Diner Week Critique: Shopsin’s General Store (Manhattan, N.Y.)

Review | Written and photographed by Nathan Mattise

Directions | Web site | Overall Rating: 4

Owners who double as head chefs become namesakes for their establishments all the time. These folks are also guaranteed to become local celebrities as long as their business thrives.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I recently ate  food prepared by the most famous example of the chef/owner/namesake  within the diner world.

Meet Kenny Shopsin and his Shopsin’s General Store.

Shopsin’s has not only been reviewed by the New York Times, it’s been the subject of a full blown feature. The New Yorker did one of their famous profiles on the place too. I don’t know of many diners famous enough for Wikipedia entires and I know even less whose head chef writes a renown book. Let’s just say you’re a pretty revered establishment if you can get away with running a gift shop that includes bacon-resembling scarves.

Shopsin’s is what you’d expect from a diner with so much talk about it. It’s a cozy hole-in-the-wall that’s actually located within a larger indoor marketplace. There may be five tables in the entire establishment if you’re lucky and there are even less countertop spaces than tables.  The hours are limited (Tues. to Fri. 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sat. 9:30 to 2), only cash is accepted and the lines are often long.

The loveable jerks waitstaff approach and the once-in-a-lifetime food selection are worth any inconvenience you encounter while trying Shopshin’s. The waitstaff has a reputation of being foul-mouthed and in your face, but they are actually incredibly fun and colorful people. They won’t hesitate to tell you who at the table ordered the best, how they razzed the folks who waited in line for at least 45 minutes only to get a hamburger and that Journey karokee renditions are among the worst experiences of their lives. Before even taking a bite to eat you’ll know whether or not you’ll strive to become a regular at Shopsin’s and the staff seems to like it that way.

The food begs you to return for more Shopsin’s advetures however. Their menu may be a bit pricy, but it’s incredibly expansive and includes so many unique items (Slutty cakes?). I was warned about the possible existence of a Mac & Cheese Pancake and couldn’t resist. I ordered a Tasty I (two each of S’mores, Butterscotch and Mac & Cheese pancakes) for $17.  I never had anything quite like it before. The S’mores and Butterscotch were richer and sweeter than any similar cakes I’ve previously tried. The Mac & Cheese were a perfect blend of sweet and heat (when topped with the recommended Frank’s Red Hot) and surprisingly that flavor experience merged well with the dessert like cakes.  The flavors were so gripping that I ended up finishing all six cakes.

Shopsin’s may not be a place for everyone because of the crass atmosphere and the experimental menu. I wouldn’t recommend taking Grandma after a weekend service for instance. If you’re traveling through NYC or have guests come visit however, Shopsin’s is a sure fire way to get them to remember their city culinary experience.

The Final Tab

Pros: Cool/edgy atmosphere, unbelievable selection of food, adventurous taste experience, very high novelty factor

Cons: Pricey, small space and short hours can make it tough to get a seat

Overall: 4-homefries3

Four out of Five (Pancakes with sides | Some days you’ll seek it out)

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