be seen through the kitchen’s windows—like this winter’s petite “sandwich” appetizer of beet and chèvre, crafted in beautiful layers to resemble a French macaron and accompanied by carrots and turnips dressed in a pickled shallot powder, and the spinach and Romanesco broccoli-stem bisque with charred leaves and florets pickled in beet juice.
With many of our local farms, Springdale included, currently at risk because of recent City of Austin legislation, new regulations and restrictions and the crippling drought, Coté’s mission is focused less on riding the coattails of the trendy mobile kitchen concept and more on just getting people to come to the source—to truly experience the origins and cycles of their food, from beginning to end. In that regard, guests can anticipate a two- to three-hour dining experience that includes plenty of time for roaming the grounds and casual conversations. On many nights, Springdale’s owners and residents, Glenn and Paula Foore, pop over to chat.
Eden East’s team is given extensive notes from Coté about each item on the menu and how it’s used so that the servers are well informed to answer questions. When Coté prepared a strawberry panna cotta last winter, a server was asked how there were local strawberries in the wrong growing season. The server explained that Markley Family Farm in New Braunfels had called to say it had a unique batch of strawberries that survived the warmer winter. Coté jumped at the chance to have the salvaged berries and used them to make the dessert sprinkled with lavender sugar and caramel pecan brittle.
Coté also wants Eden East to be a creative hub to help educate chefs on cooking sustainably. In order to extend the life of a vegetable, “the culinary team must utilize the past, present and future of ingredients,” she says—everything from tomatoes canned as a salsa to last through winter to fermented cabbage to have on hand for summer.
Eden East’s staff seems to appreciate the beauty and challenges of serving food in-season and outdoors. Tents are put up when it rains, or dinner can be moved into Springdale’s farmers market building, but Coté is reluctant to move inside because she wants visitors to appreciate true outdoor dining “in the same weather as the plants growing and the hens laying.” Though an admitted slave to the fickle Texas weather, she doesn’t view this way of eating as an inconvenience, but rather a culinary and artistic opportunity and challenge. No guest ensconced in the peaceful, bucolic farm setting, eating the freshest that nature has to offer, could deny the inherent sense that she’s right.