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FOOD & TRAVEL

At New York City cafe, Milk Street meets Wall Street

Milk Street Cafe, in New York City, offers many food stations with a wide array of takeout options, as well as seating in the back. Milk Street Cafe, in New York City, offers many food stations with a wide array of takeout options, as well as seating in the back. (Lisa Zwirn for The Boston Globe)
By Lisa Zwirn
Globe Correspondent / September 7, 2011

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NEW YORK - No matter what brings you to Lower Manhattan - perhaps a visit to three-century-old Trinity Church or a business meeting at the New York Stock Exchange - there’s a place to dine nearby that will remind you of Boston. Milk Street Cafe, which for 30 years has made its home at 50 Milk St. in Boston’s Financial District, has a new, second location in the heart of New York’s Wall Street.

If the Boston locale is small and homey (and a tad tired), then the New York cafe is its smart, stylish cousin. Opened in late June, it is three times bigger and set up like a food hall. The doors of the sprawling, modern space open to tantalizing baked goods and a selection of coffees, followed by grab-and-go items. Farther back is a large, well-lighted room showcasing half a dozen food stations. Have a hankering for a salad or stir-fry? Sushi or panini? Pulled chicken or sloppy Joe? It’s all here.

At the salad station, diners can choose from “farmers’ market’’ salads made with vegetables, greens, fruits, and add-ins of fish, cheese, or tofu, or “bull market’’ bowls garnished with chicken, steak, or turkey. There are hot and cold sandwiches, spring rolls, soups and pasta, rotisserie and grilled entrees, even brisket and chili dogs.

Like the Boston cafe, everything is kosher. Unlike the Boston restaurant, which is vegetarian (with fish options), the cafe here offers meat and poultry. (Milk Street’s catering business at both locations offers meat dishes.) The spacious kitchen behind the restaurant here has three separate food preparation areas for meat, dairy, and pareve (neither meat nor dairy) offerings.

Milk Street Cafe founder and owner Marc Epstein, a Worcester native, calls the menu “transparently kosher.’’ There are no pork products, and certain items, such as burgers, are not available because they couldn’t be topped with cheese, he says. (Meat and dairy products are not eaten together under kosher dietary laws.) Epstein and his wife, Beth, who keep kosher, say they don’t market the cafe as such. (“The kosher people know,’’ says Marc.) “We want to be known for the quality of our food,’’ says Beth Epstein, the company’s marketing director.

The menu was gleaned from surveys of tenants in the Trump-owned building. There was a resounding preference for made-to-order foods instead of prepackaged salads and sandwiches. As anticipated, freshly made sushi and stir-fries are the most popular items so far, made at the Asian station that sits smack in the center of the room.

The leap from Milk Street to Wall Street was the result of propitious timing. “It never could have happened if there wasn’t the horrible economy,’’ says Epstein, 53, who was named the 2011 Massachusetts Small Business Person of the Year this past spring. The opportunity arose when Epstein was in New York in December 2009 looking at comparable restaurants “for ideas to improve our operation in Boston,’’ he says. One of the places he planned on visiting was Mangia, an Italian eatery with a branch at 40 Wall St. To his surprise the place was shuttered. “It was a crazy idea of mine, but this location at this time made economic sense.’’

The cafe is situated on a four-block pedestrian mall that draws business people and tourists. Just next door is a prominent statue of George Washington on the steps of Federal Hall, the site of the first president’s inauguration in 1789. The restaurant is kitty-corner to the New York Stock Exchange, a block from Trinity Church, two blocks from ground zero (and future home of 1 World Trade Center, a.k.a. Freedom Tower), and a half-dozen blocks from both Battery Park and the South Street Seaport.

The cafe’s table seating is in an attractive room at the back of the restaurant. Despite its being windowless, the ambience is brightened by Marc’s sister Shanee Epstein’s mural of a colorful, sun-splashed garden. Depending on your perspective, it could be Central Park or the Public Garden.

Milk Street Cafe, 40 Wall St., New York, N.Y., 212-542-3663, www.milkstreetcafe.com.

Lisa Zwirn can be reached at lisa@lisazwirn.com.