Milk It

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Ronnybrook Milk Bar
75 9th Ave. (in Chelsea Market)

For years, the owners of Ronnybrook Farm, a dairy farm and creamery in the Hudson Valley, had a small ice cream bar—more of a booth than a store—in Chelsea Market. But Mark Sarosi, a family friend with a background in architecture and graphic design, had visions of something grander.

In 2006, he finally convinced the family to back an expansion of the space to better showcase the farm’s products. The result is Ronnybrook Milk Bar, a charming combination of small-time diner and country store that serves a refreshingly old-fashioned menu of breakfast plates, sandwiches, soups and dairy-based beverages and desserts in the epicenter of the Market bustle.

The space is utterly charming. The sidewalls are a floor-to-ceiling stack of vintage milk crates that for years sat unused in a barn behind the farm. A back wall of Douglas Fir planks features a hidden door that leads to the storerooms and kitchen. But the highlight of the space is the bar itself, which forms a perfect circle in the center of the room. The design was intended to promote a communal eating experience, and it achieves this result; from your perch, you can watch shoppers passing back and forth through the Market’s central corridor or chat up other Milk Bar patrons who have dropped in for a snack.

While the space is charming, the service—at least on the day I visited—is a touch less so. Asked if the yogurt cheese goes well with crackers, a cashier said: “That depends if you like the taste.” When another delivered my Diet Coke, he neglected to remove the bottle-cap. Must be twist-off, I thought. Actually, no. And the system for ordering may be intentionally informal, but it’s also confusing. I saw more than a few customers sit down and quietly wait in vain for one of the cashiers to take their order.  They hadn’t noticed one of the numerous orange placards that inform diners that they have to place their orders—and pay—up front.

But with a menu like this one, who really cares? You can practically feel the down-home country warmth emanating from the pages of the menu. For breakfast, try an egg-in-the hole ($6.50): toasted rye bread smothered in melted Grafton cheddar with applewood smoked bacon. For lunch, start with the chilled Ronnybrook yogurt soup with cucumber noodles, chives and fried chickpeas, then move on to a chicken, ham or tuna sandwich bursting with garnishes.  And if you’re still hungry (or even if you’re not), finish with a scoop or two of ice cream, or one of the shop’s signature milkshakes.

On a warm summer day, nothing beats jumping in a car and heading to the country, stopping at farm stands along the road. But if your circumstances don’t allow it—or if it’s one of those dreary winter afternoons when you’re looking to hunker down with something that will warm your body and soul—it’s hard to imagine a better place than Ronnybrook Milk Bar.

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