Short’s Burger and Shine, Iowa City, Iowa
One of the most accepted truths about food is simply this: The fresher something is, the better it is. How do you get fresh food? Simple: it doesn’t have to travel far. The less it travels, the fresher it is. Case in point: you can get good potatoes anywhere. But if you’re in Idaho, it’s basically impossible to find a bad one. The potatoes come from so close that they’re always incredibly fresh. When I lived in Idaho and visited Five Guys, which has a tradition of putting where the potatoes came from each day, it was pretty cool seeing that the potatoes used to make my fries had only taken a 30-minute trip down Interstate 15.
Short’s, located in the college town of Iowa City on the campus of the University of Iowa, follows that same philosophy with its burgers and sandwiches. The burgers come from a farm just 26 miles away from Short’s location in southeastern Iowa, and Short’s makes sure that you know it right away. On its menu, Shorts lists where its beef comes from and plays up the fact that when it’s in season, they’re getting their vegetables from farmer’s markets in Iowa City.
So this place is as organic as it gets, without the price tag that comes with being organic. Both good things. But even good burgers can struggle to shine without the presence of condiments and flavors thrown on your burger before it reaches your plate. That’s not a concern at Short’s. It isn’t Vortex in terms of the number of burgers available, but it’s got a nice mix of options and some creative names for them, all of which are assigned a number within its category. For instance, a Popejoy (capicola, provolone and muffuletta sauce) is listed as No. 5 on the burger chart, while a Johnson is No. 1 on the chicken menu, including peppers and Brie.
I’m really not sure what the point of the numbers are, as this isn’t similar to Chino Bandido, where you put the number and the form you wish your meal to be in. Here, the numbers are merely a sideshow. Nobody calls the burgers by their numbers, and I’m sure Short’s, having made a creative name to go with each burger, would rather you call the burgers by the names they have chosen to add to their list. Some of the others include the Arion (cucumber, tomato, feta, tzatziki), the Larchwood (onions, peppers, mushroom, Swiss, red pepper mayonnaise), the Gravity (caramelized onions, bacon, green chiles and jalapeno cream cheese), the Palo Alto chicken sandwich (guacamole, sour cream, salsa, pepper Jack) and the Pacific Junction black bean burger (mango jalapeno salsa and pepper Jack).
I think the real purpose for the numbers is so you can easily figure out that they’ve got a lot of them. The menu features 20 burgers, plus 12 chicken sandwiches and four black bean burgers for those who, like my girlfriend Amy, simply don’t wish to eat beef. No matter what you get, though, it doesn’t come from far (with the exception of the fries, which I’m sure came from Idaho. Hey the Midwest has its limitations).
Plus, it also comes with some high-brow toppings. Among the toppings available are garlic aioli, wasabi, tzatziki and four different kinds of mayonnaise, including chipotle, pesto, avocado and red pepper. Those are just the sauces, as Short’s also features several kinds of cheeses, vegetables, bacon and some other delicious extras, most of which have come from farmer’s markets in Iowa and are served on a freshly-baked bun. If you’re into the alcoholic beverage scene (this is the Shine part of the name), they feature 10 beers brewed in the Hawkeye State.
I chose the Dundee Burger (not sure if it’s supposed to connect with crocodiles or Michael Scott), but it was exactly my kind of burger. Bacon, sauteed mushrooms, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, garlic aioli and a fried egg. If you’ve never had a fried egg on a burger, I highly recommend it. The egg adds another layer of flavor to the burger, and if it hasn’t been cooked too much, the yolk can be a nice touch.
Amy opted for the Cerro Gordo chicken sandwich, which features mozzarella and bacon with lettuce, tomato and a basil pesto mayonnaise, which she tells me was excellent. We do have a lot of the same tastes, as I would have probably found this one to be outstanding as well. She just doesn’t like the taste of beef and onions, which leaves me to try anything that includes those.
Pretty much every college town has at least one restaurant that achieves a special status. Ann Arbor, Mich., has the Maize and Blue Deli, Ames, Iowa has Black Market Pizza, Chapel Hill, N.C. has Time Out, Lexington, Ky., has Tolly-Ho (which Simon tells me is awesome) and Columbia, Mo., has Shakespeare’s Pizza. Iowa City is fortunate enough to have two of them (the other being the Hamburg Inn), with Short’s having the added benefit of being almost on the Hawkeye campus. This place is definitely worth the stop.
Time to go: Whenever Iowa is not playing a home football/basketball game. Seriously, check the schedule. Short’s is in the college town section of Iowa City, which means if the Hawkeyes are playing, getting around will be a mess. You will have to deal with collegiate pedestrians at any point, but if Iowa’s not playing, that becomes easier.
Wait during my visit: Not too bad, everything came at a good pace.
Location: Short’s is at 18 S. Clinton Street in Iowa City. Be careful, it is very easy to miss. Its location is rather non-descript.
Cost: Reasonable. All burgers are less than $10 and come with fries.
Parking: No. The city does have garages, but you won’t be able to park anywhere without a short walk. The garages aren’t bad, less than a dollar will cover you for the time you’re there.
Seating arrangement: It’s cramped, but there’s enough space. The seating is booths and tables, with some bar seating.
Specialty items: Burgers