After my long wrangle with Kenny Shopsin's fascinating and problematic Eat Me last fall, I could not come to New York without visiting his infamous diner. I was hard on the book, and I'm not going to recant. But I see it all a little differently having now enjoyed the full, strange Shopsin's experience.
The restaurant is crammed in the corner of the grimy Essex Market -- a place to come if you ever need pigeon peas or smoked pig tails -- on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Shopsin is notorious for shouting at customers and evicting them from his restaurant for talking on cell phones or if he doesn't like their looks. I'm sorry to report that nothing like this happened to me today, except of course I'm not sorry at all. I would have died of embarrassment.
One of Shopsin's sons seated us and while he used the word "fuckin'" three times in a single sentence, he did so in a friendly way. Kenny S. was hulking and frowning in the background, lumbering slowly between a chair and the kitchen, talking to various customers who appeared to be his friends. A grizzled and morose-looking mountain of a man in a dirty t-shirt and suspenders. I think I got as close to him as I needed.
-a Jewboy sandwich consisting of beef, grilled onions, and cheese on a soft Kaiser roll
-macaroni and cheese pancakes, which come with both hot sauce and maple syrup.
Everything was intensely delicious, the kind of food that you continue eating even after you've had to unbutton your skirt. The place itself is definitely funky, but also comfortable, personal, rather wonderful. The woman next to us pulled out a cell phone and talked for a few minutes which made crazy with anxiety, but no one seemed to care.
Sadly, very little that I cooked from Shopsin's book was delicious; some of it was vile. And Shopsin's crabby descriptions often make his restaurant sound like a hostile little fiefdom, a place you visit at the risk of being publicly humiliated because you're wearing the wrong sweater.
Several people disagreed with my negative assessment of Eat Me, but I realize now that all of them had actually been to the restaurant, which completely changes how you read the book. But shouldn't a book hold up on its own? I may have been wrong about Shopsin as a phenomenon, but I am more convinced than ever that I was right about his book.