Relish the dishes alongside the art at these museum eateries.
Museums offer food for the mind and soul. They collect great works meant to be savored. Some museums accentuate their collections and exhibitions with fine foods and drinks. We’re not talking the overpriced grab-and-go counter adjacent to the museum’s gift shop. These eateries offer art lovers a chance to fill their bellies after taking in the creative and historical wonders on view.
Café à la C’art – Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block
Café à la C’art serves fine fare such as chili-braised lamb shank and chilaquiles with Hatch chiles from executive chef-owner Mark Jorbin either inside the historic 1865 Stevens House or on its Monet-inspired patio. Make sure to check out the dazzling El Nacimiento at the musem’s La Casa Cordova before diving into the triple-layered, vanilla-frosting slathered mixed berry buttermilk cake. For a lighter option, bite into the Rothschild, a toasted challah roll sandwich stacked with wine-braised beef brisket, roasted red peppers, a smear of chipotle aïoli, and melted pepperjack. Leave a little room for the culinary greatness that is Tucson. The Old Pueblo is honored as the first UNESCO City of Gastronomy in the United States. tucsonmuseumofart.org
Courtyard Café – Heard Museum
Southwestern and indigenous ingredients get the spotlight at this legendary Phoenix museum’s restaurant, the Courtyard Café. Standouts include the Dreamcatcher Salad of tomatoes, avocado, corn, dried cranberries, Ramona Farms Pima wheat berries, pepitas, and baby greens dressed with balsamic vinaigrette), the Three Sisters Soup (featuring yellow squash, black beans, roasted corn in a vegetable broth), and the tacos. Can’t forget the tacos. heard.org
Crossroads West Café – Autry Museum of the American West
From breakfast burritos and brisket to walnuts and yellowfin tuna, the Autry’s restaurant, the Crossroads West Café, allows customers to hold the diverse culinary traditions of the West in their hands. Don’t sleep on the chili. theautry.org
Mitsitam Native Foods Café – National Museum of the American Indian
Mitsitam is a one-of-kind museum restaurant. Housed in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., the eatery’s menu offers foods from across the gastronomic traditions of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas separated into five geographic regions. The Great Plains section includes dishes such as an Indian taco, a green chile cheeseburger, and bison burgers. The Mesoamerica category lists Navajo lamb soup, jicama salad, and tlayudas. Bison and wild rice meatloaf, sweetened roasted gourds with cranberries, and blueberry cheesecake are offered under the Northern Woodlands, while salmon dishes, bison chowder with seaweed strips, and beet cherry salad are grouped under the Northwest Coast label. The South America category includes quinoa, fried plantains, and shrimp and white fish ceviche. Overseeing the preparation of this fantastic menu is executive chef Freddie Bitsoie (Diné). In 2015 he told C&I: “I strive to prepare dishes that have substance to the point where elders can taste them and recognize the versions of dishes they’ve had all their lives.” That effort is on display at Mitsitam, which by the way, means “Let’s eat” in the language of the Delaware and Piscataway peoples.
Palate – National Museum of Wildlife Art
The interior design of Palate inside the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, Wyoming, is as stunning as the view diners have of the Teton Range and the National Elk Refuge. Brick, hardwood, track lighting (kind of like a museum in that way), and metals blend seemlessly into the vistas. Start with a game stew of elk, bison, lentils, and mixed greens or the Roasted Roots appetizer, a medley of beets, cauliflower, and carrots given a prickly, punchy horseradish champagne vinaigrette. The bison gryo is wrapped in fry bread. The meatloaf is wrapped in bacon. And the Idaho rainbow trout gets beer-batter wrap fried light and crispy. Select glasses of wine are $5 on Thursday evenings during the summer season. wildlifeart.org
The Restaurant at Gilcrease – Gilcrease Museum
Although the restaurant is open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch — get the signature buffalo burger and entrees such as pan-seared salmon capped with asparagus and crab and dressed with a lemon cream sauce over rice pilaf — brunch is the captivating masterpiece. It’s during this Sunday service that kitchen staff surprises with rotating brunch-only menu specials. The waffle and omelet stations are popular, and admission to the museum is not required. gilcrease.org
Rozzelle Court Restaurant – Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Rozzelle Court’s seared barramundi fish served with risotto and grilled asparagus given a tangy balsamic reduction alongside a a slice of honey peach lavender cake goes perfectly well with the stellar American Indian collection at this Kansas City, Missouri, institution. Although lunch in this space designed to evoke a 15th-century Italian courtyard is self-service, dinner is full-service. nelson-atkins.org
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Photography: Courtesy Visit Tucson, (slideshow) Raya Sfeir/Courtesy National Museum of the American Indian.