I first read about Shopsin's Greenwich Village restaurant in Calvin Trillan's classic New Yorker tribute to it, and its owner, the eccentric, garrulous, cranky Kenny Shopsin. The last time I was in New York, I managed to eat there, getting breakfast with Teresa Nielsen Hayden at the new location in Essex Market. I was transported by some of the most satisfying food I've ever been privileged to eat.
Now, the notoriously publicity-shy Kenny Shopsin has written a book (with Carolynn Carreno) about the philosophy and history of the restaurant, called Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin, and it, too, is an utterly satisfying, utterly peculiar experience.
Kenny Shopsin's restaurant began life as a grocery store, purchased for $25,000 by his father for his peripatetic son (Shopsin describes himself then as a neurotic who saw a therapist five days a week). In the grocery store, Shopsin found a kind of frenetic peace in cultivating and deepening his relationship with his customers (one of whom, Eve, he married). Gradually, he added prepared food to the grocery lineup, then more and more, as the satisfaction of cooking for others seized his interest, until the grocery store became a restaurant.
The two things I'd remembered about Shopsin's from the New Yorker piece was that there were 900 things on the menu and that parties of five could not be seated, ever, even if they split into a three and a two (there's a lovely bit of verse explaining this rule in the book, written by an affectionate Shopsin's regular). Read the rest