For Chef Michael Shortino, It’s All About the FoodJanuary 30, 2018 7:13 pm
As a third-generation chef, Michael Shortino learned how to cook from his family and by working in the Italian restaurants that his grandfather and uncle owned. While he picked up many skills from his family over the years, one lesson from Shortino’s grandfather has especially stuck with him over the years.
“My grandfather used to say there are two types of food: it’s amazing or it’s s—t, there’s nothing in between,” says Shortino.
This focus on exceptional quality has guided how Shortino thinks about cooking and what type of food he now brings to the table as the owner of his two South End restaurants, Futo Buta and Lincoln’s Haberdashery. Staff at his two restaurants know Chef Shortino’s signature line well: It’s all about the food.
“If you make it about the food, everything else will fall into place,” says Shortino.
Chef Shortino has opened three restaurants in his four years since relocating from Arizona to North Carolina: Baku, a robata seafood restaurant from a London-based restaurant group, Futo Buta, a ramen shop near the Bland Street Light Rail stop, and Lincoln’s Haberdashery, his new corner store concept on South Boulevard. With Shortino’s creation of Futo Buta and Lincoln’s Haberdashery, quality and simplicity were key parts of the menus.
“If you try to do 15 different things, you’re going to wind up doing 15 things average,” says Shortino. “If you keep it minimal, you can master them and they can be amazing.
After starting his career in Italian food, Chef Shortino made the move to more fine dining restaurants to gain more experience, finding a passion for seafood and Japanese food.
“The Japanese culture is very similar to (what my grandfather used to say),” says Shortino. “You either do it right or you don’t do it at all.”
When Chef Shortino opened his second restaurant in Charlotte, Futo Buta, he brought his same focus on quality to his ramen shop, an idea he had been thinking about for 15 years. Shortino shares that each city has it’s own style of ramen – just like hot dogs and pizza – and he wanted to blend two types for Futo Buta, making a barbecue style ramen with pork. To ensure the ramen fit into the category of amazing, Shortino decided to make his own noodles instead of purchasing them from a distributor like many ramen houses.
“I’d been making pasta my whole life and thought it can’t be that different,” says Shortino. “Well, it is.”
When Futo Buta first opened, they used a smaller Italian pasta-making machine to shape their noodles, a process so tedious that the restaurant had people making noodles 20 hours a day. When it was time to upgrade to an authentic ramen noodle machine, the machine was too large to fit in the ramen shop’s small footprint, prompting Shortino to find another space nearby. The building that was home to the noodle machine evolved into Shortino’s newest restaurant concept, a corner store with coffee and food called Lincoln’s Haberdashery.
“It snowballed into a huge idea of a monster concept and it took a year or so to get open,” says Shortino. “All I wanted to do was make it easier to make the noodles.”
Shortino says he opened Lincoln’s because he felt like it was something the neighborhood needed, a welcoming space to hang out that offered delicious food focused on quality ingredients.
“I wrote the menu three or four different times,” says Shortino, adding he considered doing something inspired by Southern food but didn’t feel like it was the right fit. Instead, Shortino chose to develop a menu based around the sandwiches he eats every day. While Futo’s focus is on the noodles, Lincoln’s is all about the bread.
Though he hadn’t made bread in years, Shortino was determined to get it right – going through a 2,500 pound pallet of bread flour and making a literal ton of bread in the process. The menu at Lincoln’s brings in Shortino’s Italian roots, pairing his freshly made bread with ingredients including his favorite olive oil from Arizona, homemade mozzarella, and the simple breaded pork cutlet his family has always made.
“I just want all of the flavors to stand out.”
Honest Abe isn’t just used for the restaurant’s namesake. Many of the items on the limited-ingredient menu have a reference to Lincoln in their name–Mary’s Muffin, Civil Union, the 13th. The 16th president himself is featured in a mural in the entryway. The painting shows a modern-day Lincoln in a white tee shirt with tattoos representing Shortino and the space: hops, South End, references to the 13th Amendment, Mary Todd across his knuckles, and a spider web on his elbow.
“That’s just because he’s a badass,” says Shortino.
Along with the historical and neighborhood references, Lincoln’s forearm also has a tattoo for Futo Buta alongside plenty of blank space, leaving room for additional tattoos as Shortino continues to make his mark on the South End neighborhood.