The future looks bright at Shade Tree Customs and Café
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
It seems as though the shop front at 3407 Central NE is destined for a life cycle of cycles. Site of the Bike Co-Op for almost three decades, the space is now home to Shade Tree Customs and Café, a combination bar and grill and motorcycle repair shop. There will be some who come—and ultimately go—because of the novelty of this combination. Fine. Let them. More for the rest of us, for whom Shade Tree’s deceptively simple tagline of “Bikes, Burgers, and Beers” is irresistible.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Walk through the glass-front door and find yourself welcomed by warm orange and red walls covered with metal highway signs and placards from Texaco, US Royal and Pennzoil, among others. Vintage gas pumps stand like sentries at either end of the of the dining area. A motorcycle, enmeshed in a makeshift chain mail netting fashioned from old wrenches, hangs from the ceiling over the main dining area. Another motorcycle is parked in a little alcove before the hallway leading to the bathrooms, of which there are three—men, women and unisex. Meanwhile, a vintage red-and-white children’s Schwinn bicycle is suspended above the bar; a street lamp with a red light bulb marks one corner of the bar top.
Seating is predominantly four-top tables, each with customized surfaces featuring a reproduction of a close-up painting of a motorcycle. Stools huddle by the bar. There’s also a tall three-seater table set up on the small staging area when bands aren’t slated to play (check the chalkboard for deets on music), as well as a six-seat window strip with chairs, for keeping an eye on your ride or simply watching foot traffic.
The vibe of Shade Tree is mellow and inviting, except when those aforementioned bands gear up, and then the tiny floor space designated for dancing is full of revelry. The waitstaff is attentive and friendly; servers on the floor freely chat with customers, regardless of server section. To say that the clientele is eclectic is an understatement. During my visits, I have seen tables pushed together to accommodate young families with their kids across from a pair of single ladies gabbing around drained glasses, while leather-clad bikers and elderly men in three-piece suits and ten-gallon cowboy hats chat amicably with one another at the bar.
The vibe of Shade Tree is mellow and inviting, except when those aforementioned bands gear up, and then the tiny floor space designated for dancing is full of revelry. The wait staff is attentive and friendly; servers on the floor freely chat with customers, regardless of server section. To say that the clientele is eclectic is an understatement.
Speaking of the bar, I’m a pretty basic creature when it comes to beer: I want Shiner Bock and lots of it. Lucky for me, Shiner is among the 20 beers available on tap at Shade Tree. For those with more localized and/or sophisticated palates, know that you’re also in luck. Shade Tree offers tap brews from Marble, La Cumbre and Pyramid, among others. Universal old reliables, like Coors and PBR, are also at the ready. If cider is more your scene, Shade Tree’s got you covered. Two stand-outs are the Stella Artois Cidre and the Green Goblin Oak Aged Cider. The former is a lovely honeyed hue and smells heavenly, while the latter is crisp, dry and blessedly lacking in the overbearing sweetness that can make other ciders taste cloying after a few sips.
Pretty much everything on the appetizer menu derives its name from motorcycle/auto shop lingo. Take for instance the spark plugs ($7), Shade Tree’s take on the jalapeño popper, or the O-Rings ($5), also known as—you guessed it!—onion rings. My personal favorite? The cornbread chili muffins. For just six bucks ($5 at happy hour!), you’re served four warm mammoth-sized muffins, hollowed out in the center and stuffed with homemade chili (meat, tomatoes, beans), and topped with sour cream, chives and shredded cheddar cheese. Upon her first bite one friend gasped, “Oh my God! It’s like a bite of Texas in your mouth!” As far as I’m concerned, two of these decadent things are a meal unto themselves.
Those with bigger appetites might prefer the S.T.C. (Southern Tasty Chicken) dinner ($13). Juicy and tender, with a full satisfying crunch on the fry, this one definitely lives up to its name. As with all dinner entrées, it comes with sides of garlic mashed potatoes and the (fresh, seasonal) vegetable of the day (turnips when I visited).
Wanna kick-start your day? While I’m not really one for booze with breakfast, I do enjoy a stout cup of coffee to rev up my late morning or early afternoon. Thankfully, Shade Tree offers actual bold, fresh-tasting coffee ($1.50 with unlimited refills) all day, while breakfast is served until 2pm. This late breakfast menu proved especially helpful when I drastically overslept for a Sunday morning gnosh scheduled with a dear friend who I’d invited to join me. Luckily, when I finally straggled in early Sunday afternoon, we could still enjoy hot, delicious brunches made from scratch.
My friend opted for that day’s special, the gringos rancheros ($9). As the name suggests, it’s a different take on huevos, featuring an egg cooked to your liking served atop a piece of toast instead of tortillas and then laid on a bed of hash browns. The whole thing comes smothered not in red, green or Christmas, but in a rich, creamy queso that pulls off the perfect blend of heat and spice without being overpowering. My friend, whom I sometimes call “tiny tank” since she often eats only half of her meal, savored almost every bite of this unique breakfast, smiling and “mmm!”-ing from first bite to last.
I went with a custom omelet ($8). Filling options are abundant, so I chose blue cheese and spinach. The whole thing was served with hash browns and a biscuit on the side. The pungency of blue cheese, melted on top of the three-egg omelet and stuffed inside of it, paired nicely with the soft, buttered spinach. Aside from these three elements, the omelet was refreshingly unadulterated. The hash browns were crunchy on the outside, but just a bit too hashy once the crunch crust was broken through. The asymmetrical biscuit took up the entire side plate it was served on, leaving little room for the cups of real butter and strawberry jam that came with it. The biscuit’s texture leaned a little more toward doughy than flaky, and the jam was a teensy bit too sweet for me, but it was still delicious.
No matter what time of day you decide to stop in at Shade Tree, there’s one important thing to keep in mind when dining: the amount of time it’ll take for you to get your order. As stated previously, food is made from scratch, so expect a wait of between 20 to 35 minutes.
3407 Central NE
Hours: Mon.-Fri. 11am-11pm, Sat.-Sun. 9am-11pm
Price Range: $5 to $13 entrees
Vibe: Vrooom! Vrooooooom!
Extras: Weekly specials, and you can get your chopper customized downstairs.
Weekly Alibi recommends: Cornbread chili cups, chopper salad, custom omelet.