The Austin Chronicle

The Recipes Behind the Restaurants

Some favorite cookbooks from some favorite local eateries

Reviewed by Kate Thornberry, May 20, 2011, Food

Eastside Cafe

When Eastside Cafe opened in 1987 in a gracious old house on Manor Road, owners Dorsey Barger and Elaine Martin decided to use the enormous organic garden already located on the property to grow vegetables for their new restaurant. Greatly inspired by the superior flavors of their garden produce, over time Barger and Martin turned to other local organic growers to supplement their output. In the process, they became true pioneers of the Austin locavore movement, using the vibrant flavors of just-picked heirloom vegetables to create a signature cuisine. Eastside Cafe became a byword for quality dining, and its cookbook collection makes it possible to recreate the experience at home.

Soup Yourself (by Ruth Carter, Elaine Martin, and Dorsey Barger; Eastside Cafe/Blame Books; 55 pp.; $14.95, paper) was self-published in 1992. A treasury of 50 of the cafe's signature soups, this slim volume contains recipes for such Eastside classics as pollo tortilla soup, vegetarian black bean chili, corn cheddar chowder, and potato and leek soup. Because the soups are largely inspired by the garden, the recipes are grouped by the seasons. The book is a thorough how-to soup manual, starting with how to make stocks and providing both gardening and preparation tips throughout.

Soup Someone Else (by Ruth Carter, Elaine Martin, and Dorsey Barger; Eastside Cafe Books, 62 pp.; $14.95, paper) followed in 1998. Containing 50 new soup recipes popularized in the restaurant in the intervening years, it displays growing culinary sophistication, with recipes like raspberry peach soup, roasted garlic soup, and African peanut soup. But by no means are these soups experimental; all the recipes are ones that found favor with the clientele and stood the test of time at the cafe.

Eastside's Inside Secrets (by Ruth Carter, Elaine Martin, and Dorsey Barger; Eastside Cafe Books; 60 pp.; $14.95, paper), which revealed the recipes for the nonsoup dishes on the Eastside menu, came out a year later. A virtual snapshot of their menu at the time, it gives the recipes for appetizers, salads, salad dressings, enchiladas, beans, rice, pasta dishes, entrées, and vegetables. Eastside's Inside Secrets provides the most comprehensive overview of the cafe's culinary aesthetic, and it really does reveal many of its prized "secret" recipes, though some, such as the handmade pesto ravioli and pasta fritti with Asian dipping sauce, are a bit multistepped and intensive for the average home cook.

Fresh & New, Tried & True (by Ruth Carter, Elaine Martin, and Dorsey Barger; Eastside Cafe Books; 33 pp.; $14.95, paper) came out a decade after Secrets, in 2009. In it, the authors bundled together 25 new soup recipes popularized at the restaurant during the preceding decade, along with 28 of the recipes most requested by Eastside's clientele. Fifteen all-time favorite soups are included, as well as 13 quick and easy recipes for such favorites as the feta cheese dressing, garlic mashed potatoes, and Eastside's signature cornbread, verde sauce, and Bootsie's Buttermilk Pie. Although Eastside's Inside Secrets is the most comprehensive of the Eastside Cafe cookbooks, this one seems likely to be the most indispensable to the home cook, providing recipes that people will not only attempt, but come to view as standbys.

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