Wacky is the best way to describe Shopsin’s eatery and Kenny Shopsin, owner and chef. Over the years he’s been referred to as eccentric, compared to the Soup Nazi, and rubbed some people the wrong way with his imposing “house rules” and gruff style. At the same time he’s loveable for that very wackiness because if it wasn’t for that, ShopsinsThe wouldn’t be the experience that it is.
A New York icon of eccentricity, he’s been marching to his own drummer for decades. Shopsins started as a general store then an eatery in Greenwich Village for decades until a few years back they moved into the Essex Market on the LES. Kenny was made famous in 2002 when Calvin Trillin wrote about Shopsins in The New Yorker. Hero or offensive, either love Kenny for what he is, or don’t bother.
The menu is packed with choices–as many as 900 items at any time, which is actually a trimmed down version vs the old days. Most talked about are the Mac n Cheese pancakes which are incredible, but there are hundreds of other items just as innovative either in name, Slutty Cakes, Blisters on My Sisters, or ingredients. He makes everything himself and at this point without the aid of recipes, so it’s also an adventure on whether it will be the same the second or third time around.
Kenny will comment (heckle you), or refuse to serve you, if you don’t follow his house rules, which have been known to change at his whim, but basically are:
He won’t seat groups larger than four (he won’t even let you break into smaller groups, so don’t walk in as more than four!)
Everyone must order a meal.
No duplicate orders at a table.
No cell phone usage.
In September, 2008 Kenny’s book Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin was published. There’s also a documentary film about him titled “I Like Killing Flies”. The book is a mix of memoirs, recipes, family stories, about dealing with publicity, and most importantly his philosophy, which comes out loud and clear. These choice Kenny quotes from the book pretty much sum it up.
“Pancakes are a luxury, like smoking marijuana or having sex. That’s why I came up with the names Ho Cakes and Slutty Cakes. These are extra decadent, but in a way, every pancake is a Ho Cake.”
“Customers in this country have been raised to believe that they are “always right.” Their neuroses are coddled and their misbehaviors tolerated for their patronage and their money by every restaurateur in America. But not by ME. My approach at Shopsins is the exact OPPOSITE of “the customer is always right.” Until I know the people, until they show me that they are worth cultivating as customers, I’m not even sure I WANT their patronage.”
“I enjoy cooking and giving what I can to my customers, and, in turn, my customers don’t just enjoy giving me money, they enjoy receiving what I have given them. Once we’ve established a rapport, we’re absolute equals in my restaurant. But I guess I shouldn’t expect newcomers to understand this. In all fairness, they’re right and I’m the arsehole, because my way is hardly the traditional you-give-me-the-money-I-give-you-a-bagel. I want more from them. I want a relationship.”
Know the rules and keep an open mind, Shopsins food sensation and entertainment are worth it.
Location: Essex Market on the Lower East Side, 120 Essex Street, Stall #16; open Wed-Sat 9A-2P, Sun 10A-3P
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