Cook's Tour: Eastside Cafe

by Betsy Thaggard

Chef Ruth Carter in Eastside's garden

Chef Ruth Carter gathers fresh greens from Eastside's garden.

Cantaloupe Mint Soup
1 1/3 cups fresh orange juice
2 teaspoons fresh lemon or lime juice
1 teaspoon honey
1 3-inch sprig fresh mint
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 ripe Texas cantaloupes

Eastside Cafe's chef Ruth Carter is so...Austin. Her eclectic menus feature produce grown organically in the restaurant's own garden--can't get more local than that--and away from the kitchen, she and her husband Bill own a music publishing company. They've published songs performed by Stevie Ray Vaughan and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, among others.

ut the sole subject was food on a recent tour of the Eastside's garden with Carter. This choice quarter-acre lot directly behind the Manor Road restaurant (land that could have been paved for much-needed parking space) has been cleared and tilled and organically enriched to grow herbs and vegetables for seasonal "on-the-board" specials. The garden also yields historical treasures that you can read about in the restaurant's entry hall.

We walked past fragrant, loamy rows of sorrel and leeks, three sizes of carrots, and fresh herbs most people know only as dried-and-bottled on the supermarket shelf. Tomatoes were about to take over the section next to a plot where a scare-cat stood guard over lettuce. The pick of the day was a spinach-like green called tatsoi, for which Carter created a sesame-based stir-fry with pork.

I've grown spoiled," Carter says of her nine years at Eastside. "I walk outside, ask what's available that day, and design the specials around it."

Besides her music, Carter has published two Eastside Cafe cookbooks with restaurant owners Elaine Martin and Dorsey Barger, and fans will be happy to hear that two more books are in the works. The summer recipe featured here was chosen after a very tough decision process because Carter says it works double-duty when it's on the menu: Customers often order it as the soup accompaniment to their entree, but save it for dessert.

Soup for dessert. So creative. So iconoclastic. So...Austin.

Leeks from the Eastside garden

Leeks from the Eastside garden.


Photos by Jacquelyn Torbert

Test Kitchen Notes