A continuation of the ‘Momofuku for you odyssey’. Read why and about Momofuku Noodle back here.
This is no ordinary milk bar.
It’s like the soft serve machines were slipped something illicit on a tab of paper. The pies come in lurid green shades of ‘grasshopper’ (mint and chocolate). Another is made from recycled candy bars, and then there’s the pie famously trademarked as ‘crack’. If you can’t make up your mind you can get two pieces of each smushed together to make up a whole ‘franken pie’. And then there’s the cakes, which come in fat slices, or condensed into balls of ‘truffle’.
Despite the Tracey Emin-esque neon signs lighting the way, David Chang’s Milk Bars are slightly austere spaces. In the East Village the branch adjoins its big sister restaurant, Momofuku Ssam. In midtown it serves as an antechamber to its cousin Ma Peche. Yet both branches are the kind of places where you’ll find yourself concocting new excuses to drop past.
In the morning it’s too easy to slip in for a tristar jam and cream cheese croissant or perhaps one with kimchi and blue cheese (trust us, they’re both very good).
After an indulgent lunch it’s not too hard to find extra room for a piece of one of the pies .
In case you wondered, the crack pie is as addictive as it sounds. The crust is made from toasted oats. The gooey centre is a muddle of butter and sugar. But rather than being sickly it’s a dish that exemplifies something that Christina Tosi, David Chang’s head of pastry has perfected.
Just as you think you’re going to topple into a sticky abyss, a dash of salt pulls you back. It’s there in the crack pie, it’s there in the compost cookies (a mish-mash of pretzels, potato chips, coffee, oats, butterscotch,
and chocolate chips). It’s also there in the soft serves and their mix and match toppings.
What it also does is make everything you eat very intriguing.
I’m sure a sociologist would do much a better job of analysing the interplay between Korean American culture and milk bars. But that’s not going to stop me taking a bash. The vernacular we heard tossed around New York for the local corner store or milk bar was that someone was ‘just dashing down to the Korean’. Owning and operating them is an immigrant career path that has fed the success of many. Candy bars, ‘trash food’ and dairy are main stays of the stock. In this, his own version of ‘milk bars’ David Chang has taken a cultural cliche and reclaimed it, twisting and turning it like one of his soft serves.
At these Milk Bars it’s when you get to the soft serves that things really get loose. Asian flavours like black sesame cuddle up with American classics like snickerdoodle and pumpkin cheesecake. After a few drinks it’s easy to be tempted by the novelty of a barbecue sauce flavour. There could be one tinged with red licorice, or rosemary. To go with there’s a swap meet of toppings that include cornflakes or salted potato chips for extra crunch. A tasting of the three on offer saw us chasing after barbecue sauce, ‘purple drink’ and cereal milk, which is brimming of early morning nostalgia. As you lick at it it’s hard not to have your mind suddenly scraping after the last bits of sweetened milk in a breakfast bowl.
Late at night in the East Village you might even find yourself coming for one of David’s infamous pork belly buns with sriacha chilli sauce, and a beer, glass of wine, or a “fancy” shake. When we were last there the fancy shake was a boozy cocktail of jaegermeister and ‘purple drink’ soft serve. It’s a combination of the tang of fake grape mixed with a liquor known to ruffle the smoothest of feathes. It’s probably best placed as the official beverage for the ‘bad idea bears’.
As you might discover, time spent in a Milk Bar can be dangerous. But what the heck. Life is short. Eat hard.
Momofuku Milk Bar East Village
(NB East Village is licensed and has some savoury items like pork buns available)
207 2nd Avenue, New York
Open every day between 8 am and midnight.
Momofuku Milk Bar Midtown
(Sweets and breads and coffee only)
15 West 56 Street, New York
Open every day between 9 am and midnight.