Saturday, June 18, 2011

Technically, We Were in Violation…

of Iowa City’s parking laws. We had found a parking spot downtown that was large enough for the Big White Truck. But there was a problem. A one-hour parking limit. Just enough time for our walk around the pedestrian mall but not enough for that walk and lunch. But someone told us—sotto voce—that, if there was no chalk mark on one of the back tires, we could probably get away with feeding the meter again and staying in that spot.

So we had an additional hour for lunch at Short’s Burger and Shine, the Number One rated Iowa City restaurant on Yes, Number One is a burger place. They take their burgers (and beef) seriously here.

“Short's Burger and Shine is a reincarnation of sorts. It was 1920 when Short's Shoe Shine, one of the first African-American-owned businesses in Iowa City, opened up and started shining shoes. Years later, new owners—including former Iowa Hawkeye and NFL star Nate Kaeding—started up a new store in the same space, but this time serving up burgers rather than shoe polish. Open just a couple of years, the new burgers have already found a devoted following” (

It being noon, we had to wait for a table while our parking meter is ticking down. But this gave us a chance to study the restaurant’s interior. The room is long and narrow and very, very dark—even at noon. Seating includes the stools at the bar, about six booths, and a small number of high top tables, some of which were on the front patio which was open to the outside. Just inside the front doors stands Mr. Short’s shoe shine chair. And, for some reason, the ceiling has been masked with white wooden lattice.

“…If you were going to design a restaurant to open during an economic downturn in a relatively financially stable city, this is how you would do it: with measured simplicity. Appeal to the popular mythology of hardworking can-do Americans in tough times…. Play up aesthetics that hearken back to an earlier, simpler time; offer a menu that is stripped down to the basics; play blues music. Of course, this is stylized simplicity, so the icons of the simpler era are embedded into glass cases in the wall and lit from beneath” (

The new Short’s “…still subscribes to Mr. Short’s motto—‘Expert Workmen • Best Materials Used • Prompt Service’.... We feature fresh, never frozen, Black Angus beef from local farmer Ed Smith of Columbus Junction. Our fries are hand-cut daily…(and) all ten of our draft lines are dedicated to the finest Iowa craft beers and cider”
(from Short’s web site).

The menu does stick to the basics—burgers, grilled chicken sandwiches, and black bean burgers, and all items on the menu are named after a county (chicken), city (burgers), or junction (black bean burger) in Iowa. Missing from the list was a sandwich with my favorite Iowa town name—What Cheer.

We are finally seated and have formulated a game plan. We would order one burger and one black bean burger and share. Short’s most famous burger is the Dundee with mushrooms, bacon, garlic aioli, American cheese, and a fried egg. We took a pass and ordered the Baxter with blackened bacon (dusted with Cajun seasonings), provolone cheese, and chipotle mayo. And we ordered the one black bean burger—the Pacific Junction—that did not include avocado or mushrooms and came with mango jalapeno salsa, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, and tomato. Both sandwiches came with mediocre fries (not crisp, but soggy).

Our order placed, we sat back to wait. And wait. And wait. And our meter was running down. And running down.

Our food finally came, and instead of my Pacific Junction, I received the Center Junction (left) with sautéed onions and peppers, Swiss cheese, roasted red pepper mayo, and mushrooms. Lots of mushrooms. With less than twenty minutes left on the meter (and not wanting to risk another feeding), there wasn’t time to send this back the kitchen. So scratch the game plan. Chuck would eat the burger (left), and I would eat the black bean burger.

While no competition for some of the amazing hamburgers (Hodad’s in Ocean Beach, San Diego; Bobcat Bite, Santa Fe, NM; Sparky’s, Hatch, NM; The Squeeze Inn, Sacramento; and American Harvest, Springfield, IL), this was still significantly better than the burger produced by Hamburg Inn No. 2 and had the crispy edges and surface that Chuck so enjoys. Even though cooked medium-well, it was still moist and juicy and had great beef flavor.

If only my black bean burger (left) had the same crispy edges and surface (like Shelby’s Bistro in Tubac, AZ). The onions and green peppers were cooked crisp tender, but the black bean burger itself was rather soft and mushy. They get credit for the quantity of mushrooms and the good red pepper mayo. Still, this was not the black bean I ordered.

As soon as I was finished, I darted from Short’s and made a mad dash for the parking meter. Yes, it had expired. No, we didn’t get a ticket. I shoved another dime in the slot and bought us another eight minutes--enough for Chuck to pay and return to the car after a 3.5 Addie lunch.