Gazing upon the intricate strokes of a work by Vincent van Gogh, a statue from ancient times, or vibrant paintings by contemporary artists has an uncanny ability to awaken not only the mind but also the appetite. And what better place to end a museum visit than the institution’s own cafe, where gastronomy and art intertwine?
For your intellectual and culinary pleasure, we have put together a list of six great American museum cafes from coast to coast.
Museum Mile in New York City is known for its heavy hitters: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, and the Cooper Hewitt Museum. But tucked away on 86th Street is an institutional gem: Neue Galerie, a museum filled not only with early 20th-century German and Austrian art and design but with a traditional Austrian cafe to match.
Café Sabarsky, which takes its name from the co-founder of the museum, Serge Sabarsky, is a Viennese-inspired cafe and restaurant. The ambiance is sure to impress with authentic period items including lighting fixtures by Josef Hoffmann, furniture by Adolf Loos, and a grand piano by Bösendorfer. But the food is where Cafe Sabarsky truly shines. Led by Michelin-starred Executive Chef Christopher Engel, the menu channels Austria’s capital with Viennese favorites such as Beef Goulash with Herbed Spätzle, Wiener Schnitzel, and Chilled Smoked Trout Crêpes & Horseradish Crème Fraîche. And under no circumstances should one skip dessert here: two of our favorites include the pistachio and chocolate Mozarttorte or a classic dark chocolate Sachertorte. Wash your küchen down with their legendary Viennese coffee and homemade whipped cream (schlag) or a decadent Sabarsky hot chocolate. Prost!
Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles is a must-see destination in the Downtown Arts District of Los Angeles, and the cafe Manuela in the center of the block-long complex is a must-visit.
Executive Chef Kris Tominaga works to combine cuisine, art, and local produce, creating an ever-changing seasonal menu that celebrates Southern California. Brunch is their best meal: start with either their cream biscuits or the cast iron cornbread slathered in Steen’s butter, then get a few plates to share such as the shrimp and grits, the English pea toast, or the roasted cauliflower with date vinegar. Going for dinner? Then be sure to order a Heritage Green Circle half chicken, which even has the New York Times saying it's one of the most flavorful, best-textured chickens.
Manuela is usually crowded on the weekends, so if you happen to have a long wait ahead of you, grab a drink at Wurstküche or a coffee at Groundworks. Trust us, it’s worth the wait.
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is housed in a building that was meant to evoke a 15th-century Venetian palace. Its cafe, on the other hand, is a modern, glass-enclosed building designed by famed architect Renzo Piano with a modern menu to boot. Cafe G, run by Chef Peter Crowley offers a straightforward, no-frills menu that not only gets the job done but does so extremely well. From their crispy semolina polenta with mushrooms to a cold poached salmon on a beet salad, their meals are hearty, flavorful, and market-driven.
The menu is inspired by the local and seasonal produce available but is also influenced by the Museum and its collection. If you’re not in the mood for a full meal, don’t fret. Their dessert options and drinks are unique and worth the visit alone, including a Nasturtium Sparkler with blood orange and cava, or for the non-alcoholic option, be sure to try the Iced Peaflower Tea.
If you find yourself in Dallas, Texas anytime soon, be sure to include the Nasher Sculpture Center to your list of to-do’s. Situated in the heart of the arts district in downtown Dallas, the museum café offers a pristine view of the Nasher's jewel-box sculpture garden, which now features two exhibitions: Mark di Suvero, "Steel Like Paper" and Thaddeus Mosely: Forest.
The museum and its garden are located across the street from the Dallas Museum of Art, making it a perfect way to check off two museums in one day. Start at the Dallas Museum of Art in the morning to check out their exhibition “Saints, Sinners, Lovers and Fools: 300 Years of Flemish Masterworks,” and then make your way over to the Nasher. Pro tip: instead of walking through the sculpture garden, stop at the Nasher Cafe first. It offers seating inside and out, offering the best view of the entire sculpture garden.
Spread out in the open courtyard of the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles is Lulu, a restaurant with an impressive history and even more delicious dishes. The restaurant was conceived by the legendary Alice Waters, who is the American chef behind Chez Panisse and a pioneer of the farm-to-table movement. The head chef is David Tanis, and he leads with a local-conscious mindset, sourcing ingredients from small, nearby farms. Lulu serves lunch, light fares throughout the day, and dinner. They are known for their three-course market menu, which changes throughout the season. Today, for instance, they are serving up a roasted pepper and feta salad, Tunisian meatballs with saffron couscous, and a melon granita for dessert.
But don’t fret if you are not in Los Angeles – David Tanis writes a column for the New York Times with recipes each week if you are in the mood for a signature dish!
For over a hundred years, the Barnes Foundation has been known as a Philadelphia institution. Opened in 1922, art collector Albert C. Barnes created a museum to teach anyone and everyone how to look at art. His collection, comprised of incredible works by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso, became the curriculum for Barnes, an educational institution that would offer free art appreciation classes.
Nestled in the Foundation is the Garden Restaurant, a locally inspired, chef-driven destination spot that features a light-filled dining room along with a private garden area. At the helm is Executive Chef Michael O’Meara, who runs a tight ship with a simple but tasty menu that includes favorites such as a sweet corn soup or a tuna and watermelon crudo. The specials might be pricy but are inspired by American sculptor, William Edmondson. Try the Muffuletta or the hot chicken sliders, and be sure to pair it with a Tennessee iced tea cocktail, a perfect summer combination.