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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Toledo’s Shorty’s True American Roadhouse sets the bar for itself

As the late Chicago columnist Mike Royko once wrote, “Restaurants run by short Greeks stay in business and make money.”

Of course, this isn’t always true, but more often than not, many of the best diners and restaurants are owned and operated by my distant Greek relatives – even barbecue joints.

A fine example of this was restaurateur Charlie Vergos, who ran the Rendezvous in downtown Memphis, Tenn., until his death in March 2010 at age 84. While cleaning out the basement of his downtown Memphis diner in 1948, Vergos discovered an old coal chute in the wall and realized that it would be a good vent for a barbecue pit.

Vergos today continues to inspire others, including the Greek American proprietors of Shorty’s True American Roadhouse, at 5111 Monroe St., in Toledo, Ohio.

In 1916, Gus Mancy moved to Toledo from the island of Crete and began a career in the restaurant business in 1921. His descendants today operate four respected restaurants in this northwest Ohio city, including Shorty’s, operated by Nick Mancy.

Stumbling into Shorty’s was a happy accident as we returned from a vacation last summer. While the menu features a strong selection of steaks and seafood, one step inside suggested that this really was a place for barbecue. They use cherry to smoke their meats on site, which we could smell upon entering.

Shortly after ordering a combo platter of pulled pork, ribs and chicken to share, we saw on a wall nearby a list of barbecue joints familiar to most anyone, which included Vergos’ Rendezvous.

Shorty's was setting for themselves a high standard to meet, suggesting that they could even be mentioned in the same company, we surmised.

But perhaps it’s because a short Greek is involved.

Our waitress quickly brought out our food on a round tray covered with brown paper and thankfully we weren’t disappointed. My wife can be hard to please, particularly when it comes to sides such as baked beans and cole slaw.

The beans came bathed in a sweet and thick sauce infused with pulled pork, and the slaw was not overwhelmed by vinegar or mayonnaise. My favorite was the macaroni and cheese highlighted by actual cheese and not a substitute (Don’t you hate it when they mix Velvetta with the pasta?).

All the meat was tender. The chicken in particular showed its smoked pink insides easily without a knife.

Shorty’s two main sauces are private recipes, including one that has smoky, sweet flavor, helped by a hint of pineapple. The other sauce is spicier, but doesn’t overwhelm the food.

Also on the menu are beef brisket and something you see less often, beef ribs, which we’ll have to try the next time we’re passing through. The Memphis Egg Rolls, stuffed with pulled pork and sauce and then deep fried, also looked intriguing.

Shorty’s also boasts an extensive, 15-item desert menu, which includes bread and banana pudding, milkshakes, sundaes and sweet potato pie.

Shorty’s aspires to greatness and certainly will merit a return visit the next time we’re passing through.

Shorty's True American Roadhouse on Urbanspoon