“Have you been to The Matchbox Café yet?” my friend Phillip asked a while back.
“Their takeout has saved me many times,” he added. “It’s my go-to place when I don’t have time to cook, and I don’t feel like going out to eat.”
That’s how Christopher and I found ourselves at the little stone cottage on Route 9, less than a mile south of the village of Rhinebeck, on a couple of recent occasions. The signage, depicting a box of matches spouting scarlet flames through an open grill, ambiguously implores visitors to “Stay nice.” But there’s no misunderstanding the red awning announcing “Comfort Food & Cookies.”
When husband-and-wife owners Sam and Joann Cohen opened their tiny café in May last year, they weren’t restaurant neophytes. Sam has been baking since 1982. And, for 20-plus years, the couple owned and operated Dessert Delivery, a bakery and café in New York City’s Sutton Place. In its heyday, the bakery (now closed) had its share of fans, including Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and Harrison Ford. Sam still bakes—at a bakery in the Bronx, from which he transports his baked treats to Matchbox.
Over the years, the Cohens often ventured to Dutchess County and grew to love the area. Six years ago, they bought a house in Rhinebeck, and the idea to open an eatery serving “good, unpretentious food at affordable prices” was born. Retirement does not appear to be in the couple’s future—according to their menu, “Matchbox Café is the first of several restaurants planned for the Hudson Valley.”
On a recent Tuesday evening, we stopped by Matchbox for a quick bite. At dusk, the white string lights framing the cottage’s window and door added cheery nuance. Inside, it is, indeed, a cozy space, with a brick-walled fireplace, exposed wood beams overhead, sienna walls and a handful of tables and counter seats. As we pondered the chalk-scrawled items on the blackboard, Sam chatted us up: “Have you been here before?” Nope, we said, first time.
When our gaze wandered to the baked goods on display at the counter, he pointed out treats of significant note. We learned that his chocolate chip cookie ($3) had won “Best Cookie of America” for the last eight years at the International Fancy Food Show. His secret? No nuts, but this quarter-pound cookie features four types of chocolate—semi-sweet, milk chocolate and two different kinds of dark chocolate (the high-end European kind). According to Sam, his red velvet cake ($6/a slice) made it onto Oprah’s list of “Favorite Things” on her final network show.
I ordered the burger ($7.50), medium-rare, accompanied by Matchbox’s signature double-cooked, Belgian-style French fries. At first glance, my burger looked, well, small. But this compact patty on a toasted bun packs a flavor wallop—even plain (no fixings for me)—and was perfectly filling and satisfying. Less is plenty when eating high-quality beef: Matchbox uses grass-fed beef from Herondale Farm in Ancramdale for their burgers. The hand-cut fries were, happily, not overly salted—just right.
Christopher opted for a blackboard special—the Chinese roast pork sandwich with French fries ($13.50). A generous serving of sliced pork smothered in duck sauce arrived in a soft, white sesame bun. On the plus side: “Wow, this is a lot of pork!” Christopher exclaimed. He was less happy about the duck sauce, which he found too sweet and would have preferred it served on the side: “The sweetness dominates, making it hard to taste the pork itself; it also makes for a messy sandwich.”
Sam has a deft hand with baked goods. True to form, the espresso brownie ($3) kept us energized and alert for the ride home. A sophisticated, not-too-sweet brownie, the espresso (a Swiss bean) and chunks of dark chocolate (Sam remained mum about the brand, but it’s European dark chocolate) yielded a unique texture—dense, somewhat dry and crumbly. It was delicious, and perfect to share.
On another Sunday afternoon, we stopped by for an early dinner, which we enjoyed on one of several picnic tables outside the cafe. Christopher indulged his penchant for shrimp after Joann described the shrimp salad sandwich ($9.75) as “a lobster roll, except with shrimp.” A chunky shrimp salad, bathed in mayonnaise, rested on a red-leaf lettuce-lined hot dog bun. The shrimp is abundant and fresh; chopped celery adds nice flavor and crunch, as do the house-made potato chips, which Matchbox gets just right—they’re light, crisp and judiciously salted.
Potato appears in various incarnations at Matchbox, including as a latke (potato pancake) in my “veggie sandwich” ($8.50). A tasty mash of potato, zucchini and spinach, the latke was served on a toasted white hamburger bun with tomato and avocado, along with those signature Belgian fries. It’s a good choice for anyone craving retro-vegetarian comfort food.
For “dessert,” Christopher and I shared a toothsome oatmeal-raisin cookie ($3). “Really good—it’s very oaty,” Christopher said. I also found its chewy texture and lack of insulin-rush sweetness highly appealing.
Matchbox serves a limited breakfast menu ($5 to $10.50) all day. Most items feature local Feather Ridge Farm eggs, like the egg sandwich, breakfast nachos, and Challah French toast.
This fall, expect to see more soups on the menu.
“It won’t be expensive—nothing here is,” said Sam, who reminded me: “We don’t do fancy, only delicious comfort food!”
6242 Route 9
Open Thurs.-Tues.: 9:30am-8pm