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Long Story Short, You Should Go

This hidden Solana Beach bistro features an ever-changing menu sourced from Chino Farm's weekly bounty
Credit: Deanna Sandoval
Long Story Short food 2

Long Story Short food 2

Credit: Deanna Sandoval

“We’re just two broke-ass cooks with a couple of toaster ovens in the back,” says Elliott Townsend, egregiously understating what he and partner (in business and life), Kelly, are doing at Long Story Short inside of Vino Carta in Solana Beach.

Each week the pair host a pop-up dinner inside the wine shop with ingredients sourced from Chino Farm in Rancho Santa Fe to craft their menu. Occasionally they use ingredients from Specialty Produce, but they make it clear that they don’t have a relationship with anyone else.

As for how they manage to manifest a new menu every few weeks, Kelly and Elliott rely on a memory bank full of flavors and cooking techniques learned over years in restaurant kitchens. “It’s totally cerebral,” Elliott says. No prep lists or notes required, unless they’re doing a large tasting event. Sometimes, a menu won’t even come to them until they’ve arrived at the farm.

As Vino Carta’s resident chefs, it helps that they’re the only two cooks in the Long Story Short kitchen. Menu planning is “so spontaneous it’s probably a fault of ours, but it seems to be working for us,” Elliott says.

During a weeknight in August I pop in for dinner: charred Spanish octopus and chorizo mingle with roasted corn and tarragon salsa. Cured yellowtail is paired with sliced figs and an ephemeral hint of habanero. Cherry tomatoes-so-good-they’ll-make-you-weep and mozzarella with crusty bread sop up tears of joy.

Long Story Short food 1

Long Story Short food 1

Credit: Deanna Sandoval

Since they run a bite-sized operation, they can roll with inconsistent product availability, unlike larger restaurants with more fixed menus. Take local spot prawns, for example.

“There are only a handful of vessels that go fishing for them,” Elliott explains. They might have spot prawns on the menu one week, “and then the fishermen tell you they’re not going out this week anymore because of weather or something.” The same applies to produce.

“Sometimes the sun can be very unforgiving and you don’t have the ability to get something common like strawberries, or something that you would think is available at all times,” Elliott says. “There’s a lot of different variables that determine what’s edible today.”

Before Long Story Short served its inaugural Solana Beach menu in fall 2021, Elliott and Kelly spent the majority of the pandemic hosting pop-up dinners in their backyard and around San Diego. They started frequenting Vino Carta’s Little Italy location when they began getting into the natural wine scene, and to source bottles for the pop-ups, Kelly says.

Their penchant for natural wine was a souvenir from the three-month European honeymoon. They stopped in Paris, Copenhagen, Florence, to name a few. “I think we drank wine every day,” Kelly says. The two San Diegans met on the first day of culinary school. Kelly grew up in Point Loma. Elliott is from National City.

The pandemic afforded the pair an opportunity to focus on the food they really wanted to cook: hyperlocal and inspired by their tenure as chefs and partners. “During quarantine we both became out of a job, and didn’t really hate it,” Elliott says. Kelly was at Juniper & Ivy, and Elliott was at Cowboy Star.

Then they learned that Vino Carta’s co-owner, Patrick Ballow, was a neighbor. The wine shop’s Solana Beach location had a small kitchen, and was just about to open. A collaboration was born.

Long Story Short food 3

Long Story Short food 3

Credit: Deanna Sandoval

Next year, when their lease at the wine shop expires, they hope to open up an all-tasting menu restaurant somewhere within San Diego’s city limits, where they’ll have a team around them to help shepherd their alchemy.

“Our dynamic is ‘Kelly cooks like an Italian grandma, and I’m a ‘tweezer boy,'” Elliott says. Kelly does really rustic, timeless food rooted in tradition, Elliott says. “Like a proper nonna.” Then, Elliott adds modern and artistic flair. Being their own bosses means they can let their creativity run feral.

“Kelly usually comes up with the ideas, she’s really fast at thinking of flavors and what goes together,” Elliott says. “And Elliott takes it to the finishing point,” Kelly adds.

“My family couldn’t cook a damn thing, so I took it upon myself to cook,” Kelly says. For Elliott, his family culture taught him that food was not only a source of nourishment, but of community. “We’re both from the city. We love it dearly, we’re born and bred here,” Elliott says. “And we hope that translates through our food.”

By Ligaya Malones

Ligaya Malones grew up in Kaua’i, Hawai’i and is a San Diego-based writer covering the intersection of food, travel, and culture. Her work has appeared in publications including Food52, Condé Nast Traveler, Lonely Planet, and Salt & Wind Travel.

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