When Dining Is More than a Meal
February 10, 2013
Unique Food Offerings from Museums
The experiential value of visiting a museum isn’t restricted to the exhibit area. The same kind of ingenuity that draws interest to the artifacts on display enters into developing enticing entrees on the museum eatery menus. Like the exhibits, food items get an occasional facelift too, for the sheer flavor, fun and artistry of it, as well as for health and education value.
The popular all-American standards remain on menus as long as they are popular. Yet, as at the Kidspace Cafe within Kidspace Children’s Museum of Pasadena, Calif., side-by-side with the basics, the grilled cheese, hot dogs, hamburger and fries for the kids that want them, are the healthy options, the chicken soup, veggie sticks, Sun Chips, grapes and cheese and green and pasta salads that parents appreciate. Most popular at the attraction is the Chinese Chicken Salad and overall, the top-seller with kids are the chicken fingers.
“We like to offer a selection of healthy options that are both child and adult friendly,” confirmed Retail and Communications Manager Susan Cardosi-Albert. She noted that locally run Spot Gourmet took over as food providers in February. “They make strides to go with quality foods, taking the organic route when possible and offering whole wheat bread products.”
The enjoyment for kids to experience at Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, in Pittsburgh, Pa., carries over into the Big Red Room Cafe. That objective is achieved easily when kids become aware of the Happy Face Kids Burger on the menu. Cafe Manager Chuck Lippert described it as a kids mini sandwich with shredded lettuce on the meat patty for hair, half a tomato slice for the smile, and pickle slices for eyes, achieving an alternative to the standard fare of hot dogs and pizza. The burger is accompanied by a fruit cup and a small lemonade or fruit punch. Other items not usually found at kids’ venues and that cater to adults too, are mini turkey, ham and cheese sandwiches with grapes on the side and a special Chicken Waldorf Salad.
The Porterhouse at Fraunces Tavern carries the theme of the Fraunces Tavern Museum, one of the oldest structures in New York City, where George Washington delivered his farewell address to the officers in the Continental Army in 1783. “Being a tavern, we decided to offer all micro brews and deal with small batches, which is now the same with the menu,” noted restaurant owner Andy Travers.
Locale determines food sources and menu item choices. For example, bacon is locally sourced from Pennsylvania. And many dishes are of the Colonial North Eastern heritage such as New England Clam Chowder. Welsh Rarebit, a daily Pepper Pot and other items popular back in 18th Century New York will be added to the weekend brunches.
A combination of unique items goes into what Travers calls the Jefferson Cobb Salad. An unusual spin on burgers is the American Bison Burger, added recently to the menu, low in fat, high in protein, and very popular with health-conscious patrons. “Served with a slice of grilled tomato, avocado, and chipotle dressing, it flew out the door the first day, made with the on-site brewed Porterhouse Oyster Stout mixed with white wine, fresh garlic and thyme.”
Pot Pie was George Washington’s favorite dish, and the version with a puff pastry on top that is served at the Tavern is proving to be a favorite with diners. “The chicken, roasted whole, is very moist and really makes a difference,” Travers said. And the locally sourced fresh daily mussels and oysters, recently making an appearance on the menu, are already showing a high approval rating.
The Hands-on Children’s Museum, located in Olympia, Wash., now operates in a new, bigger and improved facility. Executive Director Patty Belmonte shared the three main vision points influential in creating the cafe. “It would feature fresh healthy local foods that kids as well as adults would enjoy eating and would be a visitor amenity for the many travelers who appreciate having a place to attend and eat on-site. Also, the cafe would be used as a programming space to get kids involve in hands-on cooking, for example, dough rolling with the local bakery. Belmonte affirmed, “It’s a learning space as well as an eating space.”
A new half-acre exhibit area, named The Outdoor Discovery Center, was designed to connect children to nature and features a kids’ garden. The new programming space, part of the Lifestyle Initiative, will connect vegetables raised in the garden space with food items in the cafe. Furthermore, said Belmonte, “We’ll also feature fresh product of the week, from the nearby Farmers Market to get families more connected with local foods.”
The selection of food items features locally made food not usually found on menus. For example, The Grilled Cheese Bar is designed to give families ideas about foods that kids enjoy and that are healthy at the same time. Currently the most-enjoyed food item is the locally-made mac and cheese, followed by the grilled cheese sandwich that is served with the soup of the day, most often tomato soup because, said Belmonte, it’s the most fun to dip.
Diners at the cafe within the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma City, Okla., that order a Porterhouse get not beef but pork and venison instead of beef tenderloin. Chef Henry Boudreaux likes to expose people to the new foods he loves, prepared in ways they understand. “Not to disguise it but to allow the customer comfort when trying something new,” he explained. “Venison is a great cut of meat and is not often used. It’s from here in Oklahoma so it makes sense.”
Along with the steamed mussels, another top choice on the menu that also veers from the norm is sweetbreads. Said Boudreaux, “A lesser cut of the cow, it’s not a common dish. It’s pan seared, smothered in a Marsala sauce. People are curious. Those that come in regularly always order it, and tell their friends to try it. It’s unusual yet they eat it all the time.” -