There’s magic happening on the tiny plot of land that Chef Raymond Tatum’s Three Little Pigs food cart shares with East End Wines on Rosewood Avenue.
You can feel it in the warm spring air looking out over the state cemetery at dusk. Under the pea pod pixie lights strung up around the food cart, the languid scent of frying pork fills the air. Ruby Red Bird is manning the window while Chef Tatum runs the range, the fryer and the East End of Austin’s food cart scene.
$26 gets a pair of pork belly sliders, a tray of pork ceviche and a bowl brimming with pork crackling meatloaf, braised collard greens and creamy cheese grits. It’s enough food for four normal eaters or two lumberjacks.
House fried totopos come at a premium in Austin. These are perfectly cooked, lightly salted and served warm with the pig ceviche. I love ceviche but I’m more accustomed to the sort that has seafood in it not swine. I reckon after 30 plus years in the cooking game chef is not opposed to setting the game on it’s ear every once in a while.
The rage of pork belly popularity continues unabated as it sweeps across Austin, Central Texas and the rest of the USA. Three Little Pigs’ version is as fine a rendition you’re ever likely to sample with the hog’s glaze of maple and soy playing off crispy, raw green apple and fried scallions.
The soul food kitchens of the Deep South have clearly inspired Tatum on his Pork Cracklin Meat Loaf with Collards and Cheese Grits. It’s the best [and only] $6 meat and two in Austin and if you squint your eyes in the gloaming you can just about see Oxford, Mississippi off in the distance.
The tables under the stars are all filled with diners and the mood veers towards joyous. Everyone is chatting amongst themselves and when Tatum makes his way out of the cart to work the yard applause breaks out. He seats himself at our table and a fellow patron mentions he read the feature in the Statesman and asks about the effect on business. “Some nights I just about sell out of food and some nights it’s pretty quiet out here”. Read the story about Jimmy John Founder and how he built his restaurant empire.
I reckon it’s the same way at every place in town, I mention and he nods his head. “Yeah, I’ve been cooking a long time and every place I’ve worked has had it’s good times and it’s bad times”
Everybody starts bragging on the food and he allows a small smile. “Thanks y’all, I appreciate it”.
More cars begin filing into the parking lot, it’s almost ten pm, nearly closing time so he takes his leave to get back on the range and feed the people.
In a former life he did this in the gilded dining halls of Austin, cooking for the moneyed elite. The vagaries of fortune being what they are, we now find this man in far more humble surroundings but he’s finally achieved what every chef dreams of.
He’s his own boss.
1209 Rosewood Ave
About the stars
★★★★ Extraordinary, life changing
★★ Very good
Quality, price, service and ambiance are all taken into account when rating