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kottke.org posts about Calvin Trillin

Rest In Pancakes, Kenny Shopsin

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 03, 2018

Shopsins

Word is filtering through the NYC food community that Kenny Shopsin has passed away. Together with his wife and children, Shopsin was the proprietor of Shopsin’s General Store, an iconic NYC restaurant, an establishment.

Calvin Trillin wrote a profile of Shopsin and the restaurant for the New Yorker in 2002.

One evening, when the place was nearly full, I saw a party of four come in the door; a couple of them may have been wearing neckties, which wouldn’t have been a plus in a restaurant whose waitress used to wear a T-shirt that said “Die Yuppie Scum.” Kenny took a quick glance from the kitchen and said, “No, we’re closed.” After a brief try at appealing the decision, the party left, and the waitress pulled the security gate partway down to discourage other latecomers.

“It’s only eight o’clock,” I said to Kenny.

“They were nothing but strangers,” he said.

“I think those are usually called customers,” I said. “They come here, you give them food, they give you money. It’s known as the restaurant business.”

Kenny shrugged. “Fuck ‘em,” he said.

Kenny’s daughter Tamara published a memoir recently called Arbitrary Stupid Goal…I read it last month and loved it. The book is not only a love letter to her family’s restaurant and the old West Village (which is now almost entirely gone), but also to her father, who is featured on nearly every page.

Shopsin published a cookbook back in 2008, Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin.

“Pancakes are a luxury, like smoking marijuana or having sex. That’s why I came up with the names Ho Cakes and Slutty Cakes. These are extra decadent, but in a way, every pancake is a Ho Cake.” Thus speaks Kenny Shopsin, legendary (and legendarily eccentric, ill-tempered, and lovable) chef and owner of the Greenwich Village restaurant (and institution), Shopsin’s, which has been in existence since 1971.

Kenny has finally put together his 900-plus-item menu and his unique philosophy-imagine Elizabeth David crossed with Richard Pryor-to create Eat Me, the most profound and profane cookbook you’ll ever read. His rants-on everything from how the customer is not always right to the art of griddling; from how to run a small, ethical, and humane business to how we all should learn to cook in a Goodnight Moon world where everything you need is already in your own home and head-will leave you stunned or laughing or hungry.

Much love to the Shopsin family right now.

Update: Several people wrote in mentioning I Like Killing Flies, a 2004 documentary about Shopsin. There are a few clips of it floating around on YouTube. The NY Times filmed Shopsin making his macaroni and cheese pancakes, one of the hundreds of items on the restaurant’s menu.

Update: The NY Times has an obituary of Shopsin and Helen Rosner wrote Remembering Kenny Shopsin, the Irascible Chef-King of Lower Manhattan for the New Yorker. Yesterday, Kenny’s daughter Tamara posted a photo of her dad on Instagram with the following caption:

@shopsinsnyc will be open Wednesday. My dad won’t be there in body but he will be there. I love you dad.

Calvin Trillin’s food tour of NYC

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 06, 2008

One of the most popular events of the annual New Yorker Festival is Calvin Trillin’s food-oriented walking tour of SoHo, Greenwich Village, Chinatown, and Little Italy. According to the New York Times, one of the tour’s favorite destinations is Banh Mi Saigon Bakery, also one of my top lunch destinations.

Standing outside, dipping his roll into peanut sauce, he said he liked to eat standing up. “If I couldn’t eat in a four-star restaurant again, it would mean nothing to me,” he said. “But if someone said I couldn’t eat any more cilantro, I would be very upset.”

Calvin Trillin, parallel parking expert, parks a

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 27, 2007

Calvin Trillin, parallel parking expert, parks a self-parking car. “As you ease up gradually on the brake, the wheel turns on its own to make one reverse swoop into the spot. Watching the wheel turn by itself is a bit like watching a player piano, except in traffic.”

Quirky West Village eatery Shopsin’s finally closes

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2006

Quirky West Village eatery Shopsin’s finally closes for good. Once more, with feeling: the Shopsin’s menu and Calvin Trillin’s classic piece about the restaurant in the NYer.

Update: James Felder wrote a nice remembrance of eating at Shopsin’s on its final day for Serious Eats. (thx, adam)

I Like Killing Flies is a 2004 documentary

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 24, 2006

I Like Killing Flies is a 2004 documentary about Shopsin’s, a unique NYC eatery. Playing at NYC’s Cinema Village this coming weekend. See also Shopsin’s menu design and Calvin Trillin’s classic NYer piece.

Shopsin’s is moving to Brooklyn. Wonder at

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 29, 2006

Shopsin’s is moving to Brooklyn. Wonder at the marvelous information design of Shopsin’s menu or read Calvin Trillin’s outing of the restaurant in the New Yorker.

Your moment of information design zen: the Shopsin’s menu

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 08, 2004

Two years ago, Calvin Trillin wrote an article for the New Yorker about Shopsin’s, an eccentric eatery in the West Village with about 9 billion menu items:

What does happen occasionally is that Kenny gets an idea for a dish and writes on the specials board — yes, there is a specials board — something like Indomalekian Sunrise Stew. (Kenny and his oldest son, Charlie, invented the country of Indomalekia along with its culinary traditions.) A couple of weeks later, someone finally orders Indomalekian Sunrise Stew and Kenny can’t remember what he had in mind when he thought it up. Fortunately, the customer doesn’t know, either, so Kenny just invents it again on the spot.

Shopsin’s has moved to another Village location since the article came out, but they’ve still got that big old menu. If you dare, feast your eyes on a tour de force of outsider information design, all 11 pages of the Shopsin’s General Store menu.

Shopsins Menu Design

You want chicken fried eggs with a side of pancakes? Page 6. On page 1, there’s gotta be 100 soups alone, including Pistachio Red Chicken Curry. I lost count after 40 different kinds of pancakes on page 10. In amongst the kate, gregg, tamara, and sneaky pete sandwiches on page 2, you’ll find the northern sandwich: peanut butter & bacon on white toast. There appears to be nothing that’s not on the menu, although I looked pretty hard for foie gras and couldn’t find it. If they did have it, you could probably get it chicken fried with whipped cream on top.

On page 8, page 11, and the front of their Web site, you’ll find the restaurant rules:

- No cell phone use
- One meal per person minimum (everyone’s got to eat)
- No smoking
- Limit four people per group

On that last point, the menu has something additional to add (page 4):

Party of Five
you could put a chair at the end
or push the tables together
but dont bother
This banged-up little restaurant
where you would expect no rules at all
has a firm policy against seating
parties of five
And you know you are a party of five
It doesn’t matter if one of you
offers to leave or if
you say you could split into
a party of three and a party of two
or if the five of you come back tomorrow
in Richard Nixon masks and try to pretend
that you don’t know each other
It won’t work: You’re a party of five
even if you’re a beloved regular
Even if the place is empty
Even if you bring logic to bear
Even if you’re a tackle for the Chicago Bears
it won’t work
You’re a party of five
You will always be a party of five
Ahundred blocks from here
a hundred years from now
you will still be a party of five
and you will never savor the soup
or compare the coffee
or hear the wisdom of the cook
and the wit of the waitress or
get to hum the old -time tunes
among which you will find
no quintets

— Robert Hershon

Love it, love it, love it, and I have to get my ass over there one of these days.