Before enjoying an unforgettable brunch at Shopsin’s General Store, diners are highly encouraged to study the Shopsin’s menu. With more than 900 menu items (and a bunch more than aren’t listed), first-timers are often perplexed at their choices. This indecision will not fly with owner/chef Kenny Shopsin, who reserves the right to expel anyone who annoys him or does not abide by his rules— or his philosophy on food. Some rules of the establishment are:
No parties greater than 4 will be seated
Everyone member of a seated party must eat
No changes can be made to items on the menu
Do not ask the waiter for recommendations about the menu
There’s even a poem about the rules. The experience is just as crude, abrasive, and wonderfully enjoyable as the menu. Kenny Shopsin’s patrons fear him to a certain extent, which he uses to keep the very specific atmosphere he wants in his restaurant. But if his simple rules are followed, he is revealed to be quite the lovable grouch. We tried to take photos, but not surprisingly, got yelled at.
Kenny and his wife Eve were a staple of the West Village culinary scene since they turned their 1971 corner grocery store into a diner in the 80s. The restaurant was then relocated to a corner in the Essex Street Market in 2007, where it still thrives under Kenny’s governance. According to Kenny’s daughter Melinda, “The West Village was changing so much, with head shops turning into Marc Jacobs and Ralph Lauren stores. That’s not bad, it’s just not our thing” and the Essex Street Market is “such a diverse community with so much character. It reminds me of what I grew up with in my neighborhood and what had started to disappear.” Shopsin’s cult following seems to have relocated with them—the proof begin the patrons that line up to be seated daily.
Among 75+ different kinds of pancakes ranging from Post Modern to Lemon Ricotta, the favorites are probably the Mac & Cheese Pancakes and the Slutty Pancakes. Kenny says “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.” These few words truly capture the philosophy and service one encounters coming from Shopsin’s kitchen.
There was a time when Shopsin’s offered 300 different soups, and although only about 100 remain on the menu, he’d be happy to make you any of them. The menu has options like Cream of Any Vegetable and Cotton Picker Gumbo Melt Soup, but off the menu items like “tomato soup the way Sarah likes it” can also be requested.
To everyone’s great surprise, Kenny Shopsin allowed for a documentary to be made about his West Village diner: I Like Killing Flies. Later, he also published his own book Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin.