Up until very recently, if you were committed to becoming more culturally enlightened, you would need to forego the pleasures of good food and tasty drinks. For light-fare dining or quenching an adult thirst, museums were the refuge of last resort.
Then a few museums saw that if they placed some emphasis on dining and drinking quality there could be another income stream and patrons of the arts could also become frequent visitors and, dare we think it, members and supporters.
Grand museums in Europe and America installed elaborate dining rooms with menus worthy of some of the best restaurants in town. Wine lists were added and then diners, not necessarily art patrons, visited with regularity. All very good for all concerned.
Age of Enlightenment, Era of Impressionism, meet The Daily Special and Soup de Jour.
It is not likely that a town – insert name of town here: New Orleans – known for dining would be left out of the movement. Again, museum restaurants had always been around, they just were not very good. With restaurants in museums now taking themselves and their patrons seriously, chalk up another win for culture.
New Orleans Museum of Art
You can’t fool Travel & Leisure ®. That distinguished publication named Café NOMA one of the best museum restaurants in America. Good choice given the stunning setting with a glass wall overlooking City Park and Big Lake, while also noting that the restaurant is operated by Ralph Brennan.
I’m almost tempted to end this review right here. ‘Nuff said.
Okay, if you insist, I’ll go on. This deliciously modern dining establishment inside NOMA is open every day, mostly for lunch, and features lighter fare with flat breads, paninis, cheeseboards and bruschetta. Salads, of course, are as fresh as can be and there is a reasonable selection of sandwiches, including grilled ham, chicken salad and French dip.
Desserts and pastries are delightful and the selection of wines by the glass and beer is not extensive but is well-chosen. On nice days, you’ll want to dine al fresco on the courtyard while bemoaning the plight of modern art.
The American Sector
The National World War II Museum
A relative newcomer to the let’s-eat-at-the-museum genre, The American Sector hews closely to the mission of its facility and yet is one of the most complete restaurants in its category.
While New Orleans is really not a “theme” restaurant kind of town, the theme at American Sector overrides that penchant against cute ideas but not-good menus. The direction of the restaurant is more flashback than flashy. Victory garden salads and start strong (appetizers) sections of the menu give clear indications of what the program is.
There is a salute to local favorites, such as gumbo, shrimp remoulade and oyster salad. There is also the crawfish fritters plate and the lamb ribs, not the usual fare in New Orleans.
The main courses range from stick-to-your-ribs creations like meat loaf and chicken fried steak, all the way to shrimp and grits and garlic chicken orzo.
The cocktails continue the theme with a Midway Mule served in the traditional copper cup, along with a full bar arrangement.
The Southern Food and Beverage Museum
Any discussion about restaurants in museums in New Orleans would be pointless if The Southern Food and Beverage Museum were excluded. I mean, come on! The whole place is….well, never mind. If this has to be explained, then we’ve missed our task here.
Chef Isaac Toups, of Toups Meatery fame, has taken over the management and operation of the restaurant and bar, and renamed and revitalized the whole operation. I have no idea if this really is South of the Meatery on N. Carrollton, or if Chef is calling attention to what food-style he intends to feature here. No matter. This guy knows his way around a stove, a smoker and a whole lot of other kitchen accessories, and his expanding list of credentials is impressive.
Just reading the menu offerings, such as goat tamales, sourdough biscuits with crab fat butter, and Heritage Pork boudin conjures up images of a delightful experience ahead. Dinner involves a smoked lamb leg, marinated Gulf snapper, brown sugar glazed pork belly, and smoked foie gras terrine.
Next time you visit the museum, don’t just stand there and stare. Devour!
Read Happy Hour here on www.myneworleans.com every Wednesday, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed, as well as stored, at www.wgso.com. Also, check out Last Call, Tim’s photo-feature every month in New Orleans Magazine. Be sure to watch "Appetite for Life," hosted by Tim every Thursday evening at 7 p.m., and Sundays at 5 p.m., on WLAE-TV, Channel 32 in New Orleans. Previously broadcast episodes are available for viewing at http://www.wlae.com/appetite-for-life/
*Photo credits: facebook.com/TheAmericanSectorRestaurantAndBar/, instagram.com/toupssouth/