I have fond memories of dressing up to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC with my family or friends, and eating in the fancy cafe with marble statues and fountains. I stared at the coins in the water, thinking about how rich I would be if I could collect all the change. I can still look down and see my shiny black patent leather Mary Jane shoes scuffing along the marble. I don’t know what I ate but it was probably a tuna sandwich or BLT, something mundane, despite the posh surroundings.

Later, when I became a parent, I started packing lunches to save money, because I was unwilling to spend top dollar on crappy food, on top of the skyrocketing museum entrance fees. As my kids have grown, and museums have become more accessible again, I am pleasantly surprised by a renaissance in museum cafes. Gone are many of the gross cafeteria-style money pits and instead, some quite lovely cafes with Old World charm and even eateries with hip, family friendly fare have sprouted up.

A recent trip to MOMA in NYC found me starving, with precious little time to siphon off from my museum visit. I sat at a counter seat at the packed cafe and ate a salad alone, next to some other solo museum visitors. I took my mom, who still lives in New York, to the Neue Galerie, a delightful small Austro/German museum near the Met. I often go just to see a few Klimt paintings I love, and this time we had lunch at the Café Fledermaus, located on the lower level of the museum. Upstairs, the Cafe Sabarsky is also a treat.

Both offer Viennese style food and décor with an emphasis on the pastries, such as strudel and linzertorte! We had yummy sausages, salad and some decadent coffee and cakes. From the art to the cafe, it felt like one sweeping trip through turn of the century Vienna.

In San Francisco, the de Young Museum and the Legion of Honor both have stylish cafes worth a visit. Both have open-air seating, European charm and better fare than I remember. An outing to the Legion of Honor is never complete without visiting one of my favorite paintings: Jean-Léon Gérôme, The Bath, ca. 1880-85. Even if you just go for coffee and cake mid-afternoon, the cafe is a treat and a welcome rest spot. Kids look forward to an afternoon snack and find a trip to the cafe fun. Set on the coast with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge, it’s a great spot for a before or after museum walk on the Lands End path along the cliffs.

Across the Bay in the Oakland Hills a different kind of museum, the Chabot Space and Science Center, has just unveiled a new and improved family friendly food option.

The playful menu, cute item names, creative signage and chic look, make this new addition to two Bay Area learning hotspots a hit with kids and caregivers alike. There is the brand new Chabot Bean Sprouts and also the Bay Area Discovery Museum Bean Sprouts cafe. Moms and dads will love the coffee bar and affordable, enticing, whimsical fare.

My ten-year-old tucked into some “itsy bitsy biters” and “do-re-for-mi” piano key sunflower butter and jam sandwiches. The form is playful and the ingredients mostly organic, GMO free and the entire cafe is nut-free, hence the sunflower-butter finger sammys. When I interviewed one of the founders, Shannon Seip, a Madison Wisconsin mom, she mentioned that even the “ebony” keys on the piano sandwich were meant to introduce pumpernickel or dark rye bread to little taste buds. The mission of Bean Sprouts, a growing business that includes birthday parties and catering and cooking classes, is to:

Spark kids’ appetites with yummy, good-for-you food; and delight grown-ups with a happier mealtime.

The genesis for the idea came when Seip had two young, active boys and found dining out to be a minefield of poor choices (cue chicken nuggets, mac ‘n’ cheese and pizza) and a nightmare to negotiate with wiggly kids. She wanted to address the plight of picky eaters as well as the diet challenged, while creating a fun ambiance that parents would also enjoy, minus the “GERMnasium” additions of some fast food kids spots. She and her partner wanted to create a place where kids could feel catered to and empowered, and parents could relax.

The service counter is kid level, enabling kids to look at the picture menu and order like a grown up. From healthy smoothies with a hint of quinoa to thicken them, to a size appropriate cake pop treat that doesn’t break the sweet bank, the menu is rich and entertaining. With cheeky items like “crocamole” (a crocodile guacamole) and “chic choc” (a fondue of sorts with a nutella type chocolate dip made with chickpeas) little hands will have plenty to keep them occupied. I found the food tasty and filling without the grotesque supersize portions Americans have come to expect.

Bean Sprouts is on a tear and it sounds like they have many potential new locations in their future. So whether you are looking to take the kids for a day of culture and learning or are planning an adult museum visit, you just might be happily surprised by some of the new food options in museums, galleries and art, tech, and science spaces these days!

Filed Under Budget Travel, Cafe, California, Family Travel, Food, Manhattan, Museum, New York, Restaurants


One Response to “Museum Café Renaissance”

  1. Larry Habegger on February 28th, 2014 6:13 pm

    The Bath is one of my favorite paintings there, too!

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