Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Peggy Howe stands on a ladder in front of her 100-year-old house and secures a transom above newly installed windows. Her husband, Paul Sartory, a cloth draping his head and shoulders to protect against the scalding sun, lays Rioja-colored Redondo tile on concrete slabs to make patios. Freshly delivered refrigerated cases line the sidewalk, awaiting Sartory’s handmade pâtés and vegetable dishes sourced from the patchwork of fenced gardens in his yard.
Neighbors in Alta Vista have monitored the Sartorys' progress for four years and, at last, Outlaw Kitchens eat-in and take-out bistro will open to the public “roughly in mid-August,” Sartory said. It will be located at 2919 N. Flores St.
The Sartorys began planning Outlaw Kitchens even before they transferred to San Antonio in 2010 for Sartory, now 59, to resume his professorship of culinary arts at the Culinary Institute of America Texas. He had taught at the CIA’s other two campuses, in Hudson Valley, N.Y., and Napa Valley, Calif., for 21 years and served as executive chef at top country clubs in Nashville and Atlanta.
The name Outlaw Kitchens comes from their cooking and delivering meals – illegally – from their Mahncke Park apartment when they first moved to San Antonio.
Reaching their dream of providing 100 healthful, affordable meals a day, this time with proper licensing, began by finding a house with a yard large enough to develop into a small farm. As Howe, an accomplished rehabber, made the home habitable, Sartory went to work building and fencing gardens on his quarter-acre. Beer bottle caps nailed into the the fences' cedar rails prevent scavenging critters and birds spoiling the bounty. From the first growing season, passersby braked their cars, bikes, or sneakers to take in the urban Eden. Sartory calls it “truly organic advertising.”
“It’s hard to believe you’re in the middle of San Antonio,” he said during a visit on his garden patio, shaded by a row of olive trees. On evenings in cooler months, the couple relaxes on the patio with a glass of wine, mingled with the fragrance of Meyer lemons, oranges, and grapefruits dangling nearby.
Exotic white chickens with fancy head plumage, Phyllis and Diller, peck at the grass between rustic wood-fenced beds full of spidery herbs, vegetables, and flowers. They share a coop with the Dixie Chicks, three laying hens named Emily, Natalie, and Marty. The hens’ travels around the yard help explain the height and health of the trees.
The menu at Outlaw Kitchens includes Sartory’s freshly made entrees as well as a frozen line of meals and “little things people like to eat at the end of the day,” Howe said.
“Your little charcuterie with some olives and some cheeses and some breads,” the two explained, their words and laughter weaving together. Howe’s brother introduced them when she was living in Pittsburgh and he was at the CIA campus in upstate New York.
Customers may languish in the bistro or on the patio, or purchase meals to go, including weeknight dinners for families, and beer and wine.
“We’re thinking kids,” Howe explained. “Meatballs, all fresh ingredients, no preservatives, no sodium, fully cooked. You just heat it up.”
The Sartorys' home, bistro, and gardens hint at life as imagined by Al Gore. A trellis of jasmine slanting against the bistro’s western, sun-scorched wall is perpetually green and healthy, watered by air-conditioning condensation, and it serves to shade the house and hide the condensers. The air conditioner itself is comprised of three mini split units, which allow six adjustable zones indoors. Grey water, collected in an old footed bathtub, irrigates the gardens. In the bistro, countertops are made from PaperStone, 100% recycled paper covered with non-oil resin. Howe used beadboard and pine salvaged from the house to build cabinets with hand tools.
Howe learned her skills by necessity.
"I was a waitress and an actress and had to rent horrible places, so I had to learn home improvement to have a nice place to live,” she said.
She bought her first house – a wreck – in Austin.
“There was a pawn shop around the corner so I bought tools and rebuilt it by hand,” she said.
While low-impact building is important to the Sartorys as a matter of principle, their intent also was to invest in cost-cutting measures that would allow them to keep Outlaw Kitchens’ prices low, especially for families.
“Eating out has gotten so expensive and we want to make meals affordable for everyone,” Howe said. “Everything will be under $15, or more on special occasions. And there’s no tipping or parking costs. We did all the work because we didn’t want people to have to pay for our mortgage.”
When the Sartorys purchased the 1,500-square-foot rock home, which two elderly sisters lived in and operated as a beauty salon for 58 years (though not properly zoned at the time), some neighbors were opposed to their opening a food operation, fearing a parking lot and other impacts of retail.
“Now they’re all our friends,”Sartory said.
Outlaw Kitchens will attract new friends by the fresh and easy food. Before long, these customers are bound to discover a seasoning that will have them settling on a swivel stool or taking a glass of wine into the gardens. That extra condiment, really the foundation for the whole enterprise, is the Sartory’s independent way of living. They don’t have cable TV because the news is “always horrible,” Howe declared. “Why would you want to pay for that?”
Instead, they stream an alt-rock station from Pittsburgh; the slightly offbeat music is perfect for the purposeful work the Sartorys do, constructing a beautiful and sustainable haven in the middle of a metropolis.
“It’s a pretty good life,” Sartory said, sipping on a beer he pulled from his own tap one afternoon. “When you’re young, you think, at age 59, no one’s going to do anything anymore. But that’s not true. I’m getting ready to do one of the coolest things ever.”