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Jesse Kornbluth

Jesse Kornbluth

Posted: May 24, 2010 01:30 PM

Shopsin's Is a Taste of Old New York: The Customer's Often Wrong

What's Your Reaction:

Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin -- this time, the title really does say it all. Kenny Shopsin is profane, hard on customers, full of big ideas that are as important to him as anything he'll put on your plate.If your idea of a restaurant is a place where "the customer is always right," do yourself a favor and stop reading right here.

But if you like a combative good time, an original mind and some amazingly simple recipes for home-cooked classics, you might inch a bit closer to the screen and pay close attention to an unusual cookbook, Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin is for you -- and any like-minded friends.

First, the facts: Shopsin's -- the website is bare-bones, the introduction is, perversely, in Spanish -- is a New York institution. Kenny Shopsin and his late wife Eve started it as a Greenwich Village market before turning it -- without much in the way of redecoration -- into a 40-seat restaurant. It's now moved to the Essex Street Market, in a more pristine space with just 20 seats, more constrained hours (9 AM to 3 PM, Monday to Friday, Saturday 9:30 AM to 2 PM) and a menu trimmed from its former 900 items.

Now for some consumer warnings...

Kenny Shopsin on Customer Relations
Sometimes my mind works a bit too fast, and I come to the conclusion of a relationship with customers faster than they get there. The abruptness of my understanding the essence of what's happening is really upsetting to them and makes them vindictive and angry.

Kenny Shopsin on Publicity
[to a New York magazine photographer who asked to take his picture] Get the f--k out of here! What? F--k you! [Sound effect: Shopsin slamming the door.]

Kenny Shopsin on his beloved pancakes
They are flour and milk drowned in butter and some form of sugar. They're crap.

Kenny Shopsin on inventing new entrees

Eventually something inside me, probably skewed by my erotic feelings about breasts and things like that, assembles a product and just shoots it up.

Kenny Shopsin on his huge menu, revised daily
I spent almost $3,000 on toner in the last three months.

Kenny Shopsin on what makes his restaurant special
The brilliance of my restaurant is my ability to control my clientele. The thing that makes my restaurant special is my relationships and interactions with my customers -- and the way they relate and interact with one another. With the wrong people here, those interactions don't happen, so...I probably axe at least one party every day -- and usually more than that.

Kenny Shopsin on what's in it for you
Once we've established a rapport, my customers and I are absolute equals in my restaurant. But I guess I shouldn't expect newcomers to understand this. In all fairness, they're right and I'm the asshole, because my way is hardly the traditional you-give-me-the-money-I-give-you-a-bagel. I want more from them. I want a relationship.

But you get the idea. Underneath the crusty exterior beats a loving hippie heart. And a totally committed owner --- there is no other cook. And were you to order, say, one of the 300 soups, Shopsin would make it right then and there. No steam table here... ever.

So don't be fooled by the signs that say, in so many words, GO AWAY. Play by the key rule: No two people at one table can order the same thing. [It bores Kenny.] Do remember that a pissed-off waitress once poured soup over the head of an annoying customer -- and that Kenny took her side. And, finally, do know you can make his food at home.

This food is international home cooking. Even the eggs and the pancakes can be had in surprising combinations. But it's the soups where Shopsin really shines. Chicken Tortilla Avocado. Brazilian Chicken Garlic Rice. And then chili, made punchier with coffee. An egg, rice and bean mixture called Blisters on My Sisters. A simple Bolognese, tricked up with chili.

And burgers. Kenny offers a zillion, but he's famous for his sliders. So that's the recipe you get.

Kenny's Sliders
makes one set of 3 sliders
1 big yellow Spanish onion, thinly sliced
5 ounces chopped meat (20 to 30 percent fat)
Salt
Butter for the rolls
3 Martin's dinner rolls, or any soft rolls about the size of Parker House rolls, cut in half but leaving them attached to one another if possible
3 slices American cheese

Fry the onion slices until they're brown and crispy (Kenny slices them very thin and throws them in a pot of hot oil until they are charred).

Divide the meat into three equal-sized balls. Preheat a griddle or large cast-iron skillet over high heat until it is searing hot. Place the balls of meat on the griddle or in the pan and press them down with a heavy spatula or bacon weight to form patties about 1/2 inch thick. Season them with salt. Place a bacon weight or heavy lid on top of the patties to keep them smashed down and cook about 2 minutes per side, until they are cooked through.

Meanwhile, butter the insides of the rolls and toast them in whatever way is most convenient for you. Place the patties so they are all in a row, butting up against one another. Put the fried onions on the patties, and then top each patty with one slice of the cheese. On top of the cheese, place the tops of the buns and on top of the tops, the toasted bottoms. Then, on top of everything, place your bacon weight or a lid and cook for one minute to melt the cheese and steam the bun.

To serve, place the bun bottoms on a plate. Carefully slide your spatula under the three patties to lift them up in one piece and place them on top of the bottom buns. Serve at once.

Three of his five children work with Kenny. The book was designed by Kenny's daughter, Tamara, and photographed by Kenny's son-in-law, Jason Fulford. So it's no surprise that, six days a week, Kenny Shopsin wakes up eager to see his kids, engage his customers and, as an aside, cook.

Kenny Shopsin is, in short, a very happy man. Between the recipes and the philosophy, his very useful book can make you happy. You don't think so? To quote the maestro: F--ck off.
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