Lifelong Farm Girl Melissa Chmelar Dishes Up Super Fresh Brunch in Chelsea


So it’s Saturday morning. You’ve just spent an hour at the Union Square Greenmarket, rubbing shoulders with Aaron Sanchez, Galen Zamarra and countless other chefs while filling a now-very-heavy bag with duck eggs, baby mizuna, sheep’s yogurt, spring’s first strawberries and thick-cut bacon. And now you’re hungry— too hungry to go home and make that farm-fresh breakfast you were planning. But City Bakery is packed and the restaurants those chefs were shopping for won’t open for hours.

Luckily, just a few blocks west on 20th Street, the sunlit Flatiron café called Spoon/tbsp is now serving just the brunch you’re salivating for: Think shitake mushroom, pork and russet potato hash; double-smoked bacon BLTs with harissa mayo; buttermilk pancakes with whipped cream and blueberry-maple syrup; brook trout with lemon zest and cheesy grit cakes; and eggy little tarts made with the ramps and fiddlehead ferns owner Melissa Chmelar picked not out of the bin at Rick Bishop’s stand but rather out of the earth, with her own hands, near her parents’ land upstate.

If you got to the market early enough, chances are Chmelar was there too, participating in more convenient produce procurement, but not because it’s trendy. Despite her Chelsea childhood, you might call her a lifelong farm girl: Her parents went foraging for fun, held family jamming sessions with berries picked behind their weekend house and bought into a whole cow for cheaper access to grassfed meat back before those were buzzwords. So when she started a catering business in her fifth-floor Chelsea walkup, you could say she knew a thing or two about fresh ingredients.

The business grew, moving from her home to commercial kitchens in the neighborhood, then in 2004 to a tiny 200-squarefoot retail space on 20th Street called Spoon, just blocks from where she grew up. Last year she expanded next door to open tbsp, a beautifully bright space with reclaimed farmhouse tables, powder blue walls and sparkling white tile floors

Here you can add to your load with $7 frozen dinners like spicy mac and cheese; ice cream and cookie dough to go; and jars of Spoon’s own dulce de leche, lemon curd and outstanding summer jams. Plus, the expansion allowed Chmelar to add to her menu—a mix of sandwiches, salads, pastries, homemade yogurt and granola—and to add table service for brunch, where we suggest you take a seat.

Photo credit: Michael Harlan Turkell