Down to Earth
A taste of Eden East’s farm-to-table experience
by Kathryn Stouffer
Photographs by Claire Schaper
Drive down Springdale Road five miles over the speed limit, and you’ll likely miss the wooden sign to Eden East Farm and Restaurant.
Tucked away from rising developments sprawling across East Austin, lies an expansive greenspace. The only vertical growth you’ll see here is the produce—tomatoes, basil, cilantro, radish—all thriving in the fertile soil of the Boggy Creek flood plains.
On a steamy April evening, the Eden East team bustles between the rows of fresh vegetables, long wooden farm tables, and the mobile kitchen where all meals are prepared from scratch.
Kaycee Brayden, co-owner of Eden East, walks with us through the garden plots, sharing a bit of the history of the space and the unique experience one can expect when dining.
”We’ve always tried to really slow people down here, let them take it all in and engage in the conversation. The chefs will talk about the menu and spend time at each table with the guests,” notes Brayden.
Eden East is coming up on its sixth year serving local fare to Austin diners and has expanded service from weekend-only pre-fixed, to a-la-carte dinner options and bi-weekly farmer’s markets coupled with brunch fare.
On the change of the city and it’s reception of the Eden East concept, Brayden comments, “People have always been excited about it and like to have a connection to something unique. Now more than ever, I’ve seen it evolve in a way where expectations have changed, people want that accessibility to food, to know where their food came from.”
The Eden East team executes the sustainable food model and farm-to-table quality promise in an first-rate manner for a bustling metropolitan area. Produce hand delivered to the kitchen from the farm 100 yards away, meat sourced from local ranchers, and fish sustainably caught by Gulf fisherman, all in effort to uphold their promise of sustainability and locality.
We meet up with Sonya Coté, owner and head chef, for the first plating of the April menu. Servers and produce enthusiasts hover around a picnic table as each dish is revealed.
A Spinach & Romaine Salad to begin—spinach, shaved white beet, and baby romaine. In a quick aside, Coté notes that baby romaine is a limited edition vegetable, and we’re first in line to taste. A Chicken Fried Qua-Duc atop a caesar salad follows. Then the Seared Mahi Mahi accompanied by black nori butter, a sweet pea tahini puree, confit garlic, and finished with a thin layer of seafoam and pea shoots and tendrils.
The Eden East team gets the go ahead, and the beautifully arranged meals disappear in seconds. Staff verdict? The Seared Mahi Mahi with the tahini cream sauce. (I’ll have to return to enjoy a plate for myself.)
As Coté rearranges parsley and potatoes in the shrimp basket, she seems particularly jazzed about this dish, as it marks the restaurant’s inaugural shrimp boil. Hailing from the Northeast, Coté is no stranger to seafood boils and is excited to serve up a taste of home and a laid-back evening at Eden East.
While Coté pulls inspiration from past menus, each is unique and heavily dependent on the season’s harvest. “The menus are written for our farm. We’ve adapted to knowing the seasons, and let the seasons write the menu,” says Sonya. “Since we are the farmers and the restaurant, we have a very close relationship with what grows and make sure nothing goes to waste.” Note the creative employment of the pea plant components in the seafood dish.
Photographer Claire Schaper and I munch (chow, really) on the Farm ‘BQ with pecan romesco and local chevre. Coté added that the Farm ‘BQ started out as vegetarian alternative and became such a hit for herbivores and omnivores alike, they started featuring it as a signature dish.
Coté’s life is rooted at Eden East. She lives with her husband, the head farmer, in a house tucked behind the gardens. She confesses, “It’s a labor of love, but all to maintain a sanctuary in the middle of the city. I want people to be able to come here and relax and enjoy this environment as long as we have it.” This space will continue to thrive and serve as a mini Eden in the city as long as it’s in the hands of Coté and company.