Trailer Thursday: Hoover Alexander’s Soular Food Garden

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For the grand opening of his new “veggie-centric” food trailer, Soular Food Garden, Hoover Alexander invited attendees to take a celebratory stroll with him around his childhood stomping grounds. The small group began their walk at the trailer’s East 12th street plot, continued to his church’s community garden, and finished at the high school where his parents first met. Along the way, Alexander detailed his memories of living and cooking just east of IH-35. “Soular Food Garden came out of a desire to literally and metaphorically get back to my roots,” Alexander said. “All of these things stirred around in my head in what I call ‘the divine stirring of the pudding.’ Thirteen years ago I opened Hoover’s Cooking, and I’d describe it as almost a spiritual experience. We looked at a lot of different places to open up, but it was meant to be here in the East Side. The same goes for Soular Food Garden. I’ve closed my eyes and taken a leap of faith.” The two establishments couldn’t sit further away from one another on the lifestyle spectrum. Frequenters at Hoover’s know the menu isn’t “veggie-centric,” unless crunchy fried okra, creamy macaroni and cheese, and sweet candied yams count. The healthier, greener menu choices of Soular Food Garden are Alexander’s personal choice, a result of his efforts to take better care of his own health. By incorporating more vegetables into his eating habits, the chef has already lost 30 pounds. “I’ve got some work to do in terms of health and wellness, and the idea of taking baby steps resonated with me. I’m not an either/or kind of guy. I like my meat and ain’t no denying that,” he said. “This just gives me an opportunity to take a new direction. I can learn to plant some things, learn to grow some things, and just embrace what veggies have to offer.” It’s not that Alexander hasn’t always appreciated his Southern sides, but the affection for mashed potatoes and cowboy beans has been replaced with cleaner vegetables such as collard greens and beets. “I’m a product of the Texas culture,” he said. “But I’m going through a period of personal and business deconstruction.” Not only is he pioneering an unseen trend of “restaurant to trailer,” but Alexander is also trying to keep the dishes he creates as close to home as possible. The vegetables and greens used in a majority of the cuisine comes from his church’s garden and a small, 4 ft. x 4 ft. garden behind the pale yellow structure of Soular Food. Ingredients Alexander plans to utilize include spinach, collard greens, mustard greens, chard, squash, carrots, radishes, among numerous other vegetables and plants. Many of his current and anticipated dishes originated from fellow chefs, his restaurant, and family recipes. Jennifer Graham, a friend and raw food cook, enticed Alexander to create a version of her collard green, black-eyed pea wrap; the smoked portabella mushroom quesadilla was inspired from a Hoover’s sandwich; and the heritage vegetables are a medley that Alexander remembers eating in his childhood. Like Alexander, I also cannot deny my deep affection for side dishes cooked in heavy butter and savory meat drippings. However, what I discovered after trying the rawBella Veg-a-Platter and Garden Angel Soup is that vegetables don’t always to be in a supporting role; in fact, they do just fine at the forefront. The rawBella platter (named for Graham) is composed of black-eyed pea wraps, marinated beets, a spinach pecan pesto, a smoked red bell pepper pesto, and a raw vegetable medley. The platter appears disjointed at first, but the creamy pesto sauces are what marry every segment of the dish together. What looks like an odd, American rendition of a spring roll is packed with a strong blend of Southern flavors. Although the black-eyed peas are served cold, they are brought to life by the variety of seasonings, minced vegetables, and a crunchy collard green leaf wrapping. The large helping of beets achieves perfect texture and a unique Asian tang. The soup is something Alexander strongly suggested I try, and I’m grateful he did. The blend of diced, chopped, and shredded cabbage, squash, carrots, tomatoes, onions, and collard greens adhere well to the variation of Southern spices and smoked garlic. The chef also hints that diners shouldn’t be surprised to find some of the trailer’s dishes migrating over to the menu of Hoover’s Cooking. “I like to think of this as the laboratory for the blackboard,” he said. The experimentation has even already begun. Hoover’s Cooking recently tested a unique margarita made with beet juice instead of lime called the “Beetarita.” Aside from selling soulful and flavorful veggies and greens, Alexander also plans on using the trailer as a platform to something much more progressive. He also wants to feature community gardening classes, simple cooking classes, and group exercise classes that members of the community can take part in. “I want this place to be a gateway to East Austin,” he said. “With all the traffic gridlock, the importance of Central Austin, and all the debates about the old vs. the new neighborhood. I thought this would be the perfect way to shine a light on this area and give it some due credit.” Soular Food Garden, Open Tuesday-Thur 7 a.m. – Sunset, Friday 7 a.m. – 8 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. – 8 p.m., Sunday 8 a.m. – 2 p.m., Closed Monday, 1110 E. 12th St., Facebook. rawBella Veg-a-Platter: $7, Garden Angel Soup: $4 – LAYNE LYNCH

