The last decade has been extraordinary kind to hungry museum-goers, who long had the choice between hamburgers and hot dogs if they didn't want to eat off-campus. Museums are curating their cafes with the same seriousness they'd apply to a blockbuster exhibition, well-aware that the right restaurant has similar cash-generating potential. This week, Voracious is visiting the city's newest museum eateries.
Restaurant: Gallery Cafe
Museum: Frye Art Museum
Dining format: Counter-service
Interpretation of the classic museum burger: There's no beef on the cafe's menu: The heartiest hand-held sandwich features sliced ham, brie and fresh thyme toasted in a Macrina Bakery demi-baguette.
What screams museum: See above. Also, there's a magazine rack with copies of ARTNews for diners to peruse while eating.
After a three-month closure for renovations, the Frye re-opens Saturday with a daylong celebration, but the museum's popular cafe was returned to service last month after a room and menu spruce-up. The staggered opening schedules apparently didn't confuse any of the cafe's loyal patrons: Most of the tables in the sunny room were taken when I lunched at the museum earlier this week.
Just as before the renovations, the cafe is populated primarily by fit-looking members of the Social Security set, most of them wearing sensible, wrinkle-free clothes that might have been purchased for pottery workshops in San Miguel de Allende or an eco-camp stay in Botswana. But the gallery's menu of tailored soups, salads, sandwiches and Macrina Bakery sweets includes a kid's section, and I saw at least one young family taking advantage of the child-sized portions of hummus and fresh fruit.
The Gallery Cafe has a toaster, but most of its lunch items are served cold: The kitchen crew is charged with assembling, tossing and topping instead of baking, sauteing and frying. Even the garlic tomato soup arrives lukewarm, although it's also over-onioned and under-seasoned, so it's probably not worth worrying about its temperature.
I had much more luck with a handsome buckwheat soba noodle salad dressed with sesame oil and soy sauce. The soft noodles are counterbalanced by crunchy shredded red cabbage, grated carrot and beads of green onion. The noodles are served with chicken or baked honey-sesame tofu: I went with the latter, which tasted something like a thick slice of whole wheat bread dipped in ginger ale. The cold salad made an ideal lunch for summer, and the spare, generously windowed dining room provided the perfect setting for enjoying the season, or - starting this weekend - thinking smart thoughts about good art.