Mushroom-rosemary gravy. Somehow that wraps up the Tin Shed perfectly – that, plus the fact that when the weather’s nice there are so many people waiting outside, drinking self-serve coffee, that they put up benches out front and people share newspapers with each other.
In fact, traveling east from MLK Boulevard, the first indication you have arrived on the Alberta Scene is about 35 people milling around outside the Tin Shed. And it’s a perfect intro to the Scene. It’s popular, inventive, and works very well, on its own terms.
Once you get inside – and it may be an hour on weekends – the feel that’s always struck me is grown-up hippie. Or, as a fellow former Southerner put it, “kinda weird, but good.” He was referring to the brie and green apples on top of his Sweet Chix scramble (with chicken-apple sausage, sweet onion, basil and roasted red peppers). But he might as well have been talking about the light fixtures with forks on them, the Christmas stockings with various messages about who was sexier, the artwork that featured women in various skeletal stages, or even some of the people in the place. The crowd is Alberta Arts + late-rising horn-rimmed hipster + just-bought-a-house young adult, all being watched by curious pseudo-tourists from other parts of town, coming over to check out the galleries and shops.
The Tin Shed is a monument to what has happened on Alberta. As late as the mid-90s, Alberta was a place that showed up on the local news every month or so – with police lights flashing. Then the usual thing happened: It was cheap to live there, so artists moved in. Then they opened coffee shops and galleries, and people came over to browse. When the Pearl District started First Thursday, Alberta responded with Last Thursday. (The first reference I read to Last Thursday in the Willamette Week referred to it as “white night.”) Eventually, restaurants like Chez What and Bernie’s Southern Bistro opened up, and then people started noticing all the cheap, older houses around the neighborhood.
Flash forward a few years, and upper-middle-class white folks are sitting on the garden patio at the Tin Shed, eating crazy-good French toast made with sweet-potato cinnamon bread; scrambles with portabella mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach and goat cheese; and the Tim Curry, which is tofu, roasted garlic, yams, zucchini, mushrooms and sweet onion in a coconut-curry sauce served over a bed of spinach and topped with toasted peanuts, raisins and avocado.
Kinda weird. Also damn good.
It wasn’t long before people around Alberta started tossing out the G Word: gentrification. But hey, Alberta works. There still isn’t a chain store of any sort on the street, Last Thursday is still a goofy art street fair, and the whole place feels (for now) like it’s being done right, by the locals.
Ditto for the Tin Shed. They’ve got cilantro-jalapeno crème fraiche on a jalapeno-egg-pepper-black bean-garlic-chipotle aioli scramble, but they also have solid, down-to-earth stuff like biscuits and gravy, done very well. And that’s the word of two former Southerners. The biscuits are crunchy around the edges, fluffy in the middle, and if you prefer, they also have apple wood-smoked bacon gravy. The cheese grits aren’t spectacular, but at least they have ‘em. I would, however, hurt anybody who approaches, without permission, my French toast. It would be nice if they soaked it a little longer, though. Just one man’s opinion.
And then there’s the potato cake. It’s what the place is known for, and as a signature, it’s an appropriate choice. The Shed potato cake is somewhere between hash brown and potato pancake – golden brown outside, soft in the middle, semi-mashed and semi-stringy – and served by the hundreds each day, either as a side with sour cream and green onions, or underneath a scramble with bacon and eggs and cheddar, or sausage and gravy, or spicy sausage, peppers, onion and eggs. Mmmm.
In other words, their signature potato cake is just right, and it’s got variety, and it’s unique, and folks love it, “kinda weird” or not. And that’s all you need to know about the Tin Shed.
- Address: 1438 NE Alberta St., Portland, OR. 97211 Map
- Hours: Daily, 7am-10pm.
- Phone: 503-288-6966
- Open Since: 2002
- Payment: Cards, checks, cash
- Reservations? No
- Large groups? There’s one big community table with seating for 8. Good luck getting it.
- Wait: Long on weekends, mostly outside, though with free coffee. Otherwise, not bad.
- Price Range (typical meal with coffee and tip): $11
- Wi-Fi/Internet? No, but might be available from neighbors
- Feel: Grown-up hippie
- Seating: 25 inside, 20 outside in a patio with fireplace
- Changes/Substitutions: Yes, with some charges
- Portion Size: Medium-big
- Feel-goods: Free-range eggs and pure maple syrup for small fees
- Health Options: vegetarian, vegan, egg whites, tofu
- Website: TinShedGardenCafe.com