Eat Me

In food, restaurant on 01/04/2009 at 6:55 pm

Recently we discovered an American cook who employs the do whatever the heck you feel like method when cooking: Kenny Shopsin. He has a new book out called Eat Me, which we asked for, and received, from Santa. He owned a General Store on the Lower East Side for many years, and then somehow started cooking in his store which eventually led to his new location in the Essex market where he mostly watches over his kids who are now cooking for him. In fact, his book is a family affair too. One kid photographed it, another designed it, and yet another helped write it. He prints out his own menu in a dizzying array of colors, a repertoire which includes a mash up of European diner/pub food with some Mexican thrown-in for good measure. His favorite story of his philosophy of cooking is one of his regulars who happens to be a kid always gets mac n’ cheese or pancakes when he eats at his shop. One day the kid couldn’t decide what to make, so Kenny decided to put the two items together and voila, a new classic dish was born.

One critique we have of Kenny is his food is just on this side of a tad expensive for what it is. Even though the meal we had there, fresh cinnamon and sugar mini-donuts and sliders with hatch chiles, was the most awesome incarnation of those two food items we’d ever had, it cost $50 for the two of us to eat lunch there. And the long line of hipsters staring at us to hurry up and finish made the ambience just a smidge lacking.

P.S. 1/26/09

Finally my book arrives in the mail and I can sink my claws into it. The cover is hilarious, a graphic minimalist Humpty Dumpty. Tongue-in-cheek metaphors with pull-out pop-up book tabs are not exactly screaming “buy me.” This guy is too much with his manifesto of Get out of my face, buddy. I knew barely any of this before, but it didn’t really seem apparent when we went to eat there.

Actually the new space at Essex is not conducive to his philosophy of being able to control everything in his domain, it’s more like just a booth at a street fair. He was there when we ate, a hulking presence in his suspendered outfit, a caricature of a surly shopkeeper. What made it more ironic was the crunchy, ultra-hipster cheese counter adjacent to his space that had no business. The proprieters were just eyeballing the ever-growing line of pseudo-slackers along the wall.

The stories he writes about in the book are more of a time capsule, a snapshot of New York during its true boho years, when the ethnicity of neighborhoods was palpable. I find his recipes to be a little bland and unexciting; it’s really the vignettes and attempt to recreate the feeling of camraderie and ambience that must’ve truly existed in his first shop that make it a poignant must-read. He is like Basquiat, a middle class interloper on the immigrant experience, a tourist himself who transformed his craft and elevated the art of shopkeeping to an existential experience. He created the persona which he now inhabits, with a stubborness and fortitude only a true New Yorker can brandish without seeming fake. Shopsin’s definitely got street cred, even if he’s now just an actor in a living museum.

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