Columnist: Dine the old fashioned way in Miami

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 21, 2016

Loran Smith

Syndicated columnist

MIAMI, Fla. — U.S. Highway 1, which was laid out in the 1920s, stretches 2,369 miles from Fort Kent, Maine, at the Canadian border, to Key West, Florida.

When this federal highway passes through upscale Coral Gables, which is home to the University of Miami, you can bypass the swank, elite and posh restaurants in the area and move further south to the down-home barbecue and corn-on-the-cob landmark that is Shorty’s, which would fit nicely into most any community, with the exception, perhaps, of Manhattan or Manhattan Beach.

We could guess that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton would not spend time here unless they were groveling for votes and trying to act like they are at home in Anyplace U.S.A. They are good at acting, by the way.

Shorty’s is for the salt-of-the-earth types, those who eat the old-fashioned way — with their fingers, certainly when they reach for corn-on-the-cob. You know you are in for a good meal just from surveying the architecture — a log cabin with bench-style seating, akin to what you would find at an outdoor dinner-on-the-grounds gathering with abundant rolls of paper towels within arms’ length.

Everything here is finger-licking good. If you don’t leave with your appetite satiated, it is nobody’s fault but your own. Shorty’s is happy for you to go back for seconds. I did for more corn on the cob, as good as you will find anywhere.

Your order comes quickly, steaming hot, saucy and dripping with butter. The atmosphere is convivial, a soft buzz that is elevated without cacophonous outbursts or rude behavior. If you have a Southern bent, your first connection with Shorty’s comes when you walk in and hear the Oak Ridge Boys singing “Elvira” on the house system.

E. L. “Shorty” Allen settled here at 9200 Dixie Highway in 1951. Hailing from Georgia, he left his mark on Miami with his barbecue recipes and comfort-inducing service. There are now four Shorty’s restaurants in the Greater Miami area. Shorty’s food must enhance longevity since he lived to be 104 years old.

It was Shorty’s barbecue ribs that connected with the clientele in these neighborhoods decades ago — a lot of conchs and crackers. Prior to the Yankee invasion after World War II when air travel, mosquito control and air conditioning became standard, there were many Georgians who settled in south Florida.

There was the land boom and bust in the 1920s — nearly a century ago — when many who migrated here lost their shirt — and more — which is a reminder of the story of two Southern Georgians who came here to enlarge their bank account but soon were jobless and flat broke. Walking by a Miami restaurant one evening they saw a sign in the window, advertising big steaks and strawberry pie.

Undaunted, they went inside and enjoyed the best meal they ever had, not knowing what to do when the check came. One of them, an enterprising type, walked up to the proprietor and asked what he would do if a guy came into the restaurant and did exactly what he and his buddy had just done.

“Why I would kick him square in the rear,” the proprietor said. With that, the penniless customer bent over and said, “Okay, take out for two.”

My guess is that Shorty would like that story and probably would be impressed with the clever customer’s nerve. You won’t find steak and strawberry pie available here, but on the menu are eleven barbecue plate specials, including barbecued meat, French fries, rice, coleslaw and bread. You can choose from a meat menu of baby back ribs, beef franks, chicken, brisket, pork and shirt steak.

The secret to getting it just right, says Bayley Davis, Shorty’s marketing director, is “using the finest meats available and adding our 65-year-old recipes and smoked-over, smoldering hickory by chefs who have over a hundred years of combined experience.”

You wash it all down with iced tea or cold beer. Life is good at Shorty’s.

John Underwood — longtime writer for Sports Illustrated and biographer of Ted Williams — and his wife, Donna, brought us here recently. We left filled and fulfilled, the best in food garnished by stimulating conversation. Memo to Shorty’s: “We’ll be back.”

Loran Smith is an athletic administrator at the University of Georgia.