I get my kicks intermittently at best – but I sure got some this morning at Shopsins.
I first heard about Shopsins in the early nineties, when a younger me extricated himself from impending nuptials, moved to the city and dated a girl three blocks from the original spot on Bedford & Morton.
We found ourselves the sole patrons one slow weeknight accompanied only by chef/owner Kenny Shopsin and now late wife Eve. I had no appreciation just how special the moment was. Pretty consistent behavior for my dumb ass at the time.
It would be over ten years before I’d return to Shopsins – even when I found myself living blocks from their current spot in Essex Market. I wasn’t hip to it. I got on the bandwagon after the Shopsin documentary “I Like Killing Flies.” I won’t lie. You wanna make something of it?
This morning I took the F to Delancey and bellied up to the counter where Kenny was already holding court. Son Zack popping in and out of the kitchen, Kenny expounding on local news (Chris Christie), waiter Luke experimenting with a (bacon?) milkshake.
Zack hands some pecans to a young girl (2-ish) bouncing on her dad’s knee. She starts chewing.
“Are these pecans?” the father asks.
“Yeah, she’s not allergic to nuts, is she?” Zack responds.
“Don’t you think that question is a little late, you asshole?” Kenny barks lovingly.
Thankfully, the presence of the two year old does little to sway the vocabulary. If you don’t want to hear the word cocksucker over breakfast, you might want to eat somewhere else. I prefer it with breakfast.
I planned on ordering something new (there are literally hundreds of choices on the menu) but went with my steady dish the Ova; perfectly poached eggs over bacon cheese grits and (fried?) buttered toast. I’m drinking some excellent coffee while I wait.
Kenny is telling us how most habaneros come from Belize just as a caddy of squirt-bottled hot sauces is placed in front of me. Written in black marker on one; Belize. The super hot one, I’m told.
“You’ll be the first one to try it,” Kenny says.
I don’t eat hot sauce, but what the hell. When Zack takes the Ova out of the oven and places that hot pan in front of me, I look down, make a mental note that I’m lucky, and squirt a dab on the side.
“Just a little,” Luke warns.
Well, I liked it enough to refill a few times. It was smokey and attacked the palate in a way that still allowed you to taste everything. I made my way happily through the meal, accompanied by frequents grunts of joy, all the while pretending I wasn’t a little starstruck. These people are the real deal. This is the kind of well prepared tasteful decadence you’d be super-lucky to get anywhere.
“This is awesome,” I say to Zack.
“Oh thanks, man.”
I paid my check and put on my coat, turning just in time to witness the 2 year old tasting bacon for the first time in her life.
(Spoiler alert! She loved it.)
We strolled leisurely down 11th, avoiding the tourist-infused High Line, toward a chef’s counter reservation at Toro where we happily ordered a step beyond what might be considered reasonable.
We also found the Hell’s Bell Pepper to be just the right amount of savory – tequila, mezcal, yellow bell pepper, agave and bird’s eye chili.
Now we’re diving headfirst into an expensive plate of Paleta Iberico De Cinco Jotas – a dry cured boneless Iberian ham that delights and is gone before you can say “twenty eight dollars.”
Some addictive Maiz Asado con Alioli y Queso Cotija followed – a dangerously convenient version of grilled street corn, and a nice foil for the Setas, a bowl of deliciously unctuous mushrooms set beneath a sexy chivy yolk.
Then things got heavy – in a good way. Unable to choose between bone marrow and foie gras, we picked both. I’m more of a purist when it comes to bone marrow, so the Asado De Hueso with guajillo and chorizo XO, Brussels sprouts and escargot – perhaps has a little too much going on. Yet I ate it happily.
We opted for the Foie Gras Tonkatsu – a crispy foie sandwich with strawberry tomato jam and pickled daikon. Kinda perfect bar food if you’re OK with foie taking second billing. Nice marriage of textures, too.
“Hey man, that’s probably delicious, right?” asked a stranger at the bar – flanked by two liquored up and leathery ladies of a certain age. I smiled and snapped a picture of his seared foie.
For dessert we had hamburgers.
Ok, not dessert per se, but our last course were a pair of delectable Hamburguesas, mini dry-aged burgers with a spicy kick on a potato bun.
In a nutshell, Toro is the perfect place for you and your overpaid friends to meet up, get buzzed, and eat decadent small plates while ignoring a world gone mad.
Prospect Heights restaurant from chef-owner Greg Baxtrom packs them in for dinner and recently rolled out brunch. Expect twists and turns, like a breakfast of Carrot Kathi Rolls (Carrot Pulp Falafel, Cilantro Stem Raita) or the Duck Duo, crispy duck sausage with scrambled egg and maple flatbread. And don’t leave without trying their bacon, egg, and cheese Egg Rolls, as delicious as they are adorable.
The tight and thoughtful dinner menu includes a scrumptious Duck Liver Mouse, a clever Beef Tartare, Heritage Pork with Raclette, and other seasonal curve-balls. Toss in a playful cocktail menu and you’ve found the perfect spot for those who like a dash of quirkiness on the plate.
What To Do: Paris
On your fourth trip to Paris, you take less pictures and enjoy more actual moments. Best to live like a local. We rent an apartment and stock up on breads from Poilâne, french butter, various cheeses, some fromage de tête. Good coffee. And the inevitable bottle of Orangina.
The Google Map below has more restaurants than you could see in any one trip. I wound up having super memorable tasting menus at Frenchie and Ellsworth, and a nice meal at Ore in Versailles. But we also had excellent low key bistro meals, enjoyed Pizzeria Popolare, and some cocktails and charcuterie at aveK.
There’s always next time.
Between the historic sites, architecture, museums, churches, parks, and restaurants… there’s a whole hell of a lot to do in and around Paris. Check out our Google Map for some ideas.
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