It’s been a while since I lived in a place where the winter chill crept in by mid-October, but as the temperatures in Minnesota started to fall I was feeling positively Nordic. So it was that I found myself seated at a bare white table in the newly designed wing of the American Swedish Institute.
Now, the American Swedish Institute has a lovely collection of textiles, is strong in works by Swedish and Swedish-American artists, and boasts an extensive library and archives that shed light on the Swedish-American experience, but I did not come for any of that. I’m here for the food.
The idea of the museum restaurant is far from a new. After all, spending hours on your feet poring over art and artifacts is going to leave even the most hardy of museum visitors craving refreshment. Most museum eateries fall into two general categories: cafeteria (see The Metropolitan Museum of Art) or high-end dining (the much-loved Oleum restaurant at Barcelona’s Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya comes to mind). However, while both types will satisfy your hunger for rest and refreshment, many museum restaurants seem to lack an essential ingredient: namely, how do the muchies relate to the mission?
The American Swedish Institute successfully answered that question with the opening of Fika this past July. Under the direction of noted local chef Michael Fitzgerald, this minimally-decorated cafe not only bridges the gap between cafeteria and haute cuisine, but also enables the oft-opposing ideas of revenue generating restaurant and museum mission to meld together. For a museum that aims to “serve as a gathering place for people to share stories and experiences around universal themes of tradition, migration, craft and the arts, all informed by enduring ties to Sweden,” providing a venue for people to engage in this exchange over a plate of delicious, seasonal, and affordable Swedish food seems like a no-brainer. I mean, even Ikea knows that the process of browsing endless affordable Swedish design products is made infinitely better if there is a possibility of enjoying a Swedish meatball at the end of the maze.
While museum mission-friendly restaurants like Fika seem particularly well-suited to ethnic museums–after all, food is an essentially element of a culture–other types of museums have succeeded in blending their restaurants with their missions. The Neue Galerie in New York is one such museum, with their two Viennese-inspired cafes serving as a perfect complement to their collection of early-20th century German and Austrian design.
So, readers, what other museum restaurants can you think of that succeed in reflecting their institution’s mission?