The Matchbox Café Strikes the Right Chord in Rhinebeck
If you find yourself heading north on Route 9 just below Rhinebeck and you’re feeling hungry, do yourself a favor and stop at The Matchbox Café. But be warned: don’t blink or you will miss the diminutive Café, housed in a little stone cottage, less than a mile from town on the right. Fortunately, there’s a distinct signpost: a billboard that implores you to “stay nice” and notifies you that burgers, hot dogs, and great cookies are close at hand, just ten seconds away. You’ll know it’s directing you to the Café from the unmistakable matchbox-on-fire logo.
Expect close quarters when you walk in; that’s part of the Matchbox Café’s intimate charm. The tiny fireplace, tightly spaced wooden tables, and soft lighting create an atmosphere of cozy comfort. Your gaze will be drawn front-and-center to the expansive countertop; it’s wide enough to display a delectable array of tasty baked treats while still leaving room for friendly neighbors to rub elbows and trade gossip, or for children to clamber up on the stools in front in order to perch and peer longingly at the goodies temptingly (and safely) arrayed under cake domes.
The warm greeting you’ll receive from husband-and-wife owners Joann and Sam Cohen further ups the charm quotient. Even better, they’ll remember your name on subsequent visits and graciously acknowledge your presence with large smiles and pleasant chatter. Return often enough and they can be counted on to recall your favorites from the broad but selective menu.
Joann and Sam – he’s the pastry chef of the duo – owned and operated a wholesale bakery and café, Dessert Delivery, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side for two decades. However, they often talked about opening a restaurant in Dutchess County, where they’ve owned a home in Rhinebeck since 2005. One day, after having her mint-condition 1973 baby blue Karmann Ghia repaired at M&M Auto, Joann asked the owner, Mark Van De Car, about the little stone cottage next door. When he said it was available, the Cohens’ vision of opening a high-quality, roadside burger joint began to come into focus.
One year – and many renovations – later, The Matchbox opened on Memorial Day, 2011. True to their goals, Joann says, “The burger is the cornerstone of the business,” and after tasting it, you’ll know why. This flame-broiled burger ($6.50 with hand-cut fries), made from local, organic, grass-fed beef, is so sweet and juicy you’ll wonder why you would ever eat another one anywhere else. “We believe in high-quality products and would serve nothing less,” says Joann, “so we are thrilled at how grateful our customers are when they thank us for being here.”
Of course, The Matchbox serves more than burgers and desserts. You could practically dive into a deep plate of breakfast nachos, piled high with bacon and eggs, plus cheese, beans, tomato, onion, and corn ($7.50); or try the buttery challah French toast with maple syrup and bacon ($6.75). For lunch, if you you’d like something other than that burger, try the juicy all-beef hot dog ($4.50; add chili for another dollar); it’s char-grilled to perfection with the dark, smoky flavor you usually only get from your own backyard barbeque. For lighter fare, there’s tuna or chicken salad on 15-grain bread with lettuce, tomato, and avocado ($7.00), or the slightly more decadent chunky shrimp salad on a top-loader bun ($9.75). All the sandwiches come with housemade potato chips – thin, crunchy slices of russet potato with just the right amount of salt.
Drive by in the evening and let yourself be lured in for a large square of housemade lasagna – one version for carnivores and another for vegetarians – both cheese-y and delicious with oozing layers of ricotta and mozzarella ($8.75); or fresh skillet-fried chicken ($6.50 with housemade cole slaw) with crunchy skin outside that is evenly matched in deliciousness by the juicy white meat within. Even if you’re counting calories, don’t skip those hand-cut, twice-fried, french fries; they’re the ideal complement to any selection, or perfect all by themselves ($4).
The great news is that no matter what hour you happen by, you can get whatever you want from the all-day menu, which is packed with the Cohen’s favorite comfort foods given a high-quality interpretation, including the use of local ingredients when feasible. It could be seen as ironic, then, that the small space they’ve chosen for The Matchbox limits their ability to make their own signature sweets on premises. Thus, while all their savory menu items are prepared in the tiny kitchen behind the counter, the Cohens continue to produce their delectable desserts in their Upper East Side bakery, which still serves corporate clients in Manhattan. Sam manages to bake and then safely shuttle his treats from NYC to Rhinebeck for lucky Dutchess County residents and visitors.
Speaking of those desserts, they’re all so appealing that it’s hard to choose. You can’t go wrong with the Red Velvet Cake ($5 per slice); selected by Oprah in 2011 as one of her Favorites, it also won the ‘Best Dessert’ award at Taste of Rhinebeck 2012. Or try the Schmoogie – two dark chocolate cake-y cookies filled with a not-too-sweet chocolate ganache, then also dipped into ganache; a better mood-elevator for just $2.75 cannot be found. The Marshmallow Krispy treats are chewy, gooey, and also a bargain at $2.75 since they are, according to one local five-year-old treat-seeker, “as big as my head.”
Which brings us to this warning: if you go with children, be prepared to pry them away from the baked delights that line the countertop, but also know that they, and you, will eat every delicious morsel of the savory dishes doled out by the Cohens – as well as the desserts. Now that the weather has warmed, you can always choose to keep them out of temptation’s way by sitting outdoors at one of the Café‘s picnic tables, nestled in a small grove of trees. —Colleen Challenger Schropfer
The Matchbox Café
6242 Route 9, Rhinebeck, NY 12572
7 days, 9:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Tuesday – Saturday, 9:30 a.m. – 8 p.m.
Sunday, 9:30 a.m. – 6 p.m.