Fans of Shopsin’s, the totally sui generis restaurant-cum-mad scientist lab in the West Village are about to have their favorite spot’s cover blown big time.
As readers of Calvin Trillin’s amusing New Yorker article, “Don’t Mention It” (April 15, 2002) might recall, Shopsin’s is an extremely eccentric little restaurant where you can experience Cotton Picker Gumbo Melt Soup or Pecan Chicken Wild Rice Cream Enchilada, or literally dozens of other dishes you will never see anywhere else. (According to blogger Rachelle Bowden there are over 100 soups on the menu which is available as a PDF file on their Web site. It’s 11 pages long and denser than a Dr. Bronner’s Soap label.)
In addition to the weird menu, there are the weird rules. Writes Trillin:
For years, a rule against copying your neighbor’s order was observed fairly strictly. Customers who had just arrived might ask someone at the next table the name of the scrumptious-looking dish he was eating. Having learned that it was Burmese Hummus—one of my favorites, as it happens, even though it is not hummus and would not cause pangs of nostalgia in the most homesick Burmese—they might order Burmese Hummus, only to have Eve shake her head wearily. No copying. That rule eventually got downgraded into what Ken called “a strong tradition,” and has now pretty much gone by the wayside.
Shopsin’s is about to go huge as I Like Killing Flies, a documentary by photographer, graphic artist, and music video vet (and notorious O.J. Simpson Time Magazine photo manipulator) Matt Mahurin is now part of The 2004 Sundance Film Festival’s Documentary Competition.
I hope I Like Killing Flies gets distribution, since I’m curious to see it and learn more about the inner workings of Shopsin’s and Kenny and Eve Shopsin, the owners and sole employees. I’m a bit surprised they agreed to the film, since Trillin paints a portrait of Kenny as, how shall I put this, a tad publicity shy: ” I’ve managed to write about Shopsin’s from time to time, always observing the prohibition against mentioning its name or location.” (Later in the same piece, Trillin admits that Kenny softened towards the press after he was forced to briefly close and relocate his restaurant: “[N]ot long ago Kenny told me that it was no longer necessary to abide by the rule against mentioning the place in print.” Phew!)
Here’s a prediction: We can expect articles on Kenny and Eve Shopsin cropping up in The New York Post, New York Magazine, Will Ferrell behind the counter at the grill, perhaps?) and elsewhere in the months following Sundance. I hope Shopsin’s can weather the publicity storm. But then again, after doing their own thing for so many decades, it’s probably pretty gratifying to see people lining up outside their restaurant. I just hope everyone remembers to turn off their cell phones and keep their parties under 4.