We who call Cincinnati home are incredibly fortunate to have at our disposal several world-class art museums — the Taft Museum of Art and the Cincinnati Art Museum, in particular. To be able to call one of the oldest art museums in the nation (CAM) and “one of the finest small art museums in America” our own (Taft) is a distinction of which we should all be proud.
These two museums don’t just have wonderful art, however — they also both have fantastic cafés. I recently undertook a mission to dine at both: CAM’s Terrace Café and the Lindner Family Café at the Taft Museum. I decided that I wouldn’t just eat at the cafés — I would also see what treasures the museums had to offer.
My first destination was the CAM. The museum has revamped the Schmidlapp Gallery, which previously housed the Ancient Treasures exhibit. It now showcases some of the museum’s iconic works, including art by Degas and Cincinnati native Robert Duncanson. The new layout is stunning, with each work isolated by curved curtains of black fringe. I was duly impressed.
My companions and I decided to have lunch before we continued on to the Picasso exhibit (on display through May 13) and we were immediately seated in the café. We had a difficult time deciding what to try, as so many of the menu items were enticing. Thank goodness there were four of us to feed; we were able to choose a variety of very intriguing dishes.
I ordered the Maryland Crab Salad ($9.95) and a cup of Sweet and Creamy Tomato soup ($2.75). My husband chose The Chorizo (turkey, Gouda cheese, chorizo sausage, sweet pickles and sauerkraut on a pretzel roll, $8.95), while my daughter had the Gyro ($9.95). Our friend Mark ordered the Lavender Pear and Beet Salad ($8.95) and a Veggie Burger ($8.95).
I didn’t care for the crab salad, which was too salty and lacked depth of flavor (though the basil-infused oil served with it was lovely). My tomato soup was delightful. It tasted like summer in a bowl.
The Gyro wasn’t surprising but quite good; the tzatziki was heavenly. The Chorizo sandwich was simply sublime — think of a Reuben but knocked up about 12 notches. The pickles seemed an odd choice until I actually tasted them with the turkey and sauerkraut. The pretzel roll tied it all together beautifully.
The Veggie Burger is possibly the best I’ve had in Cincinnati, and the staff is closed-lipped about what goes into it, with good reason. I thought I detected squash (perhaps butternut?) as the base, but from there it’s anyone’s guess. Delicious, as was the transcendent Beet Salad. The honey-baked lavender pears were light and ethereal: Earthy beets and whipped goat cheese just pushed the whole thing over the top. It was stunning. I applaud the Terrace Café for giving vegetarians such wonderful options (I only skimmed the top of what is available for veggies).
On my visit to the Taft I spoke with my friend Tricia Suit, the marketing and communications manager at the museum. The Lindner Family Café said goodbye to chef Mark Bowers in November. Sadly, it seems to be showing just a bit.
I’ve dined at the Lindner Family Café before and have been very pleased with the food and the service. The service this time was just as good and the food was mostly very tasty. We ordered the Quiche du Jour (spinach and mushroom, $11), the Gourmet Grilled Cheese ($9), Pumpkin Bisque ($3.50 a cup) and the Turkey Reuben ($9.50). Each selection was served with a mixed green salad with vinaigrette and fruit with poppy seed yogurt. Both were delicious. I think I could eat the poppy seed yogurt every single day.
We also really enjoyed the spinach and mushroom quiche. The crust was flaky and the filling was perfect. The grilled cheese was quite enjoyable, though the amount of cheese could have been dialed back a tiny bit. The Reuben was very good, as well (though the Thousand Island dressing was missing at first).
Sadly, the Pumpkin Bisque was quite disappointing. It seemed as if it was simply a vegetable mash or puree; there was very little soup-ness at all. The flavor was interesting but I just couldn’t get past the thickness.
There will soon be a new executive chef at the Taft and I have no doubts that the Café will return to its usual standard. I always enjoy wandering the galleries at the Taft. It’s such a nice way to appreciate art, tucked away in little alcoves and cozy rooms.
It’s going to be a long winter, I suspect. Make it a little more bearable by visiting our museums’ treasures … and have a spot of lunch while you’re at it.