The Tin Shed Garden Cafe
1438 NE Alberta St. (map it!)
Portland, OR 97211
Open daily, 7:00 am - 10:00 pm (bfast served till 3)
Accepts cash and credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/N
Date of Visit: Sunday, October 24, 2010 at 10:00 a.m.
IMPRESSIONS: My wife and I have some close friends in Portland, Oregon, and take any opportunity we can afford to go visit them. It's a super added bonus that Portland - like Columbus - is a great breakfast town, and it had two breakfast joints featured in Rick Sebak's documentary Breakfast Special. The Tin Shed was his first stop in PDX, led there by Paul Gerald, author of Breakfast in Bridgetown.
You can find the Tin Shed on Alberta Street, a charming stretch of shops and restaurants that, I am told, has been improving in quality over the years. If you're going to visit The Tin Shed, get familiar with this sight: the outside. Chances are you're going to wait. A long line always speaks to the quality and popularity of the place, but a.) be prepared and don't let the long wait make you grumpy, and b.) be careful that your expectations aren't raised too high. Breakfast joints with long waits - whether because they are local favorites, or because they've been featured on national television, or both - can raise expectations unrealistically and lead to disappointed customers. With a group of six (4 adults + 2 kids), on a Sunday mid-morning, we waited about 30-40 minutes.
But the folks at Tin Shed know you might have a long wait (and there's a good chance you'll wait in the rain), so they've got a coffee stand set up out front. Coffee, tea, water: all there for you.
ATMOSPHERE: As if you couldn't tell already, you can expect a busy atmosphere at Tin Shed. The sidewalks will be lined with hopeful customers. To join their ranks, you need to sign in when you arrive. (Fun note: if you're sitting outside, you can bring your dog.) The seating is grouped in two areas. The first is the small inside, with about five tables and a few stools overlooking a small bar. It's crowded, tight, and noisy. The decor is an eclectic mix of funky lighting and colorful art.
The second seating area is mostly outdoors. There you'll find the more-charming covered patio, with a fireplace, big fans, heat lamps, and rustic tables. On a slightly chilly, damp October morning, there was something enticing about the patio. It seemed so cozy, despite the outdoor location, that I was almost disappointed we were seated inside.
FOOD: Tin Shed has the hip menu to match its layout and decor. Each section is a different variety of "goodness." Stacked Goodness (potato pancakes). Sample Goodness (the big platters). Sweet Goodness (porridge, French toast). You get the idea. Pictured here is the Spike Lee, from their Specialty Goodness. Most of the items in this list are named after movie stars. The Spike Lee is a burrito filled with scrambled eggs, veggies, and black beans. It's spiked with jalapenos and chipotle. Our friends let us try a bite: very nice.
Our friends also chose the Everything Nice. This is one of two options in the Sample Goodness category. Its counterpart is the Everything Naughty, loaded with all the bad but delicious stuff. The Everything Nice, however, features their signature potato cake, fruit, French toast, and a choice of meat. Our friends opted for the pork sausage. I love how it's split and grilled.
A point for their kid-friendliness: a cheap but good-tasting children's menu. We ordered our son the Freddy: a kid-sized portion of the French toast.
My wife and I split the Roll Over. This comes out of the Stacked Goodness, in which everything is based on the potato cakes and named for canine commands. I was drawn to this because I wanted to try the potato cakes, plus you could get it with rosemary mushroom gravy. Um, yes. The stack is rounded out with a sausage and egg scramble, and it was simply delicious. The gravy really made the dish. I keep craving it, well after our trip.
I chatted with one of the managers for a bit, connecting over the fact that we were both featured in Breakfast Special. As a little perk, they gave us a couple Bloody Marys to try. I'm not usually one for alcohol with my breakfast, but these were most certainly worth a try. This is the Cajun Bloody Mary, which had a big dash of spice around the lip of the glass. Garnished with lime, onions, celery, peppers, and olives.
We also tried the regular Bloody Mary, which was very smoky. Made with their own bacon-infused vodka.
SERVICE: We were treated very well at the Tin Shed. You could probably be soured by a long wait, but I think we were prepared. Our server (forget her name, dangit) was super nice and attentive. Despite the crazy crowd, the Tin Shed is accommodating to children. Our party included two youngins, and our server was prepared with high chairs, crayons, coloring books, and fun cups. This is a quick way to win parents' hearts.
OVERALL: Tin Shed has a fun location, a really great vibe, and creative food. Again, the long wait could easily put you off or build your expectations too much (being featured nationally doesn't help), but we found it to be a great community experience. Even the wait was fun with our friends there, and once in the restaurant, we felt welcomed and well cared-for. Their menu features a lot of creative options, and while it wasn't my favorite in Portland, a couple items stand out, especially those potato cakes and that rosemary mushroom gravy.