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Shorty’s Steakhouse
*****
Out of a possible five
$$

Shorty’s long on flavor, execution, affordability

On its surface, Shorty’s Steakhouse in Garrett was like many other small-town, downtown restaurants.

Its long narrow space, tin ceiling, room-dominating antique bar and hardwood floors reminded me of restaurants I have visited in countless towns. It had a friendly, folksy staff and its clientele fit the small-town restaurant stereotype, too.

At one table there were a couple of senior gentlemen sporting suspenders and caps talking politics over steaks, at another there was a teenage couple out on a date, and, in the back, a couple with their three kids enjoyed a dinner with the grandparents.

And although Shorty’s menu has the staple fried fish, burgers and pork tenderloins so many of these kinds of places serve, a closer look shows that it is much more. It is a top-of-the-line steakhouse that bridges the gap between the everyday and gourmet to perfection.

Take, for example, one of the recent featured appetizers – Buffalo calamari. Fresh squid rings were coated in a light batter, fried until crisp, tossed in bright red Buffalo sauce and served with a side of ranch or bleu cheese dressing. The calamari was tender and clean, and it worked wonderfully with the spicy sauce. It left me wondering why I have not seen this at fine seafood restaurants.

All of the specials at Shorty’s looked special, so I had a hard time ordering off of the regular menu.

The sweet potato-crusted salmon will likely find a spot on my list of bests. The fish was served over Northern beans with chunks of prosciutto in them and drizzled with a balsamic reduction. The fish was fresh and perfectly cooked and the thin strands of yam on top were crunchy. The prosciutto bits were fatty and salty like a cross between pork belly and ham, and the balsamic added a little extra sweetness to help the sweet potatoes. The dish was so good I wanted to lick my plate clean.

The featured shrimp and feta zucchini cakes appetizer was even more unique than the calamari. These four football-shaped, deep-fried nuggets were full of diced zucchini, chunks of shrimp and feta. They came with a dill and cucumber tzatziki sauce. The shrimp were sweet, the feta was salty, the zucchini added a little brightness and the dill in the sauce packed a punch.

The chef must have had some feta he liked because another special featured it – the grilled 8-ounce pork chop with pomegranate reduction over wilted spinach, pecans and feta. The thick chop was tender and run-onto-your-plate juicy, the pomegranate sauce was sweet and sour, the feta, again, added salt and the nuts added crunch.

Another pork feature was a sort of surf and turf. The pork loin with shrimp stuffing had a lot of flavors and ingredients going on, but they all worked. The loin was roasted nicely and was a little brown, which gave it that strong pork roast-like essence, and it was filled with a moist shrimp and breadcrumb mixture that reminded me of crab cakes. The sweetness of the stuffing was present in each bite and was accentuated wonderfully by the tangy Creole mustard sauce that coated the dish. It came with an impressive side of mushroom and green onion risotto that also seemed like a contrasting mix, but was executed in such a way that it seemed like the two belonged together.

I did finally have a steak at this steakhouse and, yes, it was a weekend feature. It, like most everything I tried, highlighted the talents of the chef with many layers of flavor. The sweet ancho chile rib-eye was a beautifully marbled hunk of beef that was coated in a rub that was more sweet than spicy. However, the peppery ground chorizo in the chorizo hash side tempered it nicely. The cubed potatoes and chorizo in that hash were coated with a gooey, runny, white queso fresco sauce that added another flavor layer.

The dish was a harmony on the palate – sweet, spicy and cheesy with plenty of umami from the big steak.

One of the only standard menu entrées I had was also a steak – the butcher’s steak – which was touted on the menu as a shoulder cut that “in the late 1800s butchers often kept … for themselves with its incredible natural flavor.”

This square cut was really tender and reminded me of beef tenderloin. It did have a robust flavor that was perfectly accentuated by its simple seasoning of salt, pepper and a little rosemary.

It was an especially enjoyable cut of beef given it was less than $20. That was another thing about Shorty’s that stood out, its affordability. A couple having appetizers, a couple of drinks, entrées and desserts at most steakhouse will set them back $100 to $120 easily. At Shorty’s, my wife and I had all of the above and fed three kids without breaking triple-digits.

Speaking of desserts, there were only two choices at Shorty’s: house-made cheesecake with a variety of syrup toppings and peanut butter pie. The latter was the one to order, not that the cheesecake wasn’t good; it just wasn’t as great as the pie.

A graham cracker crust was first coated with a layer of fudge, then came the rich, heavy whipped peanut butter base. It was topped with a drizzle of chocolate sauce and whole peanuts. It was fitting that this pie was so good because homemade pie is just the kind of thing a small-town restaurant should do well.

The servers also offered some of that small-town charm while not missing a beat during both of my visits.

The only flaw I could find aesthetically at Shorty’s Steakhouse was the tables and chairs, which were the standard, ugly banquet-style you find at so many everyday places. They were also arranged a bit snugly.

But its retro space still put a smile on my face with all of its antique accents and the added bonus of some wickedly big taxidermy pieces – a buffalo and elk antlers.

It just felt right.

And that his how I would summarize Shorty’s. With its upscale spin on American cuisine, its neighborly staff and customers and its familiar, comfortable surroundings, it just felt right on every level.

Restaurant: Shorty’s Steakhouse

Address: 127 N. Randolph St., Garrett

Phone: 260-357-5665

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Cuisine: American

Handicapped accessible: Yes

Alcohol: Full bar

Smoking status: Non-smoking

Credit cards: Yes

Kid-friendly: Yes

Menu: Shrimp cakes ($7), Buffalo calamari ($6), ancho rib-eye ($25), pork loin ($16), butcher’s steak ($18), sweet potato salmon ($19), pie ($5)

Rating breakdown: Food: *** (3-star maximum); atmosphere: * (1 maximum), service: * (1 maximum)

Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).

Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. This review is based on two unannounced visits. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at rduvall@jg.net; call at 461-8130. DuVall’s past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.

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