Upstate in the Hudson Valley at Ronnybrook Farm, cows are milked and raised the old-fashioned way. No hormones, no homogenization, no pesticides. In other words, it’s all so organic that it makes organic labeled products look positively processed.
The only thing that is not eco-friendly is the commute you would have to make from the farm to visit their dairy store. It’s approximately 108 miles between the farm in Ancramadale, New York and the Milk Bar inside the Chelsea Market in the heart of the uber-hip Meatpacking District. But it’s still local enough for me (especially since I’m only coming from Queens).
If you’ve never been to the Chelsea Market and you’re a foodie (which if you’re reading this blog and you’re not my mother, I can safely assume you are), you should drop what you’re doing and head over to Ninth Avenue. It’s a food lover’s paradise. Sort of an indoor mall with all types of culinary retail spots and restaurants and kiosks that specialize in everything from artisanal breads to fancy popsicles to lobster rolls. So it makes perfect sense that Ronnybrook would set up a permanent retail store (you can also find their products at numerous Greenmarkets around the city) in this location.
They close at 9pm on weekday nights and we got to the Milk Bar with about 30 minutes to spare. You don’t notice the actual bar that exists on first glance. My eyes immediately zeroed in on the small ice cream freezer and the refrigerator full of everything from cream to yogurt to cheese. But as my eyes adjusted to the rest of the surroundings, I realized this place was set up like an old fashioned soda shop. And it turns out they even serve a menu of breakfast food and sandwiches.
But I have a hunch that most of their business comes from the creamy stuff. I did decide to sit at the bar with my ice cream cone and hang out like a teenager in the ’50’s. That only lasted a few minutes before the surly employees told us they were closing and we had to leave.
Before we were kicked out onto the street (or the hallowed halls of the Market), I got a little taste of what their ice cream is all about. I’m sure the cows they use are tended to well and the cream is as untouched as possible. But I feel there must be something that goes on between the milking of the cows and the packaging of the ice cream that falls short.
First off, I was surprised that they advertise as being local, but never did the word seasonal enter the picture. Sure, they offer blueberry and strawberry, but pumpkin!?! I don’t know how they do things up in the Hudson Valley, but as far as I know, pumpkins aren’t in season until September. Four months away!
I settled on a waffle cone of half mint chip and half coffee. I found the coffee to be too sweet. And the texture was also a bit off. I found it grainy and coarse, which makes me think that the freezer temperature is too low. The mint chip fared a little better with some nice chocolate chips and a decent mint flavor (not quite as fresh as the herb, but not as artificial as toothpaste).
Where they do succeed is with their milkshakes and ice cream cookie sandwiches. I tried both on a subsequent visit and they were fantastic. The chocolate milkshake was fresh and I liked that it had a bit of texture so that it felt like you were drinking ice cream rather than just milk. And the texture of the cookies (I got both oatmeal raisin and chocolate chip) played so well with the creamy butter pecan. In both those cases, I had no issue with the textures of the flavors. They worked perfectly well in ice cream concoctions.
So stick to one of those products and Ronnybrook is a hidden little gem not on a farm where you expect it, but in the treasure trove that is the Chelsea Market.
Is Ronnybrook Milk Bar the best ice cream in NY? I love the local, farm-fresh mission statement and atmosphere. The ice cream on its own falls a little short, but they make some great ice cream treats that help with the texture and sweet flavor. And that’s why they get a 6 out of 10.