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Momofuku Milk Bar: Baking Buns Born To Run

The latest outpost of the Momofuku empire is an unapologetic carry-out operation.

Hunched over a steamed rice bun, full to bursting with miso onions, shiitake mushrooms, pickled carrots and a side of kimchi slaw, one might not immediately guess that I was shoveling my lunch at a local Brooklyn bakery. But the menu available at Momofuku Milk Bar doesn't play to general conventions.

In fact, owner Christina Tosi, a protege of David Chang and honored as Rising Star Chef at Monday night's James Beard Foundation Awards, has largely made quirk her calling card.

Soft-serve ice cream is pumped in flavors such as Cereal Milk. Stuffed croissants reveal Cubano-sandwich ingredients. Birthday cakes are sold unabashedly un-iced.

And the gambit works. Nearly everything on offer is addictive, making drive-by bakery runs en route to the Carroll Street subway station below hard to resist—especially since the shop encourages it.

Slices of pie are delivered inside brown craft envelopes, cookies come individually pre-wrapped in cellophane, even warmed menu items, such as a pistachio croissant or pork bun, are packed in eco-friendly to-go containers or rolled in tin foil for easy transport.

The message is clear: "Thank you for coming. Now, please leave." This is most evident in the lack of seating.

While Momofuku Milk Bar locations throughout the city are stool-less, I was still surprised to discover that there were none inside the Carroll Gardens shop.

Tosi told a Patch reporter prior to opening that this outpost is the largest of all five Milk Bars, with "the majority of the footprint devoted to patron use." I assumed that meant chairs, benches or some other place to put ones bottom.

Not so. Instead, there is a stainless-steel bar attached to the floor-to-ceiling windows, where patrons can lean and sip or snack—provided that they aren't children or under 5'2".

Wearing Converse sneakers, the counter hit squarely at my chest, making it just bearable to bend over a meal that requires a knife and fork. 

Should stools exist merely to comfort the vertically challenged in life? Of course not. But just as in an effort to blend with the surrounding architecture, Momofuku Milk Bar might have considered the gesture of goodwill that even limited seating would communicate to stroller-laden mothers or slower-moving seniors, which there are still many of in this quickly gentrifying neighborhood.

It's true that there is a bench outside the storefront with room enough for two or three small behinds. But if it's raining, as it was the last three times I visited, we're back to nil. And so I have stood.

Looking out over the traffic and passersby, munching on a Compost Cookie crammed with coffee grinds, potato chip shards, chocolate chips, butterscotch, rolled oats and other goodness, one might easily forget inconveniences like standing and focus on the rich, buttery, salty flavors exploding like so many fireworks on the 4th of July inside ones mouth. 

The appeal of Tosi's creations is that they are layered, nuanced riffs on familiar, homey concepts: Corn Cookies. Blondie Pie. Cereal Milk. Bagel Bombs. 

Comfort foods one and all.

But if you really want to feel comforted, then take the many hints being dropped by Momofuku Milk Bar, put your goodies in a bag and, as The English Beat once sang, "Save It For Later." Because food this good deserves to be lingered over. Just not here. 

Momofuku Milk Bar is located at 360 Smith Street at 2nd Place. The bakery is open 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. seven days a week.

John May 09, 2012 at 11:51 AM
The pork buns and desserts here are amazing. I am glad to see this place in the neighborhood.
jackrusso May 09, 2012 at 09:58 PM
speaking of gestures of goodwill, how 'bout doing something with the window on the subway side? seems like a bad/lazy branding decision (aside from that terrible logo) to show your customers the back of your coffee machines. A wasted opportunity to let your new neighborhood and visitors from the train know you're there.
Anthony May 11, 2012 at 04:06 AM
Instead of complaining about their window not having enough decorations, how about spending $4.50 for their cereal milk. So stupid. I will never step foot in this store.

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