My friend Steven Comfort introduced me to this hidden gem at their old location of Houston Street. It is funky, and I look forward to visiting their new location.
RESTAURANT REVIEW | SHOPSIN’S GENERAL STORE
More on Shopsin’s General Store
All the Vulgar Charm, in a Smaller Box
Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times
ITS OWN WORLD The new Shopsin’s at the Essex Street Market. By PETER MEEHAN – Published: August 8, 2007
TOLSTOY had it wrong about happy families, because there are none like the Shopsins. The tiniest perceived injustices can trigger Kenny Shopsin, patriarch of the clan, to spew invective at his kids, who will cheerily engage him in bluer-than-blue verbal sparring matches while they wait tables, cook, clean and pop over to nab some cheese curds from Saxelby Cheesemongers in the next stall so the old man can put the finishing touch on an order of poutine ($11).
If your ears aren’t too delicate to weather the shower of obscenities the Shopsins rain down on the world around them, it can be downright heartwarming to spend a few minutes over a hot plate of Blisters on My Sisters ($8; it is like, but is not, huevos rancheros) and watch them — Mr. Shopsin, one of his sons, and sometimes both of his twin daughters — in action at the reincarnation of Shopsin’s General Store in the Essex Street Market.
This Shopsin’s is the new outpost of Mr. Shopsin’s fabled West Village restaurant, fabled most famously by Calvin Trillin. In The New Yorker, Mr. Trillin chronicled the old restaurant’s countless quirks: the sign saying “All Our Cooks Wear Condoms”; the rules, like the one that no two people at the same table could order the same thing; the sprawling menu.
The menu is one of the first things old-time Shopsin’s customers comment on when they arrive at the new location. Like the new space — a tiny, bright and uncluttered stall in the Essex Street Market that looks like an interior designer’s refutation of the untamed wilds of the restaurant’s previous home, filled as it was with decades worth of Shopsin family clutter — it is not as expansive as the old one.
Even so, with a few hundred dishes that run the gamut from Tex-Mex (guacamole is big) to vaguely Chinese (like the vegan bok choy bop soup) and points beyond (Cincinnati-style “5-way” chili, as well as other dishes done up in a Cincinnati 5-way style), it is still a disorienting documentation of Mr. Shopsin’s singular brand of kitchen madness.
That madness might manifest itself in, for example, the Shirley ($11), one of 29 wildly different dishes billed as “breakfast name plates.” It is a B.L.T. sandwich chopped into bite-size pieces, tossed helter-skelter in a bowl and topped with a few poached eggs. It is an indulgently madcap way to greet the day.
Plenty of other gems are hidden throughout the menu: Shopsin’s slyders — three White Castle-style burgers to a $9 order, each loaded with conscientiously charred sweet onions — may be the city’s best tiny hamburgers; the postmodern pancakes ($12; pancakes dotted through with chopped pancakes), made famous in the Kenny Shopsin biopic “I Like Killing Flies,” are a good idea; and banana-chocolate chip-walnut pancakes ($10) are good eating.
Plenty of dishes are only so-so, like the Bridgette ($12), a dry chicken salad on a drier baguette that even slices of ripe avocado couldn’t moisturize back into the realm of desirability, or some of the sloppily conceived and sloppy executed breakfast sautés.
But — a little weird to say in a restaurant review — that inconsistency is kind of beside the point. Some things about the place are easy to appreciate, like a huge, honestly fresh-squeezed glass of orange juice ($4).
Other things, like the occasional dry sandwich, or the fact that ordering from such an enormous menu always feels like a shot in the dark, aren’t. And some aspects of the place, like Mr. Shopsin’s brand of extemporaneous philosophizing, will sit better with some than others. Holding court from a chair in the hall outside his stall on a recent Thursday morning and addressing his comments to no one in particular, he asked, “Did you hear that Whole Foods sold out of those ‘I Am Not a Plastic Bag’ bags in 15 minutes?” “I guess people really aren’t that smart,” he glumly summarized before rousing himself to return to the kitchen. I, for one, was glad he was back.