Crack is coming to Harvard Square.
In this case, that’s a good thing: Christina Tosi’s Milk Bar will open in early 2019 at 1-3 Brattle St., formerly home to Tory Row restaurant and the Crimson Corner newsstand.
The first Milk Bar opened in Manhattan’s East Village in 2008 inside David Chang’s Momofuku Ssam Bar. It drew a following with crack pie — a gooey, oat-crusted, butter-and-brown-sugar rush — and cereal milk soft-serve, which tastes just like the bottom of your childhood cereal bowl.
Tosi started as a pastry chef for Chang, and he provided seed money for her own business and continues to invest. Now, Tosi is a certified sugar maven: She was named Outstanding Pastry Chef at the James Beard awards in 2015, and she operates Milk Bars from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., as well as a robust e-commerce business. There are partnerships with SoulCycle (gluten- and dairy-free snacks), Madewell (aprons), and JetBlue (in-flight cookies).
This branch will share a space with &pizza, a Washington, D.C.-based pizza chain.
“Think a modern take on the combined stores of the 1990s, like Baskin-Robbins and Taco Bell,” Tosi says.
Tosi grew up in suburban northern Virginia, and &pizza founder Michael Lastoria is a longtime friend and collaborator. It was he who located the Cambridge space and asked her to team up once again. With family in the Boston area, she happily agreed.
The plans weren’t always sweet. There has been bureaucratic red tape, with pushback about the opening from city officials citing concerns about the neighborhood’s historic aesthetic and need for more pizza. (As if there were such a thing.)
And, true enough, Boston already has plenty of sweet diversions. There is Joanne Chang, of course, and her Flour empire. And in Harvard Square alone, there is also Tatte, and Mike’s Pastry, and Insomnia Cookies, and good ol’ Dunkin’ Donuts, just to name a few. Do we really need more sugar?
Tosi thinks so. She’s eager to join Boston’s “amazing forces for dessert that already exist” — and, in conversation, her affection for confection is nearly contagious.
“It’s an escape, literally and emotionally. It brings people together. It makes things that are heavy feel lighter. It makes moments brighter. It’s what we need more of in the world,” she says. “There’s a reason we ship our goods: The world needs more reasons to eat cake.”
It’s very hard to argue with that.
Plus, this isn’t your average dessert boutique. She describes Milk Bar as a “quirky American-style bakery” that won’t compete with your beloved childhood chocolate cake and apple pie memories. Instead: bagel bread stuffed with cream cheese and bacon; peppermint bark cake; cookies spiked with cornflakes.
“We don’t make apple pie. We make crack pie. . . . You won’t find a chocolate chip cookie; you’ll find a chocolate chip cookie with potato and butterscotch and pretzels folded in,” she says.
Tosi’s Milk Bar joins a growing number of New York exports here in Boston. There is Eataly, of course. Sister restaurant Fuku opened in the Seaport in October. Magnolia Bakery now peddles vanilla buttercream cupcakes in Quincy Market. This Milk Bar will be mere blocks from another New York sensation, Shake Shack.
But Tosi has a personal connection to the city thanks to local in-laws and visits often. She makes it clear that she is not an interloper. Her regional tastes are on-point. She loves Santarpio’s and Pinocchio’s pizza. Sofra’s Maura Kilpatrick is a hero. “I’m obsessed with Maura’s sesame cashew bars. When anyone I know is going anywhere near Cambridge, I say, ‘Please bring me back six packs of cashew bars! I won’t share them with anyone,” she says. She counts Chang and Ken Oringer as pals, she says.
In addition to enjoying our food, she’s also a fan of our accents.
“[My] in-laws have wicked Boston accents,” she says. “I could just record my father-in-law saying he wants to take a bath.”
She’s unclear how many people will be hired at the Cambridge Milk Bar, because it depends on the shop’s success. Several native Bostonians within the company will move here for the opening, however. There are about 30 seats outside and 30 inside, and it’s all counter service.
“Survival of the fittest,” she says with a laugh.
Or maybe not the fittest, after a few helpings of crack pie.