When I first arrived back in Ithaca for the fall semester, I drove down North Meadow Street and was surprised to see a bold white sign outside one of the many strips of businesses, proclaiming “HIRING — ALL POSITIONS.” I did a double-take, then did a little research and learned about a new restaurant called Milkstand that was soon to open. It doesn’t take long for news of a novel food establishment to spread around Cornell, and I quickly overheard the name “Milkstand” on the daily. This past week, I finally got a chance to check out the new spot, just a few days after its opening.
The restaurant is located in an old Byrne Dairy, a chain of gas station and convenience stores, founded in upstate New York. The owners, who also created Maru Ramen across the street, named their newest business in recognition of the building’s roots.
The menu consists of typical diner food with some enhanced entrees, such as a portobello sandwich ($14) and a kale pasta with pesto ($22). There is definitely a range to be explored, from an array of typical omelettes ($13-$15) to the most expensive item, steak frites ($34). At this price point, Milkstand will not be replacing classics like Sunset Grill or State Street Diner as students’ Sunday morning hangover pit-stop. However, the menu is enticing enough that it has a good chance at becoming a go-to for date nights or more “special” brunches. The draw will likely be those more elevated dishes such as honey-butter toast ($12); nevertheless, their egg dishes do not beat Sunset or State’s in flavor, so there’s no reason for them to also surpass them in price.
As for dietary restrictions, there are four menu items marked vegan, which is enough for someone plant-based (like myself) to find something that they like. However, my rule of thumb is that in order for a restaurant to consider itself friendly to a specific diet, there should be one item in each menu category fulfilling those restrictions, and Milkstand has no vegan brunch offerings. They offer a gluten-free pasta substitution and a cauliflower crust for the flatbreads. I ordered a vegan flatbread, and although it could have been served hotter, I found it to be one of the better vegan imitation dishes I’ve had in Ithaca.
Overall, what is lacking in flavor is made up for in menu offerings. It’s generally solid comfort food, and the portions seem to be generous for most menu items. Again, the more diner-style food offerings are just as good as other local spots, but you seem to pay extra for the aesthetics and the diverse range of options. As the owners and employees adjust to the new space, they plan to add more innovative items to the menu, and perhaps some Asian dishes, inspired by one of the owners’ heritage.
It’s easy to see why Milkstand has already garnered so much attention from students. It’s easily described as an upscale diner, and the interior is unlike any other local establishment. Leather booths and marble tabletops, pink chairs at the two-tops and a long tiled counter give a nostalgic feel to the place, while the minimalist color palette and LED sign spelling out “The Milkstand” elevate the experience. It’s quite simply a photogenic place, and my Instagram feed has already begun to prove that. Milkstand, along with other newer eateries like Hound & Mare, seems to fulfill an aesthetic that students crave while living upstate. Nowadays, it seems like every teenager has a food account on Instagram (myself included), and the constant desire to photograph a pretty plate can best be described by the phrase, “My phone eats first.” The urge to snap a quick shot of your meal makes sense — it’s an easy way to share your food outings with friends, as well as the fact that a colorful dish is probably a flavorful one. A smart restaurateur will respond to that demand by prioritizing the styling of their servings, and a really smart restaurateur will make sure their interior design looks artful, too. Milkstand has nailed this. The physical dining room is gorgeous, and the outside is well done, too — the simplistic black and white awning and marquee help to clean up one of Ithaca’s less gorgeous areas.
As entrepreneurs, owners Chris Kim and Soyong Lee have done an amazing job with Milkstand. The restaurant is gorgeous and differs in many ways from what one expects of Ithaca dining. As students arrive back at school and seek newly-opened indoor dining, the aesthetics of Milkstand have already made it a hot commodity. The menu is robust while still creating a distinct eating experience. Hopefully the coming weeks will allow the owners to perfect the execution of each meal, and maybe even add some spice (both literally and figuratively). Although the price-to-quality ratio is probably not ideal for students, the restaurant is not made to be a Collegetown establishment. They have already enjoyed significant success among locals, and the location will probably keep their customer base at a more mature level. For the student looking to celebrate a special occasion, escape the bustle of campus or simply secure some good Instagram content, Milkstand is ready for you.
Sadie Groberg is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].