No day trip to town is complete without comfort food and a shmoogie cookie from The Matchbox Café.
The Matchbox Café is the sort of place you don’t want to share with friends. It’s the sort of place that’s so good and so wonderful in its simplicity that it’s almost too special to introduce to others.
But staying mum would be a shame. And besides, the secret about The Matchbox Café has long been out in Dutchess County and farther afield to New York City, thanks to weekenders in search of mouthwatering meals in Rhinebeck. With 10 years under its belt in 2020 (its anniversary is Memorial Day weekend), The Matchbox is a veritable staple in the local foodie community.
So how is it that every visit feels like stumbling onto a secret? It certainly helps that the café is located just outside of the village center and away from the hustle and bustle that crisscrosses between Market and Mill Streets. Instead, it sits quietly on the side of Route 9 in a bitty little shack of a building that’s easily overlooked from the road but impossible to forget once inside.
As a step into The Matchbox’s homey interior reveals, the eatery is nothing less than a hidden gem in the Hudson Valley. The handful of tables scattered throughout is just enough to seat a fair few locals for lunch or dinner without overwhelming the venue’s family-style charm. In fact, that charm, an inimitable aura that pervades the entirety of the space, is integral to the Matchbox’s allure. It’s all thanks to owners Joann and Sam Cohen, two Manhattanites who fell so much in love with Rhinebeck that they decided to make a permanent lifestyle of it.
“We bought a weekend house up here and really liked it,” Joann recalls. At the time, she and Sam were neck-deep with orders for Dessert Delivery, their Manhattan-based dessert business with a predominantly corporate clientele. They had been doing it for 25 years, and business was better than ever.
And then they fell in love with the Hudson Valley. Well, that and the fact that Joann’s 1973 Karmann Ghia (which is still running, by the way) needed an oil change. During a visit to her mechanic, she and Sam noticed a pint-sized shack by the road on the property. When they asked the mechanic if it was for sale, he responded with an enthusiastic “yes.”
“That would be a great hot dog stand,” Joann recalls thinking. By the time The Matchbox Café opened, however, it was a full-fledged comfort food hotspot in Dutchess County (although the couple did make sure to include a hot dog on the menu). The duo sold Dessert Delivery, although they still maintain a few corporate accounts through their bakery kitchen in the Bronx, and committed to their new life up the Hudson River.
Now, ten years later, The Matchbox Café is just as welcoming as ever. The Cohens, both of whom are self-taught, specialize in what they call “fine dining on a paper plate.” Indeed, The Matchbox’s comfort food fare is fine as can be – and served on paper plates, too. It has much to do with the duo’s commitment to local ingredients that shine through simple, thoughtful preparations. As Joann explains it, she and Sam are sticklers for quality, so they prefer to make as much as possible themselves to ensure every dish meets their exacting standards.
Case in point: their hamburger. Not just any burger, the Matchbox Burger is a hand-formed, grass-fed, grain-finished beef patty made with meat sourced from one of three farms in the region. The Matchbox dishes out upwards of 700 burgers a week, so the Cohens work with Falcon’s Fields in Rhinebeck, Herondale Farm in Ancramdale, and Northwind Farms in Tivoli based on demand.
To season the patty, which is 100-percent meat with zero egg or breadcrumbs of any sort, they use a simple sprinkling of salt and pepper. From there, the burger finds a home atop a toasted potato bun slathered with ketchup on one side and garlic mayo on the other. To pair with it, a serving of hand-cut, double-cooked fries completes the order.
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Of course, the burger is just the beginning. The Matchbox excels at comfort food of every sort, from challah French toast and baked macaroni and cheese to homemade lasagna and a signature Veggiburger made from local spinach, zucchini, potato, and onion. The Matchbox serves every dish all day (hello, breakfast for dinner!) alongside a rotating selection of specials. Thanks to the café’s central location between Rhinebeck and Hyde Park, it offers to-go orders of everything from burgers to meatloaf, with some of the most popular dishes (the Veggiburger and the mac and cheese, for instance) available online.
As enticing as The Matchbox’s savory menu is, it’s not complete without the café’s sweet spectrum of offerings. Because the Cohens still operate their bakery kitchen in the Bronx, they make the trek to the city three times a week to pick up the baked goods around which they’ve developed a cult following. Not just any treats, The Matchbox confections rank a cut above in both size and #cheatday potential.
Craving chocolate, perhaps? The shmoogie, a fudgy cookie sandwich filled with ganache and dipped in chocolate, should do the trick. Love a classic candy bar? The Butterfinger brownies are over-the-top in the best way. Can’t decide? The Matchbox displays all its sweet-tooth staples under glass domes atop the front counter, which means they’re impossible to miss while placing an order. In other words, there’s just enough time to ogle the confections and decide upon one or two while burgers sizzle to perfection and sandwiches stack to just the right height.
When it comes time to eat, lucky diners can grab a table indoors or, if the weather cooperates, at one of the picnic tables just outside. The café is a short distance away from Rhinebeck central and historic sites like the Vanderbilt Mansion, which means it’s an ideal pitstop for a picnic, a get-together with friends, or a just-because dessert pick-me-up. The best things really do come in the tiniest packages, after all.
The Matchbox Café
6242 Route 9, Rhinebeck