A Bite of Culture – Dining in New York’s Museums

The restaurant Modern at the Museum of Modern Art

The restaurant Modern at the Museum of Modern Art

By Jim Ferri

With more museums than you could image, devoted to just about everything imaginable, New York is a cultural cornucopia.

But there comes a time in your cultural wandering when you just say “enough of all this walking, I need to sit.” Oftentimes, that’s just about the same time your stomach starts ringing those lunchtime alarm bells.

Cafe Sabarsky at the Neue Galerie

Breakfast in Cafe Sabarsky at the Neue Galerie

But while you’re wandering through an exhibition you’ve been wanting to see, who wants to leave a museum in search of a sandwich? Herewith are five great New York museums that provide the sustenance to keep you going. There’s also one that doesn’t have dining facility, but it has a solution to the problem, as well.

Linzertorte at the Cafe Sabarsky

Neue Galerie

The Neue Galerie is a Museum for German and Austrian Art across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue. Inside it is the superb Cafe Saborsky, a Viennese coffeehouse and restaurant that is really a bit of old Vienna in New York. Here you’ll actually feel you’ve stepped back into the Old World amid its beautiful carved wooden walls with ornate moldings, the chandelier hanging in the center of the room, the small marble tables and fireplace mantel.

You’ll find many of the patrons here are from the local German-speaking community reading the local newspapers as they sip a Viennese coffee, or who return later for Spätzle, Bratwurst, Smoked Trout Crêpes and dozens of other delicious offerings, as well as some great Austrian wines.

I was introduced to the Saborsky by a client years ago and have been coming back for breakfast and lunch on many of my trips back to New York. There is also the less ornate Café Fledermaus in the lower level of the museum.

The American Wing Café in the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Metropolitan Museum of Art

New York’s world-renown Metropolitan Museum of Art continues to be one of the great museums of the world. Which is exactly why you would expect it to have a better offering of restaurants. Yes, you can dine in the museum – and it has plenty of places to eat and/or drink – but unless you’re a Museum Member (memberships range from $60 – 20,000) or a Patron of the Metropolitan, you’re relegated to cafeteria-style eating as you dash from one section of the museum to the other.

There is the moderately priced self-service cafeteria on the ground floor, which offers pasta, snacks and sandwiches. The American Wing Café provides a more upscale setting but basically offers more of the same.

More upscale (and a bit more expensive) is The Petrie Court Café and Wine Bar, European-style restaurant set against the backdrop of Central Park. Offerings go beyond sandwiches and salads with more extensive entrées including brook trout and chicken, among others.

Cafe 2 in the Museum of Modern Art

Cafe 2 in the Museum of Modern Art

Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

MoMA has some good places to stop for a bite to eat as you’re making a world-wind tour of this great museum. It has three restaurants – the Café 2 on the second floor, Terrace 5 on the fifth floor and the Modern on 53rd St. The first two require admittance to the museum, the third is open to the general public. The affluent general public.

You enter through a modernistic espresso bar, place your order and pay for it at the counter. It is then served to you at you communal table. The café menu is Italian and offers dishes ranging from Bruschette (tuna, artichokes, mozzarella, etc.) and pasta, to salads and grilled salmon or pork chops. On the fifth floor Terrace 5 is a full service café that provides a view of the Sculpture Garden below and has outdoor terrace dining depending upon the season. Its menu is more upscale than the Café 2’s but also more limited.

The Modern on 53rd Street, a bit east of MoMA’s entrance, is one of New York’s superb culinary experiences. Suffice it to say that it has been awarded two James Beard Foundation Awards, three stars from The New York Times and one Michelin star. We found the Bar Room crowded and noisy but the dining room in back perfect.

The Morgan Café in the Pierpont Morgan Museum

The Morgan Café in the Pierpont Morgan Museum

Pierpont Morgan Museum

Originally the private library of financier Pierpont Morgan, the Pierpont Morgan Museum has two restaurants. The Morgan Café in the glass-enclosed central court is the more casual of the two and serves sandwiches, salads and soups that trend more towards gourmet than you’re likely to find in other museum restaurants.

The second restaurant, The Morgan Dining Room, is exactly that: a small restaurant in the original Morgan family dining room in the restored nineteenth-century brownstone. It’s a small place, perhaps 25’ X 25’ with a glass wall, and is reached via the center lobby of the museum. Its menu, inspired by the cuisine of early-twentieth-century New York City, includes Pork Loin Milanese, Roasted Scottish Salmon and Chilled Maine Lobster Salad. The New York Times rated it as “…probably the best museum canteen in New York City.”

Both are open only for lunch (the Café until 8:00pm on Fridays) and admission to the museum isn’t required to dine in either of them.

Entrance of the Frick

Entrance of the Frick Museum

The Frick

The Frick at Fifth Avenue and 70th St. is one of the most outstanding and small museums in New York. When we visited it had a special collection of Picasso’s sketches, which quickly became crowded. It’s good that we arrived early in the morning.

It holds some of the great art treasures of the world just about every room filled with masterpieces. Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Mother and Children sits in the hallway across from Françoise’s Boucher’s portrait of his wife, next to two Vermeer’s. Free audiotapes provide a good overview of the many treasures here.

What is unique about the Frick, however, is that it is in Henry Clay Frick’ original beautiful mansion with its high ornate ceilings and beautiful carpeted floors with marquetry. This is a place where you feel the intimacy of the art you almost feel as if you are in someone’s home admiring their personal collection, which in fact you are.

The museum doesn’t have a restaurant. But if you ask in the small museum shop they will provide you a list of the restaurants in the neighborhood that they recommend.

So go have a leisurely lunch around the corner before continuing your cultural foray.

The restaurant Untitled at the Whitney Museum of American Art

The restaurant Untitled at the Whitney Museum of American Art

Whitney Museum of American Art

Among other things, New York is a city of coffee shops so it shouldn’t come as any surprise to find one in a museum. This coffee shop, named “Untitled,” is on the lower level of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Untitled is a bit more upscale then the place on the corner though, and promoted itself as a “farm-to-table take on the classic Manhattan coffee shop,” serving fresh breakfast pastries, eggs and omelets, pancakes, salads, soups, sandwiches and burgers and a number of other entrée selections. It also has a full bar with a wine list filled with American vintages. If you’re not satisfied with their offerings of vino, bring your own. It’s probably the only museum in New York that charges a corkage fee. You also don’t have to pay the museum’s entrance fee to dine here.

If you go:

Neue Galerie
1048 Fifth Avenue (entrance is on 86th Street).
New York, NY 10028
Tel: (212) 628-6200
Admission: Adults $20; 65+ years $10

Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
Fifth Ave at 82nd Street
New York, NY 10028-0198
(212) 535-7710
Admission: (Recommended) Adults $25; 65+ years $17

Museum of Modern Art
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019-5497
Tel: (212) 708-9400
Admission: Adults $25; 65+ years $18

The Morgan Library
29 E 36th Street
New York, NY 10016
Tel: (212) 685-0610
Admission: Adults $15; 65+ years $10

The Frick Collection
1 E. 70th St. (btw Madison & 5th Ave.)
New York, NY 10021-4967
Tel: (212) 288-0700
Admission: adults $18; 65+ years $15

Whitney Museum of American Art
945 Madison Avenue
New York, NY 10021
Tel: (212) 570-3670
Admission: adults $18; 65+ years $14

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  1. Jim Ferri says

    Thanks Libby. Many museums in different cities have restaurants — the problem is sorting out the good from the bad before you go.

  2. Wini says

    Have been to the Met, but appreciated all the information on the others and hope to visit them in the future. Thanks for doing all of the research for me. Wini

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