Not sure if it was all the 20th anniversary coverage of Sept. 11, but I felt like watching the 2004 documentary I Like Killing Flies this week. The film is about famed NYC cook Kenny Shopsin and his idiosyncratic family-run restaurant Shopsin’s General Store. The film is not so much about the trauma of 9/11 in Lower Manhattan but the casualties of the real estate trends that change a neighborhood’s character. In this case, the gentrification of Greenwich Village in the late 1990s/early 2000s.
Eve Shopsin passed away during the making of the documentary, and Kenny died in 2018, but the restaurant is still around, run by the come of the kids at the Essex Market on the Lower East Side. Covid can’t keep the Shopsin clan down, and their website says they are doing take-out and delivery (something you could not get in the 2002/3 incarnation of Shopsin’s) to stay open.
I went in the Essex Market in 2014 trying to find the place, but I must have walked past the booth–I read it was tiny. There are a ton of vendors and its easy to get lost in the place. Not sure if I was secretly hoping to get kicked out by the famously cantankerous waitstaff or secretly relieved I saved myself the embarrassment of trying to fit in.
Not being in New York and able to eat at the place today, I could read daughter Tamara Shopsin’s graphic memoir, Arbitrary Stupid Goal. It’s about growing up in a larger than life family and the disappearing way of life of her 1970s/80s West Village childhood. Or I can pick up Eat Me: The Food and Philosophy of Kenny Shopsin, a cookbook that famously advises you not to follow the recipes too closely.
Essential reading, however, is Calvin Trillin’s 2002 New Yorker profile of Kenny and Eve and Shopsin’s General Store.
Bonus video: Kenny Shopsin shows Conan O’Brien how to make pancakes in 2008: