Thursday, March 31, 2011
Shopsin's, New York NY
I love kitschy breakfasts – big pancakes covered with sauce or (and?) syrup, a waffle with pie and ice cream, deep fried bacon and egg sandwiches with a peanut butter banana doughnut, bread pudding drowned in chocolate after chicken and bacon waffles; I’ve had all the above plus foie gras atop duck hash yet obscure hours and bad had thus far managed to foil my attempts New York’s parlor of kitsch; the well documented (yeah, there is a documentary) Shopsin’s General Store at the Essex Market. Vowing that I’d not be denied this time around and with my conference now over the day began with a run unlike any other – this time around Central Park – after which I packed my bags, showered, and walked down to the LES arriving at Essex at 9:00am sharp.
Having already heard the rumors of surly service, plethoric swearing, and a “the customer isn’t always right” approach I was happy to see that there was no line waiting as I approached the small shop and with Kenny seated on his chair already holding court about the “f*cking janitors” I waited patiently until I was greeted by his son – wearing a vintage Judas Priest shirt – who approached me and pointed to a chair with a gruff “ 'morning.”
Replying in the negative when asking if I knew what I wanted as I took a seat on the hard steel chair I was handed a menu and asked if I wanted coffee I agreed. With the menu extensive to say the least and another two parties arriving to be seated I was told to “give me a wave when you’re ready” and left to decide I sipped my coffee – a decent brew that only costs $2 and comes with surprisingly timely refills – until I’d decided on an order I figured would be manageable and waved, ordered, and was told “good choices – it’ll be about 15 minutes.”
Thus far quite pleased with the service at Shopsin’s my wait would provide the sort of scene on which the legends are built, the sort of stories that keep some people away from Shopsin’s while amusing others to no end – in this case directed at two guys seated directly next to me who had the audacity to not only “dilly-dally and waste my time” while ordering, but also to ask if the restaurant offered espresso – a request answered by “do we look like a G*ddamned Starbucks?” but apparently not quite enough to get them thrown out.
With the show over and my coffee again refilled without a request it was at this point, almost exactly fifteen minutes after ordering, that my first dish would arrive and paired with a sealed bottle of 100% pure maple syrup the Brown Sugar, Banana, and Walnut Bread Pudding French Toast was everything I hoped it would be and then some with thick chunks of custard infused challah intermingled with caramelized bananas and toasted walnuts plus ample notes of cinnamon, brown sugar, and vanilla throughout. More a “pancake” of French Toast than a formed French Toast I will note that at $16 the dish was certainly not cheap, but at the same time the substantial portion and quality ingredients – particularly the syrup – shined.
With the French Toast partially consumed my second item to arrive would be perhaps Shopsin’s most famous and not wanting to upset the balance of power and be accused of over-ordering I opted for a half stack of the Mac n’ Cheese Pancakes, a $9 fusion of pancake batter, cooked macaroni, shredded cheddar, and another bottle of maple syrup plus a big ol’ squeeze bottle of hot sauce. Exactly as odd as it sounds and pan fried first before being finished in the oven I have to say that although unexpected I really loved the juxtapositions of both textures and flavors – sweet and savory, fluffy and dense, doughy and crunchy – then add the sweet syrup and the tangy spice of the hot sauce…its just one of those things you have to try for yourself.
With every last bite consumed my server stopped by and with a clap on the back said “good job” and getting one last refill on my coffee the check was delivered – a pricey $35 cash after tax and tip but for a whole lot of really good food. With the bill collected I was asked if I needed change and telling him no I received a “Thanks man” followed by a “Good job – she thought you were too damned skinny to eat all that” yelled from Kenny pointing at the woman next to him to which I replied “I could’ve eaten twice that” with the reaction being a smiling “get the f*ck outta here.”