where the beef is

If you want a burger in Iowa City, you’ve got two contenders. One is the Hamburg Inn, site of the famous coffee bean ballot (at press time, Loebsack and Culver were trouncing their opponents in the races for Senate and Governor, and speaking of, have you voted yet?), one of the town’s best breakfasts, and favored watering hole of all visiting politicians. And the Inn has the walls to prove it.

The other is Shorts Burger and Shine. That’s the one we go for. The Hamburg Inn is your classic, greasy spoon burger joint. Shorts makes it exciting. They have 20 different burgers, and most of the toppings can be put to a chicken or black bean burger instead – a very sweet gesture for vegetarians, wherever you are. I also dig their commitment to local farmers and brewers: they have all Iowa beers on tap, including Amana’s delicious Millstream Brewing Company, which we visited a couple weeks ago.

Their beef story is even better: the Black Angus cows live  27 miles up the road at Ed Smith Farms; the meat is processed at Bud’s Meats in Riverside and always arrives fresh; and even the buns are made daily. Oh, and the vegetables come from the farmer’s market, when growing seasons permit. I love this, [rant alert] and not just because I am an elite locavore out of touch with the common man. It’s because with daily doomsday announcements of beef contamination, unhygienic (to say nothing of unethical) slaughterhouse conditions, and diseased animals, how nice is it to know where your food’s coming from, yes, down to the name of the beef processing plant. [end rant]

Of course, none of this would matter if the burger didn’t taste good. Listen: it DOES! Juicy and flavorful meat topped with the widest variety (and most imaginative) toppings in town. I am a devotee of the Maynard Burger, pictured above, which has bacon, avocado, and garlic aioli. (I also requested some caramelized onions, because I am incorrigible.) Billy leans toward the spicy southwest options, and last time ordered the Baxter: provolone, bacon, chipotle mayonnaise, and a blackened burger. But there’s truly an option for everyone, right down to the most basic American cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato. The buns are puffy but strong, odd qualifiers that basically mean: does not fall apart mid-chomp! And each burger comes with an order of fries: pieces of skin still on, cut into diagonal strips, fried golden brown, melt-in-your-mouth delectable. (I am a fries fiend.)

click to enlarge


If it’s your first time passing through Iowa City, you should probably get your burger at the landmark Inn — just to say you’ve been. But for the second and third times, head down to Shorts Burgers for a real taste of the heartland.

Update 11/3: Apparently we’re not the only ones! The Press-Citizen’s annual reader-voted “Best of the Area” list has named Shorts the best burger in town! They write:

Short’s Burger and Shine is a reincarnation of sorts. It was 1920 when Short’s Shoe Shine, one of the first African-American-owned businesses in Iowa City, opened up and started shining shoes. Years later, new owners — including former Iowa Hawkeye and NFL star Nate Kaeding — started up a new store in the same space, but this time serving up burgers rather than shoe polish. Open just a couple of years, the new burgers have already found a devoted following.


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Ksenia on November 2, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    okay, i am definitely coming to iowa in the spring…


  2. i looveeee your meat rant!

    and, billy … southwestern option? typical.

    and i second ksenia’s sentiment that i’m definitely coming springtime =)

    perchance the farmers market will be open then!


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