The Matchbox: Rhinebeck Hygge
February 11, 2022
Comfortable, warm, and cozy, and feeling at home. In Denmark, there is a word for this one of a kind feeling, hygge (pronounced hoo-gah).
In writing this article, I came across this word and immediately thought of it as the perfect description for the aesthetic of The Matchbox Cafe in Rhinebeck.
According to The New York Times, the word hygge “often involves an abundance of candles, crackling fireplaces, comforting foods and the company of close friends.”
As soon as you walk into this historic building, you feel welcomed by the warm fireplace, the chalkboard menu, the sweet treats on display, but most of all by the wonderful owners who are a great part of the local community.
You won’t have to deal with the hassle of parking in town or making a reservation. Just simply drive down Route 9, and you’ll see the quaint Matchbox Cafe.
Named for its size, the cafe is truly the gateway to Rhinebeck. This stone and brick building is just up (or down) the road from the center of the village.
When you enter the Matchbox, you read the chalkboard menu straight ahead, although it is likely your eyes glance to the prepared food and delicious baked goods on display before you tell your order to the welcoming owners, Sam and Joann Cohen.
I had the great opportunity to interview the Cohens about the story of their labor of love that has become The Matchbox Cafe.
Sam and Joann originally lived in Manhattan full time where they owned a successful bakery for 25 years. They purchased a weekend house in the Rhinebeck area, and they quickly fell in love with the town. They were inspired to open up their own more affordable restaurant after experiencing the high prices of the restaurants in town.
The goal of creating The Matchbox was to use local ingredients and partner with local farms to provide affordable, homemade, and good quality comfort food.
A longtime friend of the Cohens and well-known designer, Tony Palladino created the burning matchbox logo for the cafe, which looks like it could be the front cover of a novel or a movie poster.
But the story of the building that The Matchbox occupies goes back hundreds of years. It housed a successful gas station in the 20’s and 30’s.
“There were many celebrities that stopped right here for gas in the early 1900’s,” Sam said.
After the gas station, the building “housed a string of failed businesses before we occupied it.”
After the owners moved into the building, Sam and Joann went through the renovation process to transform it from a hair salon which was the most recent business housed in the building.
The original idea for the cafe was a simple hot dog and burger stand.
But with its rising popularity, Sam and Joann decided to expand the menu, developing it to the delicious assortment of great options it is today.
And of course we must acknowledge the hard-working cooks Adrian and his sister Mekelle who make all of the food from scratch.
Because the food is made to order, it might take a bit longer to prepare, but it is well worth the wait because of its great quality.
“This is real home cooking. This is it,”Joann said.
While The Matchbox serves comfort food such as burgers and fries, they have made their menu very accommodating to customers with dietary restrictions.
Their original, homemade veggie burger is a significant part of their varied and delicious menu.
According to the owners, “The signature and most popular item here is the classic Matchbox burger.”
Sometimes the best menu for a cafe like The Matchbox is to stick to the basics that are very well liked.
The Matchbox has not only garnered popular business among locals but has won critical acclaim. They have a shelf full of the many awards they have received over the years to prove it.
They were voted best burger yearly in Rhinebeck by the Hudson Valley Magazine. The Matchbox also won various awards from the Taste of Rhinebeck including best burger and best restaurant overall.
When asked what made them decide to accommodate people with dietary restrictions when creating The Matchbox, Joan simply said “It is a must to be accommodating because so many people have dietary restrictions or preferences. It was obvious to us.”
The menu changes slightly by season. For instance, from summer to early fall they offer crispy fried chicken which is very popular.
“Some people are upset that we don’t have soup in the summer,” Joann said.
But they maintain some things are just not meant for certain seasons. By sticking to simple comfort food, Sam and Joann have landed on a great menu that works very well.
Having been to the cafe a couple of times before, I fondly remembered the local, grass-fed, juicy beef patty alongside the classic fries.
This time, I had the pleasure of trying the Matchbox Veggie Burger which is made of spinach, zucchini, potato, and onion. The portion is very large, and the addition of the avocado and garlic mayo is a great choice. Reminiscent of a latke stuffed with vegetables, the flavorful, filling patty holds together very well. The Matchbox Veggie Burger is truly one of a kind in the area and is the best veggie burger in town.
While Beyond and Impossible burgers have become increasingly popular at restaurants, the creative Matchbox Veggie Burger is a great option for non-meat eaters.
The burger also comes with a side of The Matchbox’s signature fries. thickly cut, salty, crisp, but not too oily, they feel a bit healthier than fast food fries.
I also sampled a chocolate chunk cookie from Matchbox’s bakery based in Manhattan. I would highly recommend this cookie which is giant in size, quite sweet, and very buttery.
When I asked Sam about some unique experiences he has had over the years, he described a few customers that stood out in his memory.
A few years ago there was an Ivy League college student home for the summer who made it her goal to sample and chronicle every item on the Matchbox’s plentiful menu.
It took her 7 days, and she was so full that she couldn’t eat whole portions, but she loved every bit of what she was able to finish.
At the end of her expedition, Joann made her a little ribbon award for her great feat of most food eaten by a single customer.
Pleasant moments like these in The Matchbox show that one of the cafe’s values is community and being kind. On the sign out front below their logo is the phrase “stay nice” which very much reflects the delightful purpose of this cafe.
Sadly, not all customers have taken this phrase to heart. Sam unfortunately said that he has experienced “a rise in abusive and obnoxious people” especially during Covid who make for some unpleasant experiences. He describes that these people ridicule or don’t comply with covid guidelines claiming that it is “fake science”.
If you are someone who finds the restaurants in the area too expensive or offering portions that are too small, the Matchbox is the place for you.
Call in, pick up, or stop by The Matchbox Cafe for warm and tasty comfort food. The Matchbox rivals burgers at Dels, Buns, and Terrapin. The Cohens match these restaurants’ excellence in food quality while bringing a unique experience to their customers.
The gateway to Rhinebeck, The Matchbox Cafe is Hudson Valley hygge at its best, a fantastic place to go in these cold winter months to warm up, meet nice people, and enjoy some great food.
Address: 6242 Rte. 9,
Open every day except Mon, Tues