Had lunch with Matt and Erica at Shopsin’s in the Essex Street Market. I’ve heard and read the crazy stories about this place. People getting cussed or kicked out for having more than four people or asking too many questions about the huge ass menu. I saw a youtube clip from the documentary, I Like Killing Flies, about the owner/chef Kenny Shopsin and came to the understanding that I should go in, shut my mouth and do as I’m told like he was the Soup Nazi.

It was cold this past Friday during lunch and it wasn’t packed like I’ve seen when I walked by there before. No line/wait. There were two empty tables. I wasn’t sure if we should seat ourselves. Kenny was sitting in a chair in the dining area. I was afraid to ask him. So I stood around looking for the waiter. Then he came and yelled at us that we can’t be standing in the middle (understandably) and to hang out by the wall where there was some foot traffic. The waiter went back to the kitchen and we waited for what seemed like an eternity. It was probably only five mins. We just weren’t sure if he was coming back to seat us or we were just blown off.

We did eventually get seated and got handed this huge menu. There’s some crazy sounding concoctions like Mac ‘n Cheese Pancakes, Taco Fried Chicken and Hot Lunch Sandwiches in a Bowl. I’ve studied the menu at home, read the recommendations on the boards and was still overwhelmed and unsure what to get. I heard the sliders were really good and I noticed on the latest paper menu, they’ve named one of the burger items after Nick Solares (a blogger from Serious Eats who’s reviewed and praised Shopsin’s numerous times). That has to be the ultimate for any food blogger.

A last minute change of mind and ordered the Q3. Moonpie Meatloaf, Ranch Rice & Pork Tamale – Lunch in a Skillet. Mind you, the food is pretty expensive. That was $22 there. It came out quickly, way before Matt’s Po’Girl (fried chicken, fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers, pesto $16) and Erica’s PIAF (eggs, gruyere sauce, fried onions on toast $14).

I was secretly hoping the Moonpie Meatloaf would have some real Moonpie in it as an ingredient. It didn’t though. It was Moonpie shaped layers of meatloaf sandwiching cheese with gravy smothering on top. It was great. Delicious. The hot sauce (homemade I believe) is excellent over the rice & beans and pork tamale.

Now when does the pork tamale ever come into play other than when you order this particular skillet meal? You can’t order it a la carte. It’s a wonder how they have so many items on the menu, so many soups, so many ingredients they need to have prepped, have it relatively quick to order, be of seemingly fresh ingredients and be delicious. How do they do it? I finally watched the documentary last night. I think it’s mainly Kenny and his daughter cooking back there. I don’t get it. It’s amazing.

Kenny was sitting out in the dining room half of the time. We pretty much went without incident throughout our meal. I snuck a few photos without a problem, unlike this NYTimes reporter. I almost felt a little jipped with what I expected. It’s like going to a Brian Jonestown Massacre concert and they finish their set without any fighting. But as soon as we were finishing up, a large family (a few young children, a few adults and few senior citizens) walked by and Kenny yells at them to go away. “We don’t like tourists!” There, I got my money’s worth.

I have to say, after watching the documentary, I really get a feel for this guy. He’s not a bad person. He means well. It downplays all those crazy diner stories I’ve read. At the end of the meal, I turned around to look at the restaurant. There was a moment where Kenny and I made eye contact. It seemed as if he was checking me out, if I was going to be a problem or something. In the end, I felt like we silently agreed that we were both human beings and to just let it be.

There’s a Free Emporium & Gift Exchange next door to Shopsin’s. Sort of an art exhibition where you can bring in an unused gift that you don’t want in exchange for something that someone else left. Pretty interesting. I asked and apparently there’s no value scale, meaning you can bring in your new iPhone in exchanged for the large Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Bar or vice versa. It’s open through January 9, 2010.

Shopsin’s – 120 Essex St Stall No. 16 (btw Rivington & Delancey St) New York 10002
Crazy hours for most office working folks. Tues-Fri 9am-3pm; Saturday 9am-2pm.
No more than 4 people in a party. Everyone must eat a meal. They can’t accommodate food allergies. No substitutions, additions or ommissions. No Cell Phones.

Watch the Shopsin’s documentary I Like Killing Flies on DVD. Also on Netflix Instant Streaming.

About The Author

Jason Lam

Food blogger since 2008. Hair model since 2003.

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One Response

  1. matthewcarlin

    I used to go to Shopsin’s once in a while when it was on Carmine and somewhat to my chagrin never witnessed any of the infamous antics. But I did try the mac & cheese pancakes which were really good. I seem to remember raspberries being in the mix too, but I could be wrong. The chicken tortilla soup was another good one. I gotta try the Essex location already…


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