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Fed at The Shed

Edom’s destination diner
Written by Randy Mallory. Photographs by Randy Mallory.

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Folks flock to the tiny East Texas arts enclave of Edom for several reasons. They come for its artisans, who make jewelry, pottery, and birdhouses; for its live music and arts festivals; and also to pick blueberries and blackberries each summer at Blueberry Hill Farms. As much as anything, though, visitors come to chow down on home-style cooking at the quintessential roadside eatery, The Shed Cafe.

The Shed Cafe is at 8337 FM 279 in Edom. Call 903/852-7791.

I know the way to The Shed as if I’m going to grandma’s. Most of the verdant, 19-mile drive from my Tyler home to Edom meanders west along FM 279. I pass the Coltharp-Beall House, a 19th-Century stagecoach stop and post office at Edom’s original site. Then I dip into the Neches River bottom, where the two-laner straightens out to cross a narrow concrete bridge built in 1931. No wonder motorcyclists crave this ride. And no wonder that The Shed’s parking lot sports shiny road bikes nearly every weekend. Classic cars come to Edom each third Saturday for Cruise Night, so it’s especially fun at The Shed on those weekends, when leather-jacketed bikers and classic car-owners rub elbows with artists and berry-pickers.

But Tuesday nights are just as fun, by my reckoning. That’s when local musicians bring their guitars and play in a dining room set aside for the weekly public pickin’ party. I like to mingle with the regulars among the 70 or so faithful who come for good eats and roots music. “We’re the musicians’ groupies,” says Gwen Gann with a laugh. Adds her friend Jayne Wheeler, “We sit every week at the same table, and I always order the meatloaf. The food and the music are great.”

For my part, I invariably pick one of The Shed’s perennial favorites—buttermilk-battered chicken-fried steak. “The only other item that sells better is our hamburger,” says manager Jody Rives as I pull my chair up to a red wooden table. “Both are made with certified Black Angus beef raised here in East Texas,” he tells me.

My seat lies just inside the front screened door, where I watch people come in with a hungry smile and go out with a toothpick and to-go box. I also watch the hubbub in the kitchen straight ahead, just beyond a couple of ball-capped guys sitting at the counter on red vinyl-and-chrome swivel stools. A team of cooks deftly piles hot food on blue-and-red plates and slides them under heat lamps next to tins of towering wheat rolls. A flurry of waiters hurry the steaming dishes to five separate dining rooms.

When my chicken-fried steak arrives, it’s eight inches across and fork tender. Peppered gravy spills over it like a creamy waterfall. My sides include rich macaroni-and-cheese and bacon-seasoned green beans, and I wash it all down with a glass of lemony sweet tea. I’m pretty sure that state law requires me to finish with a slice of coconut cream pie. With a graham-cracker crust and shredded coconut on top, it’s a sweet end to a delicious meal.

My waitress stops by again, en route to a nearby table with a plate of fresh-baked biscuits. They’re twice the size of my pie and just as tall. The Shed serves breakfast all day, seven days a week. If you’re really hungry, try ordering two eggs cooked to order with your choice of bacon, sausage, or a slab of ham, plus biscuits, toast, grits, and hash browns.

The Shed is the kind of place where a mound of hand-breaded onion rings tops the appetizer list. Oh, there’s lighter fare—like soups and salads and grilled chicken. But the restaurant’s reputation rests on such hearty Texas staples as chicken-fried-steak sandwiches, fried catfish, and cobblers à la mode. And there are blue-plate specials ranging from smothered steak on Monday to smoked brisket on Saturday. Once a month, on the weekend of nearby Canton’s First Monday Trade Days, there’s even turkey and dressing.

New items do make it on the menu, such as a few hand-cut steaks and market-fresh fish, both added by popular demand. But the wheel’s not broken, so why fix it, explains Mary Ellen Malone, owner for the last decade of The Shed’s half-century in business. “If you eat at The Shed, you own a piece of the restaurant. That’s how loyal our customers are.”

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