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“Sorry – no more – we are now closed”

April 15, 2012

The waiter walked up and down the line a few times, assessing the number of people waiting patiently and with those simple words, waved away 6 who arrived just a few minutes after us.  I breathed a sigh of relief, glad that we just made the cut.  It wasn’t even noon yet but the kitchen at Shopsin’s was already getting ready to wrap up the day.  Even though it was Good Friday, we still had to wait twenty minutes before being ushered into a table for two at Shopsin’s store front right by the south east entrance of Essex Market.

The same waiter who dashed the dreams of quite a few diners dropped off two of Shopsin’s dizzying menus.  Even though this was my first time at Shopsin’s, I was quite familiar with the menu, having read through it thoroughly for the past three years.  It has taken me a long time but I have finally managed to cross off this quirky diner off my list.  Situated inside the Essex Market in the Lower East Side, Shopsin’s has quite a reputation for being a unique eatery, serving literally hundreds of dishes from various corners of the world and decadent guilty pleasure dishes such as mac’n cheese pancakes topped with pulled pork and scrambled eggs.  Its owner, Kenny Shopsin, also adds to Shopsin’s eccentricity with his own very unique reputation.  Kenny has owned Shopsin’s since the 1980s, operating it as a general store/diner originally in West Village before moving to the LES.  I look around the tiny store front and catch a glimpse of him resting in a tiny chair, watching the kitchen.  Even after all these years, he is still a presence in the restaurant.

Two cups of orange Julius to start off our lunch.  The drinks came in a metal cup that frosted over from the icy creamy drink inside.  These were refreshing for the warm atrium-like seating inside the sun drenched market.

As an appetizer to the lunch, we started off with a trio of mini sliders with caramelized onions.  Being in a chili mood lately, I couldn’t resist adding the hatch chiles to the sliders.

Each was just two bites but full of juicy beefy goodness.  The soft buns soaked up the fat and juices from the patties and the chiles added a good kick.  I did my research and knew that these were not to be missed and I could not agree more.

Moving onto the main dishes.  It took us a while to decide which one of the numerous options to go with at Shopsin’s.  The bread pudding French toast was a top contender, especially the banana and pecan one but ultimately, we decided to go with two savory choices, the Cajun Blisters on My Sisters and the Mo’Betta.  Now, I was really looking forward to the Cajun Blisters, a monstrosity of a dish with two fried eggs on top of gumbo and two slabs of corn bread.  However, as I worked my way through this dish, I couldn’t help but find my fork meandering to the plate of mac’n cheese pancake samich stuffed with scrambled eggs and maple bacon.

Something about that sweet and savory bite of bacon and maple syrup with pancakes just sang magic in my mouth.  The pancakes had plenty of elbow macaroni which gave the usual soft pancakes a chewy bite.  In comparison, the Cajun Blisters was a little boring in both flavor and texture.  Not even the hot sauce could lift the dish above merely good.

We had to force ourselves to put down the forks before we polished off the entire plates.  Our stomachs were stretched to their limits as we left the market for a much needed stroll.  A very long stroll.  Now that I had finally experienced Shopsin’s, I couldn’t wait to go back to try more of Kenny’s funky combinations.  Perhaps a bowl of oxtail sloppy joe or a Pete Sake with garlic bread and eggs and Asian shrimp?

Shopsin’s General Store | 120 Essex Street, New York, NY 10002 | http://www.shopsins.com/

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