The last time I was in NYC one of my friends introduced me to Shopsin’s. I had never heard of this restaurant which is pretty amazing. The owner is known for having a lot of strict rules and creating hundreds of different dishes, many of which are strange combinations. The menu changes fairly frequently but it seems to be kept up to date on the website to get an idea. Some of the rules are quite interesting such as no more than a party of 3 is allowed regardless of if the restaurant is empty or not and no two people in a party may order the same dish. Some of these rules seem stupid and just to exist at the whim of the owner which is fine since it’s his place, although I can’t but help wonder at the reasoning behind them. An easy path to notoriety? Pet hates?
Apparently you really have to be aware of the rules before going in or run the risk of being sworn out and made to leave. The friend I went was on good terms with the people there so no problems, although I have heard of a family coming because the restaurant was listed in a guide book being cussed out and driven away. That is certainly an interesting stance to take…and while I understand that sentiment it doesn’t seen necessary to take it out on an unsuspecting family.
The owner, Kenny Shopsin is apparently quite famous for having outspoken views on everything which the documentary on the restaurant was meant to give a glimpse of. After watching the documentary, I really didn’t see anything particularly special about the guys views. Some of his views were certainly interesting – for instance, he considered that since he had been operating his shop at his previous location for over 30 years he has every right to dictate what the customers can and cannot do. It’s his place and he has been there for such a long time, why not? If you can work this attitude into your business model successfully, then go for it I guess. Overall the documentary isn’t that great as it doesn’t give a lot of insight into his philosophy nor highlight the interesting dishes he makes…it’s basically just watching the family for a few days. Although he has a book out which I have not read but would no doubt give a lot of insight into the man, being in his own words and all.
The dishes themselves seemed interesting however none of them seemed particular filling. A lot of the combinations seem great although you may not like one or two of the items which can be annoying as one of the rules is you can not ask to change anything on the menu. It can make choosing quite a bit longer than it already takes on such a large menu. I ended up getting the superbowl tray to try everything, which at the time consisted of coconut shrimp, 2 tacos, samosas, rice and beans, duck drumsticks and a banana and strawberry or raspberry cannoli. If I remember correctly. Certainly delicious and I would go back to sample other items, but the food is certainly not worth any insults if I were to encounter that. Looking at the current menu the superbowl tray has already changed significantly.
One thing I have wondered about is if it is inevitable that Shopsin’s will be parodied on some sitcom or worked into a drama at some stage? The infamous Soup Nazi episode of Seinfeld made Al Yeganeh’s Soup Kitchen International aware to many people whilst before it was a well known secret. Shopsin’s is somewhat similar although what with a movie and book based on the restaurant perhaps it is not such a niche thing. Perhaps the idea is considered too similar to the Soup Nazi? A place to get amazing food where the owner can be considered mean and have a lot of strange, strictly enforced rules? Surely the rules are different enough and the unique aspect of having such a great variety of ever changing dishes would allow for a fresh take on the idea? If it were to appear in a sitcom however, there is a shortage of NYC based sitcoms at present. Only 30 Rock or How I Met Your Mother would be suited and I can’t think of it working too well in either show.
Update 1 – January 27th 2011
I’m writing this slightly more than 10 days after I actually went to Shopsin’s a second time during the snow storm in NYC, but still better late than never. So, after arriving on Saturday and running into my friends and vaping for that night, we decided to go to Shopsin’s the next day. The biggest change I noticed from going there in July is it seemed to be a lot more famous now…a lot more people were walking past and talking about it or coming just to look, and there were actually lines now.
It was interesting going with my friend who is good friends with Kenny, despite being at the end of the line and all the tables seated, Kenny got an assistant to bring out a spare table so we could both sit down, skipping everyone in line. It was only then I got a sense of just how much my friend was on good terms with Kenny. It’s perhaps mean, but I couldn’t help noticing a table of 3 very large women gouging themselves, while the two largest were having trouble finishing the shortest and plumpest had already finished superbowl tray and was looking for more. Anyway. It really is good food.
They made a bowl of étouffée by mistake which my friend got for half price, while I had avocado grilled cheese, grilled tikka chicken, onion strings and chilli mac. It was quite delicious, although I had thought the price was $17 when it was actually $24. I probably would have gotten something more inventive had I realized all the lunch trays were the same price, but still, it was absolutely delicious. I hope to go back before I leave in the next few days, as it will be cheap Mexican food for the next few months after.