Austin food trucks and DIY food culture

“My friend and I are thinking about starting a food truck back home in Columbus”, said my hometown friend, Joey, between bites of fish and chips from Bits & Druthers food truck on East 6th Street in Austin. I had taken him to this particular food truck cluster, dubbed East Side Drive In, selfishly. Ever since first trying the TLT (vegan BLT) from The Vegan Yacht, a food truck neighbor of Bits & Druthers, I’m always searching for an excuse to take friends to the East 6th Street cluster; just east of I-35. But excuses aren’t difficult to find. This particular food truck nesting spot houses not only The Vegan Yacht and Bits & Druthers, but a few others, too. There’s The Local Yolk, which specializes in eggs, especially egg sandwiches. There’s Pueblo Viejo, which just happens to have some of my favorite tacos in town. Pig Vicious is there too satiating all pig-related cravings. Mati dishes up Greek favorites and Love Balls serves Japanese street food. The roster seems to always be changing over at East Side Drive In, though, which is why it’s one of my favorite spots to frequent, especially with folks from out of town.

%Gallery-136561%The Austin food truck scene is something that immediately grabbed my attention and appealed to me when I moved to Austin just over a year ago. I mean, there is even a Trailer Food Festival each year in Austin called Gypsy Picnic. There’s certainly a DIY food culture here in Austin and it expands beyond food trucks.

Take, for example, Joel Haro, the founder of Love Puppies Brownies in Austin. Haro says his brownie company was “accidental”. He “accidentally” got into New York’s CIA and after returning to Texas and opening and closing a catering company, calls kept coming in for his chocolaty morsels… so he “accidentally” started Love Puppies Brownies. But I’m not sure all of this was accidental. His talent, of course, plays a huge role in his success. With flavors that employ dark chocolate chips and pecans, peanut butter, mocha, and even ground peppers, Haro knows what he’s doing. Another factor, I’d guess, is the notoriously supportive community in Austin for indie food. How else could a one man brownie show gain and sustain popularity so quickly?

When I spoke with Haro about the Austin community, he agreed that support for DIY food is widespread in the city. He cites Go Local, Keep Austin Weird, and Go Texan campaigns as breeding grounds for local business support. Austinites are open and adventurous which is reflected in their culinary tastes”, says Haro. He hopes to eventually see his decadent treats sold nationwide and with Austin as a launching pad, that very well may happen sooner than later.

Haley Callaway is another Austin-bred non-food truck but indie food success. She’s a busy college student who manages to head up HayleyCakes and Cookies–a bakery she runs out of her own kitchen by herself. I’ve never seen hand-decorated desserts compare to hers in their artfulness, especially her sugar cookies. With passion, talent, and, I’m guessing, a lot of caffeine, she has managed to launch her company while working between classes, studying business. The Austin community has warmly embraced her and when I spoke to Hayley about her increasing success, she noted that she had only slept 45 minutes the night before. It takes hard work, indeed, but it also takes a community that’s interested in straight-out-of-the-kitchen-at-home or straight-out-of-the-food-truck food. And Austin is that community.

So then the question now arises… what is it about Austin? Why are indie bakers and restauranteurs here doing so well? Maybe it’s a combination of the nice weather and affordable living. Maybe it’s an interest in new business that has been effectively fostered in this city more so than others. Perhaps we can study Austin and learn a thing or two about supporting the self-motivated and, in turn, broadening our culinary options everywhere.

5 places to eat in Austin

With Austin officially now hosting A LOT more people in town thanks to SXSW, the city’s restaurants are banking on the increase in business. With SXSW beginning today, everyone is buzzing with festival plans. The parties. The shows. The drinking. But what about the eating? Austin is a city of hidden gems and among those gems are restaurants and food trucks. Make no mistake, I have barely begun to chip away at the long list of fine eateries in Austin. But I’m looking under every rock I find and a new place I love seems to pop up every few days. But since so many people will be in town over the next week and a half, and since they’ll all have to eat something, here’s a little list of my personal favorite places to eat in Austin. In no particular order, other than the order of decadent memories that come to mind:

1. East Side Showroom.
The East Side Showroom is like Moulin Rouge meets antique store meets 1920s meets great food. The cocktails are a little pricey (for Austin), but once you have one, you’ll understand why. The food is good, the art is eye-catching, the wine is savory, and the decor is romantic. And, like most places in Austin, they sometimes have live music. The food as been described as “rustic French with a soul food flair” and I second that.2. El Chilito.
El Chilito is a cute Mexican food stand up the street from me. There’s a big mustache outside that doubles as a see-saw. The food is amazing. My favorite: the fish tacos. You can’t sit inside El Chilito, there’s no space. But they have picnic tables outside in both covered and uncovered areas.

3. P.Terry’s.
It may seem silly for me to put a ‘fast food’ joint on this list, but, I kid you not, P.Terry’s is one of my favorite discoveries since moving to Austin. It’s a burger drive-thru but here’s the difference: They’re local to Austin. They use hormone and antibiotic free meat. They only buy vegetarian-fed meat. They offer (delicious) veggie burgers. Their french fries start out as potatoes (not frozen) in their kitchen and they’re fried in 100% canola oil with no trans fat or hydrogenated oils. Their produce is organic and delivered fresh every morning. They offer wheat buns. What does this mean? Well, it means you can really taste the difference (like REALLY), and also that you can finally eat some fast food and not feel so crappy about it.

4. Home Slice.

I’ve only been outta NYC and in Austin for 5 months, so when it comes down to pizza, I’m still a New Yorker. And where the hell do I get a slice? At home slice. The stuff is good. I’m not sure if I can safely say “as good” or “the same”, but, put it this way: I’m satisfied upon that last bite. And, for what it’s worth, East Side Pies is also very good.

5. Gourdough’s.
There’s nothing healthy about a food truck blasting music filled with people ready to make you your dream donut on demand, but there is something glorious about it. Gourdough’s is just that: a truck where you can order whatever kind of donut you want, included customized donuts. Hang tight while they make your sweet treat and remember this: one is enough for two. Or three.

I’m leaving out a bunch of favorites, but these are the first five that come to mind. Have Austin dining suggestions? Leave them for us in the comments so our Austin-going readers can dive into the goodness.