Saturday, March 5, 2011

Mac 'n' Cheese Pancakes at Shopsins

Last weekend, Gary, Christine, Chaya and I went to brunch at Shopsins in the Essex St Market on the Lower East Side. Shopsins is owned and run by Kenny Shopsin - whose food philosophy and awkwardly callous demeanor landed him a staring role in the 2004 documentary: "I Like Killing Flies" (available on Netflix).

Kenny Shopsin

There are only 20 seats in the restaurant, and there are rules one must follow in order to eat here, including: no cell phones, no ordering things not on the menu, no parties larger than four... break any of these rules and you're gone. Another one of the rules is: know what you want before you come in. Why? There are nearly 900 combinations Kenny's tiny kitchen turns out (click here for the menu), and patience isn't exactly what this restaurant is known for.

A word of caution: don't even think about coming in as a party of 5 and pretending to be a party of 3 casually meeting up with a party of 2 - you math-sly tricksters aren't fooling anyone...certainly not Kenny. (For more on the "rules" see "Don't Mention It" in The New Yorker or "Flipping the Bird" in The New York Times).

So why is there a cult following for this tiny place, in the middle of a small market, where it's highly probable that you'll be cursed-out by the unpredictably cantankerous chef-owner? Simple - for the same reason Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine (from the show Seinfeld) fearfully followed the the Soup Nazi's outrageous demands ... the food is that darn good.

After reviewing the menu, watching the documentary, and going over the rules during the car ride into the city - the four of us felt somewhat prepared to face Kenny on Sunday morning. We made sure to arrive before the market opened, so we only had to wait for about an hour before getting seated in the "bar area" - right next to Kenny himself, who sat perched on a lone chair where he could simultaneously watch and comment on the kitchen and his patrons. Needless to say, we were nervous. Luckily, Kenny seemed to be in a good mood, and only lobbed a few f-bombs here and there at his staff.

Any trepidation about the Shopsins experience, however, melted away with my first bite of mac 'n' cheese pancakes. Let me repeat that: MAC 'N' CHEESE PANCAKES. Brilliant. To learn how Kenny cooks up these little fluffy, cheesy disks of perfection (and to get a taste of Kenny's character) watch: BATTER UP.

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