Dining Restaurant reviews and goings-on

Shorty's fills a craving downtown

Shorty's, and especially its sandwiches, fills a craving downtown

Contributing Restaurant CriticOctober 13, 2011 

  • RESTAURANT REVIEW

    Shorty's

    Address: 163 W. Short St.

    Phone: (859) 309-3813

    Hours: 7:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun. Sandwiches and prepared food served from about 10 a.m. to close.

    Online: Shortysgrocery.com

    Other: Street parking. Credit cards accepted. Vegetarian options available. Kentucky Proud. "By the pound" side items $4.99-$7.99, sandwiches $5.99-$8.99, baked goods 75 cents-$3.99.

Among the target audiences of Shorty's, the new market on West Short Street, are lovers of one-stop shopping.

People who work and play downtown can have lunch with a friend, grab a bagful of groceries for dinner (presuming their workplaces have refrigerators to store them) and then finish the day at the office. No car necessary until 5 p.m.

And did I say that checking out the redesign of an old bank building, especially the vault, is worth the trip alone?

Downtown has wanted, needed and talked about having a grocery for quite a long time.

Good things come to those who wait.

Shorty's admittedly has limited seating, but the sidewalk venue should get us through the better days of the next couple months. But even if winter weather mandates take-out only, there are lots of reasons for foodies to love Shorty's.

First is the deli case. I am not crazy about the salmon cake — too fishy — and the creamy potato salad could use a smart hand with the salt and pepper, but there are myriad rewarding choices besides these.

Take, for instance, the substantial Szechuan noodles, slurpy with just a hint of sesame oil. Or there is the light and crunchy coleslaw, and the rich and addictive pimento cheese. The seasoning that was lacking in the potato salad apparently found a home in the Brussels sprouts — halved, tossed in oil, salt and pepper, and roasted in a hot oven until brown around the edges, soft in the center and al dente at the stem.

But my favorite among these "by the pound" items was the legume and olive salad. It was loaded with beans — black, kidney and cannellini — black and green olives, minced red onion and a rainbow of diced bell peppers, all tossed in a perfectly balanced vinaigrette. This salad is the ideal healthy side but could be a meal in itself with good bread and cheese — also available at Shorty's.

Sandwiches are the menu's cornerstone, however. They begin with prepared meats, vegetables, condiments and good breads but are transformed by toppings like sweet caramelized onions and Havarti, one of the terrific Danish semi-soft cheeses that rarely appear except wrapped in plastic in gourmet aisles.

If the sandwiches are very good, though, the "specialty paninis from Chef Jeff" are remarkable. I could eat one every day for the rest of my life. They exemplify one of the Western world's great taste and textural experiences: creative combinations of fine ingredients stacked between two slices of soft bread, all placed on a hot iron grill, and pressed until the outside develops a thin, crisp crust but the inside remains soft and buttery.

Panini, while deceptively simple, are unbeatable, and easier to eat than a tall, overflowing sandwich.

I have sampled both ends of Shorty's spectrum, ranging from the crazy (in a good way) spicy buffalo chicken with a subtle blue cheese spread, crunchy shredded carrot and earthy spinach leaves, to the totally vegetarian version with roasted vegetables, a lightly garlicky hummus spread, mozzarella cheese and Portobello mushroom slices.

Last but not least, there are a few baked goods made in-house. Try the moist oatmeal raisin cookies. They are chewy, sweet and melt-in-your-mouth tender.

As if this answer to decades of shopping and eating prayers weren't enough, by the time you read this, Shorty's will have added a wine store next door with, I was told, an emphasis on harder-to-find bottles.

How terrific, at last, to have the convenience of a full-service grocery, in the heart of downtown, without a supersize property and mass-produced emphasis.

Wendy Miller is a Lexington-based food and spirits writer and critic.

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