Sunday, February 6, 2011

Three Little Pigs Opens Softly

Chef Ray Tatum, one of Austin's best long-time chefs, has opened his own pork-centric trailer. It's a gleaming white kitchen-on-wheels tucked right behind the stately Victorian house that is the home of East End Wines, at the triangular intersection of E. 11th and Rosewood, a few blocks east of IH 35. There is a warming chiminea set up next to the BBQ pit, and a few cafeteria tables with chairs for sit-down diners. East End will be setting up a more formal dining (and drinking) area once their on-premise permit goes through, so in the near future, you'll be able to choose from their amazing selection of beers and wines to enjoy with Ray's wonderful chow. East End already has a few tables set up on their back deck, and the planned sitting area will be on the sun-drenched south side of the house, with a nice view of the north end of the park-like Texas State Cemetery across the street.

The neighborhood is a pleasing and comfortable mix of new urban hipsters and old East Austin, with hopping venues like Blue Dahlia Bistro, the new Franklin's BBQ, 11th St Station, Zandunga, Victory Grill, East Side Pies, Sam's BBQ, and Nubian Queen Lola's all within a stone's throw. Fedora wearing bike riders coexist nicely with low riders and little old ladies. This area is on the cusp of breaking big time, and for those class conscious paranoids among us, there is nothing to fear. If you're missing out on the new East Austin, you are a moron, plain and simple.

We attended the soft opening yesterday and frankly speaking, we were blown away. We started with a posole, pork, and green chile stew topped with a small dollop of crema fresca ($4). Ray has always been a master of soups and sauces, and this bowl was no exception: richly complex, subtly spicy, and multi-layered in flavors, it takes you back to those early days in Santa Fe.

Next was a pork belly slider ($6), on a soft yeasty bun: two thick, unctuous slices of browned pork belly hanging outside the edges, with a crisp slice of tart green apple, caramelized scallions, and a soy-maple glaze. A perfect combination of flavors in a handy package.

If there were a signature dish, it might have to be the pork meatloaf with cracklins ($6). Ray makes a bacon-wrapped pork meatloaf that has little porky nuggets of craklins embedded in the mixture. A thick slice of the loaf sits atop a pool of rich, garlicky cheese grits, and the griddle-browned slice is topped off by a small pile of soul-style collard greens. A taste explosion that harkens back to Ray's southern roots with a new-age twist.

We then sampled a nice braised pork in green curry on rice noodles ($6). Ray's Thai-style pork melts in your mouth, drenched in a rich, spicy coconut milk-green curry sauce with makroot leaves, baby corn, and bamboo shoots, all sitting on a base of slippery rice noodles. Ray's Asian influence and culinary expertise shines through with every bite.

The big ending came with a serving of sweet chile fried chicken ($6). Imagine Korean-style fried chicken with a crispy crust and a moist steaming interior, coated with a sweet and spicy chile sauce. If fried chicken and chile candy ever had a hybrid love child, this would be it. Addictively good and coaxing moans from the crowd.

Ray is still playing around with his set-up and fine-tuning the equipment, so be patient in the first week or so, but Three Little Pigs is going to quickly shoot up to the top of Austin's trailer food scene. Food this good is sought out with enthusiasm, whether it's inside a brick and mortar, or served from a humble trailer. Three Little Pigs and East End Wines are shaping up to be a symbiotic culinary juggernaut.

Three Little Pigs
1209 Rosewood (@ E. 11th)
4pm - food runs out or 10ish, whichever comes first
Major credit cards and cash accepted