<p>Senate Bill 19 was described by sponsor Van Taylor during a floor debate today as “generational” ethics reform, but when an amendment was offered to bar employment and co-investing between legislators, Senator John Whitmire erupted with accusations that Taylor and Don Huffines were trying to turn the legislation into unethical political payback.</p> <p>Whitmire said the core intent of Taylor’s bill was payback against former Senator Wendy Davis. During last year’s election, Governor Greg Abbott accused Davis of unethical behavior because she served as bond counsel to local governments while a sitting senator.</p> <p>And when Senator Don Huffines tried to amend the bill to bar co-employment among legislators, Whitmire said that was aimed at the incumbent Huffines defeated last year: John Carona. The president of a homeowner association management company, Carona is known to have employed Senator Judith Zaffirini as a consultant.</p> <p>“You and I know you’re trying to get at John Carona…and Taylor’s trying to get at Wendy Davis,” Whitmire said during the debate. Whitmire said they were just trying to settle scores.</p> <p>Huffines fired back: “The score was settled when I won.” </p> <p>Whitmire also took exception with Taylor using the example of indicted state officials in New York on bribery charges as an example of why a new ethics bill is needed. “Senator Taylor implied we are all crooks,” Whitmire said.</p> <p>Taylor did not immediately respond to Whitmire during the debate.</p> <p>Senator Kirk Watson won passage 31-0 of amendments to require lobbyists to disclose expenditures of $50 or more for meals for legislators, their immediate family and staff and also prohibit lobbyists for splitting bills to get below disclosure thresholds.</p> <p>The original bill would require legislators to wait for a two-year session before becoming lobbyists, but it would not apply to anyone currently in the Legislature. It also would require greater disclosure by legislators of contracts they have obtained and disclose whether they are serving as bond counsel. The original bill also would have banned incumbents from serving as bond counsel, but Taylor removed that provision to get the bill out of committee.</p> <p> </p> <p><strong>Update (April 28, 2015, 5:05 p.m.): </strong>During the course of debate, controversial amendments were added to prohibit legislators from receiving any compensatioin from a financial instition and to require drug testing of persons filing as candidates for office. The banking amendment by Senator Carlos Uresti of San Antonio was clearly aimed at Taylor because he serves on a banking board, and much of his original bill would have restrained the income of lawyer legislators. The drug testing amendment was added by Senator Eddie Lucio.</p> <p>The Senate sent the bill to the House on an announced vote of 30-1, but the one opposition vote switched to an affirmative vote before it was recorded. </p> <p>After the Senate adjorned, Taylor declined to answer questions from reporters about Whitmire’s statements. He also attempted to avoid questions about the banking amendment being aimed at him.</p> <p>Taylor: “When I’m here I focus only on the people and serving their interest.”</p> <p>Reporter: “Are you on a bank board?”</p> <p>Taylor: “When I’m here I focus only on the people serving their interests. Whatever I may do on the outside is well in the rearview mirror.”</p> <p>Reporter: “Are you on a bank board?”</p> <p>Taylor: “Sure.”</p> <p>Reporter: “Are you compensated for being on the bank board?”</p> <p>Taylor: “Yes.”</p> <p>Reporter: “So you’ll have to be not compensated?”</p> <p>Taylor: “We’ll see. I could quit.”</p> <p>Taylor said he was not certain what the bill will look like in the House, but praised Abbott for pushing ethics legislation. “The governor’s leadership is going to shepard this through,” Taylor said. “At the end of the day, we have a stronger bill leaving the Senate than the bill that I filed.”</p>

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