A quick overview of the eclectic, overcrowded, and extensive menu at Shopsin’s General Store’s in New York’s Lower East Side sends some potential customers out the door and into a nearby pizzeria. That’s just the way owner and proprietor Kenny Shopsin wants it. If you don’t know what you want to eat, don’t come in. If you’re going to order “what that guy is having”, don’t come in. If you’re going to ask for the most popular item on the menu—well, you get the gist. The Shopsin’s menu is a bit of Pop Art. Shopsin’s daughter, Tamara, once admitted that the worst thing she had ever done was teach her father how to use Adobe InDesign. She didn’t expect him to exploit the text-squeeze function to such an extent.
The menu has been actually cut down considerably from its biggest, most infamous iteration, which featured approximately 800 items, but even in its miniaturized form, it can induce panic in first-time customers. Below, SAVEUR helps out overwhelmed newcomers with recommendations for the top ten dishes at Shopsin’s General Store.
(Sorry, Mr. Shopsin, but these are too delicious to run away from.)
Artichoke Tapenade Panini
An unlikely choice, this particular panini looms like a ghost on the menu’s long list of sandwich selections. (It’s such an unlikely choice that on a recent visit, another of Kenny’s sons, Zack, had to consult the menu to confirm that this particular panini really did exist.) It’s worth the search. The vegetables and pastes create a mix of smooth and grainy textures.
Bread Pudding French Toast
Shopsin understands that sometimes dessert makes the best breakfast. What else is there to say? If you like yours sweet, soft, and chewy, this is the dish for you. We recommend the classic regular french toast, made with cubed baguettes.
Shopsin tried to make traditional crepes before he discovered that his customers actually preferred a fake: a flour tortilla dipped in milk before it’s pan-fried. The method works and produces a consistently delicious crepe. We like it the best with cinnamon.
French Toast Vegan Sausage Sandwich
This one’s a clever mix of savory and sweet by Shopsin, and it’s vegan-friendly. The crisp-edged french toast is perfectly soft at the center, not gooey, and the vegan sausage is smoky with a taste that’s convincingly similar to sausage. Vegans lacking a sweet tooth, take note: the sandwich comes topped with maple syrup.
Garlic Crouton Country Scramble
The country scramble exemplifies the mad genius that Shopsin exhibits in the kitchen. He slides raw eggs into a heated pan as though he were making “sunnies”, and scrambles them only when the yolks begin to set, creating a thin egg white coating over the whole mass. Our favorite is the Garlic Crouton Country Scramble—a mix of garlic-rubbed croutons and fried onions—but any pick from the Country Scramble section will serve you well.
Charlie, one of Kenny’s sons, writes in Eat Me, the 2008 cookbook and homage to Shopsin’s, that he’s never tasted huevos rancheros that are quite as good as his dad’s. Is he biased? Probably. But do we believe him? Absolutely.
Mac & Cheese Pancakes
These savory pancakes are indulgent and not nearly as weird as they sound. Shopsin mixes lightly oiled elbow macaroni into his pancake batter and tops it with feathery shredded cheddar cheese to create a subtle crust. The result is crisp, salty, sweet, and utterly comforting.
Pecan Chicken Wild Rice Enchiladas
This was the favored dish of Kenny’s late wife, Eve. Shopsin laments that it is rarely ordered now that Eve is no longer on the floor to guide customers toward it. Admittedly, there’s nothing Mexican about this dish other than the word enchilada, but the finished product is no less appetizing for the misnomer.
These are possibly the best sliders in the city; think White Castle, but heartier and better executed. We preferred three mini-burgers to four very mini-burgers, but both versions are equally tasty. Choose on the basis of how cute you can bear your lunch to be.
Look to this section of the menu, and pick the pairing that suits you. The ying/yang combo came about after Shopsin bought a set of bowls with curved dividers down the middle—the perfect serving dish, he realized, for a comforting combo, like soup and rice. We like a ying of corn and bacon chowder with a yang of pistachio ricotta rice. The ying/yang, like all of Shopsin’s menu, is about choice, so we advise you to make at least one.