Wednesday, April 1, 2009

An obsession with Shopsin's

I found this place, Shopsin's, in an online search when I was looking for kid-friendly restaurants in New York City. It seemed like a casual place in the Village (I love the Village), so I delved further, and clicked on 'Menu.' I read menus like other people read newspapers or magazines or, as is the case with Shopsin's menu, incredibly long novels. It isn't long in the way the Cheesecake Factory menu is long, a glossy tome to corporate cookery. 

Shopsin's menu is globally and gastronomically encyclopedic. In a shock and awe kind of way. The proprietor is Kenny Shopsin who, by all accounts, is an untrusting curmudgeon and, judging from the size of the menu, perhaps an idiot savant as well. Calvin Trillin wrote an article about Shopsin's for The New Yorker 6 or 7 years ago and he claims there are 900 items on the menu. I know there are 86 soups because I counted, losing track twice. And that's not counting the yin/yang combinations, where you choose a soup and then a side to go with it, like bacon corn chowder with refried cheese rice. Or oxtail,cabbage,tomato with cream of garlic rice. If you could see my face now, you would see shock and awe at these combinations. My brow is deeply, deeply furrowed.

He also has 45 nameplate sandwiches, 18 different lunchbowls, 37 different skillet breakfasts, another 37 nameplates breakfasts, and two variations on something called Blisters on My Sisters. That doesn't even include the salads, sides, tex mex options and Sliders. He also will make variations on variations for customers he's fond of. My mouth is now agape. 

I normally hate mixing culinary metaphors, but Shopsin's menu fascinates me to no end. Sometimes, when I'm bored, I pull up the menu on the computer and try to make sense of it, like a mathmetician might try to make sense of a calculus problem. How does Kenny Shopsin do it? How does he manage all these dishes? How does he do the purchasing? How does he remember 900 sort of cuckoo combinations? 

By all accounts, Kenny Shopsin is a screamer. And if he doesn't like the way you look or talk or dress, he kicks you out. You have a party larger than 4? You ain't gettin' in and he don't care. Maybe the anxiety of having to remember all 900 items, and then cook them, is just too much for one man to bear. He has been known to say, "If you can't decide what you want, then this ain't the restaurant for you." 

Ok, so, when I do finally make it to Shopsin's, I don't want any back talk from Kenny. This party of one will be having the Sliders.

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