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Review: Shortall's BBQ

Ian McNulty on the barbecue specialist inside the bar 12 Mile Limit

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At Shortall's inside 12 Mile Limit, barbecue may come ringed with tater tots, broccoli and lots of surprises. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber
  • At Shortall's inside 12 Mile Limit, barbecue may come ringed with tater tots, broccoli and lots of surprises.

The wild world of comfort food includes many purported hangover cures, though often these dishes also are accessories to those hangovers in the making. The "loaded" tater tots at Shortall's BBQ may be the latest example, greasing the rails for yet another round of drinks while veiling the whole thing in enough vegetables to make it plausibly restorative. That it's served inside 12 Mile Limit, a dive-turned-craft cocktail den, makes that next round all the more likely.

  Topping tater tots like they're nachos isn't new, but Shortall's BBQ treats its ever-changing tots platter like a salad bar, a barbecue buffet and a Jackson Pollock canvas all at once. It was only after working through fried Brussels sprouts, green beans and broccoli one night recently that we discovered the artichoke hearts and, below that, a rich seam of macaroni and cheese. Sliced tomatoes ringed the edge like crust, and interspersed was a whole chicken leg, brisket and pulled pork.

  Such a mishmash might be gross if it wasn't for the curatorial hand of Chris Shortall, a fine-dining chef-turned-bar food maverick. A Dallas native, Shortall was sous chef at Coquette when Cole Newton, a bartender at that upscale Uptown gem, opened 12 Mile Limit on an obscure Mid-City side street. Shortall's father Tom initially served straightforward barbecue at the bar, but after a few months the son took over. That's when things started getting interesting.

  His short menu shares a page with Newton's cocktail list (try the Baudin, a hot sauce-spiked bourbon number, for a surprisingly good barbecue pairing). That menu also gives no inkling of what the kitchen might be able to serve you. Ask for artichoke dip and you'll get a casserole that could be the centerpiece at a holiday cocktail party. Ask for the salad and you might get concentric rings of cucumber, tomato and avocado scattered with queso fresco. But you can ask for anything here, and with a day's notice and some budget negotiations, Shortall is game to try it out. Smoked Cornish hens? Asian-style ribs? Shortall says he's fielded these and is eager for more challenging pitches.

  The main act remains barbecue, served as plates or sliders, but purists should know up front that Shortall's barbecue approach gets unorthodox. After a turn in the smoker, for instance, brisket has its fat packed on to melt back in for a sort of barbecue confit. Chicken quarters exude smoke, gush juices and crackle from a quick, no-batter dunk in the fryer, creating essentially smoked fried chicken.

  The crowd at 12 Mile Limit skews young, and this place is first and foremost a bar (though, happily, it is smoke-free Saturday through Monday). But its kitchen also has become an incubator for upstart food ventures, with one pop-up doing weekend brunch, another serving pizza on Sunday nights and the freelance bakers known as Debbie Does Doberge producing their cakes here too. Plus, with Shortall's BBQ, this address already has fostered one tot-based hangover cure/enabler for the ages.

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