Review: The Tin Shed Garden Café

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

Tin Shed Garden Cafe on Urbanspoon

Your thoughts are welcome

  1. Cuisine Bonne Femme says

    Man, you really capture the essence of the Tin Shed. I love that you nailed it as “a grown up hippie” place. They do have a great patio though.

    On Saturdays and Sundays It’s like a mob-scene outside of a rock club . It can really be a pain in the butt trying to navigate that crowd while walking the dog or even while driving as people seem to love to just sit on the curb and dangle their legs into traffic.

    One thing, and I realize that it is outside of this review, is that they have a decent happy hour – at least last summer they did. Bar snacks were resonably priced and the drinks were strong. Makes me miss the warm months.

    Oh, yeah, and the Tin Shed is very dog friendly on the patio.

    Nice review Paul.

  2. george says

    just a nitpick here: chez what opened up way before the galleries.

    back when alberta’s restaurant scene consisted of two taqueria’s locked in battle- chez what opened up across the street.

    at the time it was referred to it as “chez white”.

  3. CGWilcox says

    My wife and I eat at Tin Shed frequently as we live close by. I’m a chef by trade, graduate of the C.I.A. and I’ve cut my teeth in many well known restaurants on the West coast. I love the food and the atmosphere is funky and fun. But please, please, please, tell the chef to do something with the grits other than boil them in unsalted water. Can I please make the suggestion to cook them in a mixture of half milk and half water, finish them with some butter and sour cream. I love grits when cooked well and I love the food at Tin Shed, except for the grits.

    Thanks.

  4. Paul Gerald says

    CG: Have you eaten at the Screen Door? I grew up in the south and have strong ideas about what grits should be — and they shouldn’t have provolone in them. But that’s just me being … something. Probably stubborn and ignorant. Anyway, when I write up the Screen Door’s brunch I will include comments from several Southern ladies whom I ran it by.

  5. Tim L says

    I still very much enjoy breakfast dining at Tin Shed and Helser’s but the new competitor on Albeta Street, Francis, is also an excellent choice early in the morning. The views from tables at the east end of the restaurant afford an interesting view of the skeleton atop a step ladder on a building across the street. Has anyone noticed that each of these excellent restaurants are located on a south/east corner of the street to catch the morning sun?

  6. Paul Gerald says

    George — thanks for that historical note!I have fuzzy memories of attending Chez What. I also remember when Willamette Week snootily called Last Thursday “White Night,” only to name Alberta the Street of the Year a few years later.

    Paul

  7. Sir Loins says

    Paul G. – I’m southern too, and after eating at the Screen Door twice, I’m in doubt as to the owners’ claims to southerner-ship.

    Now, this nice couple may have *inhabited* Louisiana for a time, but based on their recipes and complete lack of southern accent, I’m doubting that they were raised there or anywhere else in the south.

    The food’s not bad, mind you, but it definitely ain’t native southern cooking. A rug-thick crust that’s tough enough to weld two big pieces of fried chicken together? Provolone in grits? People, please.

  8. WineOH says

    Think the issue with the grits at the Tin Shed is that they have to make them Vegan, so no butter or sour cream Mr. CGWilcox, sorry. They are very big on the whole vegan thing at The Tin Shed.

  9. laurita says

    Where’s the review on Screen Door? I had my fix of Southern goodness (in bbq) recently at Russell Street BBQ, but what are other “real” Southern places around PDX? thanks.

  10. Lisa says

    Tried this for the first time the other day and absolutely LOVED the food. We ate indoors and — fair warning — it can get VERY noisy. Next time I’ll ask for an outdoor table.

    The only criticism is that indoors we picked up a very strong smell of cigarette smoke.

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