When you’ve been the center of attention for so long, it’s easy to let the notoriety go to your head. Next thing you know the New York Times is sitting at one of your tables and Guy Fieri is knocking at your door with The Food Network in tow. Surely something like this must have been expected.
“Oh, no! I didn’t even consider it!” Tin Shed Garden Café – better known as the Tin Shed – co-owner Janette Kaden says with a hearty laugh.
When she opened the Tin Shed with her business partner in 2002, Portland was nothing like it is today. Change has come to the Rose City in comprehensive fashion, and few have seen it more firsthand than Kaden.
“This corner” she says, pointing out the window, “where they have it blocked off to put up a sculpture, used to be the number one drive-by section of town.”
Kaden, who lives mere blocks from Tin Shed, has seen the neighborhood change, for better or for worse. “There was all of six restaurants on Alberta back then,” she says. “Now there’s six-ty!”
Still the inevitable subject of gentrification comes up, to which she expresses dissatisfaction. “We wanted the people of this neighborhood represented in this establishment, and they were,” she says.
“We tried our best to make prices affordable and add culturally appropriate foods. We were sad that this area ended up being a symbol of the gentry.”
From Food to Farm
Being one of the first on the block certainly had its advantages. Today, the Tin Shed is one of the most popular brunch spots in Portland. From attracting the attention of the Food Network to being covered by countless high profile publications and food writers, Tin Shed is maturing into its 15 years and still going strong.
Even better, Tin Shed’s enduring popularity has given Kaden the ability to branch out into a new adventure, though it isn’t one that includes building a restaurant empire. Instead, she bought an eight-acre farm in Corbett with intention of supplying a good portion of the food the restaurant needs from her farm.
Indeed, when we first enter the restaurant, Kaden also enters holding three large bags of produce. “This is the last of it!” she beams.
“When things are in season here, we can supply one-hundred percent,” she says, “but not year-round, because we live in Oregon.”
While purchasing the farm had a lot to do with the restaurant, it was also a lifestyle choice. Kaden’s partner neglected to go in on the farm for the simple reason that “the farm itself will probably never be profitable,” Kaden explains.
Instead, her primary motivation was wanting “to hear the sweet little chip of those chickens in the morning,” she says. “It’s so quiet out there. You can see the sky.”
To accommodate the change, Tin Shed has made some subtle changes to their menu. Instead of menu item descriptions pointing to a specific vegetable, it may now say something like “… with seasonal vegetables” or “seasonal greens.” This gives them the flexibility of focusing on what the farm is producing.
Steady as She Goes At The Tin Shed Garden Café
Still, Kaden understands that she has built up a reputation to keep, so the breakfast menu has remained pretty much static over the years, with a few changes. At night they make more of an effort to rotate the menu, changing it every few weeks or so.
They’ve also made some fresh additions to their cocktail menu. Kaden specifically wanted to bring attention to their breadth of drink options. “We’re known for our brunch, but maybe not so much so for our cocktails,” she says.
If the two cocktails brought before us are any indication, that may be changing. First up is the Spicy Passion Fruit, made with house-infused pepper vodka, passion fruit purée, fresh-squeezed lime juice, mint and cilantro.
“We take a good-quality vodka and chop in a bunch of hot peppers, maybe habanero and
jalapeños,” Kaden explains. “Then we let it sit for a week and it just infuses.”
The heat is apparent, and the cilantro – an unexpected ingredient – gives it a unique finish.
Something more traditional might arrive on an all-too-common chilly fall Portland afternoon. The Flaming Coffee combines Bacardi 151 – which has been lit on fire – tossed with cinnamon and nutmeg – which sparks up like fireworks – and a sugar rim. Flame is brought to the rim as the sugar bubbles and caramelizes.
The drink is finished with a pouring of Frangelico, Baileys, Kahlua and coffee, then topped with whipped cream, powdered chocolate and a chocolate covered espresso bean. It’s warm, delicious, strong and everything you need after you’ve stepped in out of the pouring rain.
With the drinks down, food arrives in the form of two chicken tacos. The meat is seasoned well and the house-made salsa with a hint of lime offers just the right amount of pop.
Of course, a brunch visit would be remiss without a sweet option, and here Tin Shed delivers with a Lemon zest and chèvre sourdough bread pudding topped with caramelized fig ice cream. And yes, the figs came from Kaden’s farm.
Although Tin Shed has been around for a long time, it still has the same old neighborhood feel it had when Kaden was furnishing it off of Craigslist fifteen years ago. As Guy Fieri was likely a testament to, they’ve come a long way, and their new, true farm-sourced food should take them even farther.
The Tin Shed Garden Café is located at 1438 NE Alberta Street in Portland, Oregon. They are open daily from 7:00am to 9:00pm. For more information, visit their website at tinshedgardencafe.com or give them a call at 503.288.6966
William Bessette – PortlandMetroLive.com Contributor
William Bessette is a published author, poet and longtime journalist who has been covering politics, entertainment, culture and travel for over twelve years. He currently works from his home in the Pacific Northwest profiling restaurants, reviewing local plays and reporting on regional, national and international travel.