Shorty’s: A New Favorite

I take great pride in (and, of course, full credit for) successful restaurant recommendations. One of the great joys of this job is helping people find their new favorite place to eat, requiring as much intuition as restaurant knowledge, as well as a feel for matching atmosphere to occasion.

Of course, over the years, I’ve had a few misses, too, sometimes downright shocking ones involving the state’s most critically praised restaurants. But one spot I end up recommending often, for a number of reasons, has never, ever failed to please – or more often, delight: Shorty’s, a narrow sliver of a pizza place, in Atlanta’s Toco Hills.

To call this utility infielder a neighborhood restaurant (or even a pizza place) misses the point – it is both, of course, tucked almost invisibly behind a LongHorn Steaks at North Druid Hills and LaVista. The parking lot is a beehive, and the few designated Shorty’s spots often go early.

To avoid a short wait for dinner, try to arrive before 6:30. However, even with the loosey-goosey seating policy (no reservations; you sit wherever you like whether your full party has arrived or not; the staff keeps a list as a line forms), turnover is quick, and there’s almost always a spot or two available at the bar, under the wide-screen TV. (A second, less-crowded but equally unlikely location has opened on Lawrenceville Highway in Tucker.)

The people who run the place are young, having fun, and best of all, know and love good food. The slang-laden menu (“shorty” is a street term for “girlfriend,” the “crib salad” is the “house salad”) and rock ’n‘ roll references (the airbrushed Elvis portrait in one booth; the “Declan McManus” pizza, a nod to singer Elvis Costello’s real name) would fall flat if the dishes didn’t soar: Even basic items, such as freshly smashed guacamole with pico de gallo and flatbread, are far above the norm – but you’ll also find smart starters like spaghetti squash salad with aged ricotta and walnuts, or lump crabcakes with red-pepper remoulade.

With most prices in the single digits, and even the fanciest entrees rarely reaching above the low teens, Shorty’s is a fantastic value. The salads, especially, are enormous – a small one is usually plenty for two to share – and they’re not the usual pizza-place iceberg-and-bottled dressing afterthought, either. The Caesar has pristine white anchovies and garlic croutons; the “rocket” (arugula) is a fluffy green knoll with lemon oil and shaved parmesan.

If you’ve come for pizza, you will not be disappointed, particularly if you’re a fan of thin, crisp crusts, beautifully browned, and toppings caramelized in Shorty’s wood-fired oven. Go with usual-suspect ingredients such as pepperoni, mushrooms and extra cheese, or try one of the ambitious, delicious specialty pies like the Thin White Duke, (named for his paleness, David Bowie), a white pie with sausage, roasted tomatoes, roasted onions and cilantro; or the John Lee Hooker, with barbecued chicken, onions, jalapenos and coleslaw.

Not in the mood for a pizza? Shorty’s has your back, with entrees including delectable, woodfire-grilled, cedar-planked salmon, served with browned potatoes and asparagus, or a hearty steak salad, with romaine, red onion and blue cheese. Although Shorty’s has recently, and regrettably, stopped serving its always interesting nightly specials, the regular menu has been slightly expanded to include things like a mezze platter of olives, hummus, roasted peppers and grilled “pittza” bread. Desserts include an outstanding (and humongous) key lime pie and billowy tiramisu.

The few disappointments here are mild ones: A “Cuban” sandwich on foccacia bread just somehow seems dislocated, even if it tastes fine; and the falafel is well-seasoned but too often overcooked and dry. Along with interesting, inexpensive wines by the glass, Shorty’s has a full bar and a full complement of soft drinks, making it a favorite of families, business associates and just about everyone.

Categories: Art of the Meal