The end of the 90s was kind of a big deal. Not just because we knew that the days of wearing matching print leggings and scrunchies with oversized jumpers was nearly over. Or because we would have to stop trading Tazos. But because, according to Y2K theory, there was a possibility that when the clock struck midnight the world as we knew it would cease to exist. Some people stored up tinned goods. Others created underground shelters. Being the sage young things that we were, my siblings and I decided to address this risk by preserving the best of the 90s in a time capsule in our backyard. Because naturally, if the world as we knew it ended, we would want some record of pop culture. I don’t remember what I put in the capsule now, but I do remember the way I felt. Like I was preserving something, keeping something safe. Being the creature of habit that I am, I have always loved the idea of returning to find something you love just as you left it. With all the bits you love still there, waiting patiently for your return.
The last two years of my psychology degree were spent largely at the Shortlist. Literally. Me, my laptop, a latte and that worn wooden table. And page upon page of readings. My Honours Thesis dedication page went: God, my parents, my best friend, The Shortlist (and Toby’s Estate). It was practically a second home. When life moved on and I moved into Glebe, I stopped making it over to Redfern so often and found new cafes to fall in love with where I could spend hours lingering over a latte.
Two years later, I found myself back at The Shortlist last weekend for Saturday morning brunch. The Shortlist is the sort of place that makes you want to be a local. Spanning the bottom floor and courtyard of an old Abercrombie Street terrace, it has a comfortable (albeit trendy) atmosphere that makes it feel like it’s been there forever. Streetside, trendy Darlington locals in sunglasses straddle stools beside tiny side tables and soak up patches of sunshine. Inside, the coffee machine and food prep area take up the majority of space, with a small amount of bench seating facing the baristas and the old faithful wooden communal table taking up the rest. The menu is chalked up on a board behind the baristas, who work behind a glass cabinet of Black Star pastries and ready-to-go sourdough toasties. A mirror at the back opens up the space, and a door to the left leads out through a narrow alleyway to an open-air courtyard with umbrellas.
Incredibly, Shorty has managed to stand the test of time without actually being preserved. The same shortlist of witty potential names (Short Black and Sides, anyone?) that never trumped ‘The Shortlist’ is chalked up next to the front counter, they still offer the same killer combo of rich fruity Little Marionette coffee and decadent Black Star pastries, there are still bespectacled uni students abusing the free wifi, the old wooden table is still comfortably worn, and the menu still consists of delicious things with sourdough (egg and bacon rolls, avocado and lemon oil on sourdough, beans and bocconcini with toast soldiers). There’s still a regular menu and a weekend specials menu. The muesli still comes with fresh fruit and natural yoghurt. They’re still one of the only cafes that knows what you mean when you ask for an iced latte (FYI, it’s a shot of coffee with cold milk and ice in a regular latte glass, and it’s to die for). You can still buy Infinity Sourdough to take home (until the daily supply is sold out). They still stock the front counter with freshly baked muffins.
It’s good to be back. I delve straight into a weekend special of sourdough with smoked salmon, crème fraîche, pickled cucumber and capers ($12), which is ridiculously good. Slivers of salty salmon sit atop a fluffy spread of crème fraîche on a single piece of soy and linseed sourdough. The cucumber, which tastes as though it has been pickled in house, is mild and sweet. This is balanced nicely by the sour saltiness of the large capers sprinkled on top. A frond of dill is perched delicately on top and a wedge of lemon accompanies the dish, which is well seasoned with quality olive oil, salt and cracked black pepper.
Since I’ve already had a caffeine-fuelled swim this morning, and I’m nearly bouncing out of my seat as it is, I drink lemongrass and ginger tea. It comes in a large stainless steel teapot full to the brim with enough tea to serve a party of four. I drink it all, naturally. A hint of aniseed sits beneath the standard lemongrass and ginger flavours, making it reminiscent of fragrant Sri Lankan herbal teas.
Oh Shorty, I’m sorry I strayed from your comfortable familiarity. More than that, I’m sorry I stayed away for so long. Pretty please, will you take me back?
258 Abercrombie Street
Best bits: wifi, people watching opportunities, consistently great Little Marionette coffee, delicious things on bread.
Worst bits: the morning rush hour, no table service (only a problem when the queue snakes out the door), wishing you were a local.
Price point: $
Coffee: Little Marionette
Go here for… the chance to linger over your latte.
What you should know: on Saturday mornings, Eveleigh fresh food market is on just up the road (and unmissable)