At North Park’s Long Story Short, Local Ingredients Just Taste Better

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The brick-and-mortar iteration of Long Story Short closes Dec. 30, 2023. They will continue to serve their signature hyper-local cuisine via pop-ups and other community-driven events. Follow their Instagram to stay up to date on their whereabouts.

Wise chefs know that a good dish does not begin in their kitchens or imaginations, but in the fields, oceans, and pastures in which their ingredients are sourced. They understand that a menu can’t be defined by some conventional idea around “four seasons,” but must take shape around what’s actually available each day. And while convention might tell us that November marks the season of squash, yams, and apples, organic farmers in San Diego are still growing strawberries, string beans, and summer tomatoes. Perhaps not for much longer, but at least for now the early fall produce continues to overlap with the bounty of late summer. 

That unconventional overlap is reflected back to me like a hard truth in every dish at North Park’s Long Story Short. It’s telling me that right now summer string beans are coexisting with the first persimmons of fall and butternut squash is co-mingling with the final ears of corn, and that there’s magic to be uncovered in the acknowledgment of that truth. And it is simultaneously clear to me that the old adage of “what grows together goes together” is incredibly accurate as I taste my way through this thoughtful menu. 

Sampling the Seasons

I’m directed to a new crudo dish that’s just been added. It’s thinly sliced raw bass embellished with a clarified persimmon dressing and green curry oil. A lovely som tum–style slaw of razor-thin persimmon, Dragon Tongue beans, scallions, and radish sits on top. Each slice of fish has a delightfully chewy, fatty, and equally razor-thin piece of skin on the end that stands up well to the crisp, bright flavors of the sauce. I can taste the last cool bites of summer along with the warmer flavors of fall in one coherent bite. And it’s a celebration, not a hello or a goodbye, just an honest recognition of the way things are in this exact moment.

“I want to do it with cured mackerel and smoke the skin a little bit. I think a fuller-bodied fish will go really well with the sauce, but we couldn’t source it this week.” Chef Elliott Townsend says, staring down at the plate the way a new father might look at his just-born baby. They intend to change the fish next week.

A Story Within a Restaurant

Long Story Short is exactly what the moniker represents, a very long story condensed into the four walls, the tables and chairs, the plates and dishes of the restaurant it inhabits. It might be better termed “Love Story Short” because that’s really what it is. Chefs Elliott and Kelly Townsend, both San Diego natives, met and fell in love in culinary school and have been cooking together ever since. They left their restaurant jobs in the Covid era and started doing pop-ups under the same name. At some point they got married, and very recently took the concept to a brick and mortar outpost on one of the hottest blocks in North Park. 

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man and woman in aprons
Long Story Short's husband-and-wife team Elliott and Kelly Townsend. – Photo courtesy of Long Story Short

It’s clear their love story is not just with each other but with a mutual love and respect for their craft, the ingredients they use, and the community they serve. “There was never a conscious decision to do things this way, it was always just based on what was available to us and what tastes better. It goes without saying that what’s close to us is going to taste better than something that comes from across the country or a different state. And it’s going to be a little bit more cost effective; at least in our minds.” Elliott speaks confidently for the two of them as Kelly cooks behind the flowing izakaya-style curtain that separates the front of house from the back. Later in the night Kelly does the same for Elliott. It’s a beautiful dance of two individuals co-creating under a common goal.

San Diego has a unique climate that, as Elliott put it, goes from really hot to a little less hot. The weather makes good local produce available 365 days a year, and as chefs and locals, Kelly and Elliott are committed to highlighting that good fortune at Long Story Short.

– Nicole Litvack

Ingredients With Integrity

San Diego has a unique climate that, as Elliott put it, goes from really hot to a little less hot. The weather makes good local produce available 365 days a year, and as chefs and locals, Kelly and Elliott are committed to highlighting that good fortune at Long Story Short. Just about everything on the menu is sourced locally, including the bread that comes from Wildwood Flour bakery, which mills their own local, organic flour.  

“What we’re trying to do is just use what’s readily available to us. At first the thought isn’t like let’s create a small community. It’s let’s find what’s good and what’s close to us and then that develops into so many amazing things at our disposal. It’s really just based on valuing the integrity of ingredients that lends itself to working with what's around you,” says Elliott, as he awaits a delivery of pork direct from the rancher, who will of course stay for dinner with his family. 

The pork is all sourced from Thompson Heritage Ranch, a regenerative farm in Ramona raising the most delicious heirloom pigs in San Diego. The pigs happily graze and lounge on one piece of land, adding nutrients back into the soil, before being moved to another piece of the property. You can see pictures of the happy pigs eating greens and basking in the sun on the ranch’s Instagram page

In the beginning, Kelly and Elliott did not offer beef because they weren’t able to source any that seemed in alignment with their standards. Now Thompson Ranch is offering American Wagyu cows and there’s a little beef tartar on the menu. They’ve promised to offer a bit more as time goes on. 

Spotlight on Local Urchin

While I’m impressed by their commitment to sourcing local ingredients, I’m more amazed by how calm and relaxed they seem about it. I imagine that chasing down items one by one is far more labor-intensive than just accepting a delivery from a single purveyor. Kelly mentions it can be challenging to know how much of something to order; especially when you’re working with highly perishable items like sea urchin. On this particular night, she’s concerned they might run out as she was unable to purchase as much as she wanted from the fisherman. “It can be challenging,” she says with a calm and collected smile. 

Uni graces two signature dishes on the menu: an uni french toast and an uni risotto. Imagine a perfect bite of savory brioche french toast draped with a briny pillow of sea urchin. The risotto, which is cooked perfectly al dente, is deceptively spicy thanks to a lemon-chili butter. The heat sneaks up on you, but savvy diners will quickly realize that each bite is meant to be balanced by a small piece of sea urchin. The cream of the Parmesan and butter mimics the cream of the urchin again creating one thoughtful and coherent bite from land to sea. 

Ethical Vino

The food takes on yet another dimension when paired with their wine offerings. All of the wine is produced under good farming practices with minimal intervention made by people rather than factories, letting the ingredients speak for itself. Natural wine is produced by this ethos of great land, great grapes, and smart people doing something honest. It makes for an ideal pairing with the food at Long Story Short. 

As it says on their website, Long Story Short is not just a restaurant. It is a coalescence of time and place, people and community, and the food you should be eating at this precise moment.


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Nicole Litvack
Nicole Litvack
Nicole Litvack is a San Diego–based cook, writer and ceramicist. The daughter, granddaughter, and niece of veteran commercial fishermen, she works as the Fisheries and Content Consultant for Local Fish and Saraspe Seafoods.
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