A Necessary Eastside Experience
Inside a trailer on the Eastside, Raymond Tatum leans against a compact counter as a mobile of figurine pigs’ dances in the corner. Since age 20, Tatum has been collecting knick-knacks of his favorite animal; some decorating the trailer, like good luck charms.
"I just love pigs – they're awesome animals. And to me, there is not another meat out there with the versatility of pork," he explains.
Thus is the reasoning behind one of our city's most beloved food trailers, Three Little Pigs. Voted as one of the top five food trailers in Austin last year, Tatum has been open for more than two years, and the road has been an interesting one. Three Little Pigs has been broken into twice (once on Christmas Eve), stood up by several television shows (coughwhateverBourdaincough), and even sideswiped off its foundation by a U-Haul one night. None of this has stopped Tatum from doing what he loves though: "I'm here to make people happy. That's what it's all about."
Staying true to the versatility of pork, Tatum utilizes many different methods on his menu. Curing, smoking, slow cooking, fast cooking, stir frying, braising – every technique can be found cycling through the menu. With one protein being the main staple, he understands the need to keep things interesting. "I'll always serve it differently. Sometimes I'll do a Mexican style, or a Chinese style, or a even just traditional french fries and brown gravy," he says. "I don't like to follow the trends, either. I do what I personally think tastes good, and what other people are going to like."
There are regulars who come two to three times a week, always getting the same thing they love, and also new ones who do something I myself am guilty of – asking the chef, "What should I get?" Tatum always has the same response. "You should get everything. It's all really good. If I don't think it's good, I wouldn't put it on the menu." There are a few dishes he's especially excited for people to try, though. The Korean style barbecue, for one, and a pork belly dish where he shreds the meat, pan-fries it, and then serves the dish with three kinds of mushrooms, bok choy, and a spicy black bean sauce.
With the lovely weather finally here, these is no better time to enjoy Three Little Pigs. The relatively new outdoor patio adjacent to East End Wines provides a scenic view from the hilltop lot allowing the wine shop and the trailer to work together to create one of Austin's most eclectic dining experiences. You can walk into East End Wines, tell any of the helpful, knowledgeable staff what you've ordered from Tatum, and they'll guide you to a wine to perfectly complement the meal. As a sneak preview, co-owner and wine buyer Sam Hovland gave me a couple of tips on what to drink with two of Tatum's signature dishes.
"For the sliders, I would do something with a brighter acid to contrast the richness. Probably a sparkling rose," he suggests. "And for the cracklin' meatloaf, I'd do a round, rich merlot."
The one thing missing from a traditional dining experience will be the pricier aspect. East End Wines has a seven-dollar corking fee for the patio (much lower than most places), which includes the needed glassware. Also, out of the almost 1,000 wines to choose from, there are only 100 priced over $35. This is because the owners don’t mark up their prices like a restaurant – they sell retail. There are gas stations that don't even do that, let alone stores where the staff has tasted every single wine they seek out and buy.
To sum it up, Three Little Pigs is a spot where you can enjoy the weather and an affordable combination of food and wine. Perhaps most savory of all, experience the humble hospitality of Raymond Tatum. Go visit. He'll be glad to have you since it's helping him do what he loves best – make us all happy.
Three Little Pigs / East End Wines
1209 Rosewood Ave.
Trailer: Tue.-Sat., 5-10pm
Wine Shop: Mon., 10am-8pm, Tue.-Sat., 10am-10pm