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Your moment of information design zen: the Shopsin’s menu

Two years ago, Calvin Trillin wrote an article for the New Yorker about Shopsin’s, an eccentric eatery in the West Village with about 9 billion menu items:

What does happen occasionally is that Kenny gets an idea for a dish and writes on the specials board โ€” yes, there is a specials board โ€” something like Indomalekian Sunrise Stew. (Kenny and his oldest son, Charlie, invented the country of Indomalekia along with its culinary traditions.) A couple of weeks later, someone finally orders Indomalekian Sunrise Stew and Kenny can’t remember what he had in mind when he thought it up. Fortunately, the customer doesn’t know, either, so Kenny just invents it again on the spot.

Shopsin’s has moved to another Village location since the article came out, but they’ve still got that big old menu. If you dare, feast your eyes on a tour de force of outsider information design, all 11 pages of the Shopsin’s General Store menu.

Shopsins Menu Design

You want chicken fried eggs with a side of pancakes? Page 6. On page 1, there’s gotta be 100 soups alone, including Pistachio Red Chicken Curry. I lost count after 40 different kinds of pancakes on page 10. In amongst the kate, gregg, tamara, and sneaky pete sandwiches on page 2, you’ll find the northern sandwich: peanut butter & bacon on white toast. There appears to be nothing that’s not on the menu, although I looked pretty hard for foie gras and couldn’t find it. If they did have it, you could probably get it chicken fried with whipped cream on top.

On page 8, page 11, and the front of their Web site, you’ll find the restaurant rules:

- No cell phone use
- One meal per person minimum (everyone’s got to eat)
- No smoking
- Limit four people per group

On that last point, the menu has something additional to add (page 4):

Party of Five
you could put a chair at the end
or push the tables together
but dont bother
This banged-up little restaurant
where you would expect no rules at all
has a firm policy against seating
parties of five
And you know you are a party of five
It doesn’t matter if one of you
offers to leave or if
you say you could split into
a party of three and a party of two
or if the five of you come back tomorrow
in Richard Nixon masks and try to pretend
that you don’t know each other
It won’t work: You’re a party of five
even if you’re a beloved regular
Even if the place is empty
Even if you bring logic to bear
Even if you’re a tackle for the Chicago Bears
it won’t work
You’re a party of five
You will always be a party of five
Ahundred blocks from here
a hundred years from now
you will still be a party of five
and you will never savor the soup
or compare the coffee
or hear the wisdom of the cook
and the wit of the waitress or
get to hum the old -time tunes
among which you will find
no quintets

โ€” Robert Hershon

Love it, love it, love it, and I have to get my ass over there one of these days.