Today, museum restaurants aren’t just for tourists or dire dining situations. They’re standalone destinations locals might just go out of their way to check out, with some of these restaurants even run by the artists themselves.
So who better to take over MoMA PS1’s 2019 museum café overhaul than Mina Stone, a longtime chef to many of New York’s top art galleries and art studios, as well as author of Cooking for Artists? Mina’s, opening at the Long Island City museum tomorrow, replaces the former M. Wells Dinette, once on-site.
As we previously reported, Stone had been throwing pop-ups at Warm Up PS1 this past summer, in anticipation of the restaurant’s opening.
But, now, in its formal debut, the new concept offers a full Mediterranean-minded menu to accommodate an awkward in between time of 12pm-6pm: snacks, daily specials, hot meal options, sandwiches and platters—think tahini-babka French toast, strapasada (scrambled egg toast with tomatoes and Arahova feta), peinirli (boat-shaped cheese bread) and braised chicken with cinnamon, clove and tahini.
Standout drinks include a coffee frappé: “I love it, it cracks me up. It’s so ingrained in the culture to make it out of instant coffee, it gets foamy and delicious.” And, ouzo, the anise-flavored aperitif, alongside a selection of Greek natural wines.
“It’s interesting because I don’t think who I am is only Greek food, it’s just kind of easier to have a label to describe it. But I feel like the food is more of a document journal of a time of life,” says Stone of her partial Greek heritage, in an interview with Time Out New York.
Long Island City and its adjoining neighbor of Astoria have a sizable Greek population, so the cuisine seems like a natural fit.
“At classic Greek cafés, they always bring you a snack, like ham and olives and cubes of cheese, and my favorite…cut up cucumbers and carrots soaked in vinegar,” she says of the restaurant’s inspiration, which is “a little Miami and a little Athens, but mostly a respite.”
In addition to her thoughtful offerings, Mina’s will also sell its own bottled Greek olive oil. “It’s not acidic, peppery like you may be used to with Italian versions: I use it kind of like heavy cream in blended soups,” says Stone.
Mina’s is co-run with Stone’s partner, visual artist Alex Eagleton, who helped design the space. “We want tourists to come, but my partner, Alex…so many of his friends have studios in Long Island City. To encourage people to come to their museum, the one in their own neighborhood, that’s our dream, too,” she says of the all-white space. When Stone traveled to Russia’s Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow to craft food for artist Urs Fischer’s exhibition, she noticed that people came explicitly for the museum café; locals would hang out there all-day.
Mina’s at MoMA PS1 is the first time in recent memory a major New York museum restaurant will be run by artists, since Biennial darling Susan Cianciolo did a performance called “Run Restaurant Untitled” at the Whitney Museum’s Untitled. restaurant.
Years ago, when the Blue Bottle Coffee café inside SFMoMA crafted pastry versions of Mondrian paintings and other famous pieces, art in the museum became digestible for a wider audience.
This year, New York City’s museum cafés seem to have a renewed focus.
At the Brooklyn Museum’s 2019 Frida Kahlo: Appearances Can Be Deceiving exhibit, curation extended to limited-time offerings at the attached restaurant: the Norm. It featured collaborations from the borough’s top Mexican restaurants like Claro and Oxomoco (both on our best restaurants in New York list). The pop-up demonstrated how cafés can work to make its own menus be more responsive to the current exhibitions.
Another favorite, Teranga at the new Africa Center (#17 on that same best restaurants guide), not only presents delicious fast-casual options in a pleasant space with West African design motifs, but explores a lesser-highlighted cuisine in the city, with mouthwatering dishes like red palm fufu, in a kitchen led by chef Pierre Thiam. Though we are also partial to the Jewish Museum’s food offerings from the Upper East Side Russ & Daughters Café as well as stalwarts like the Austrian Café Sabarsky at the Neue Galerie.
A recent article by The New York Times underscored how many New York City museum cafés are actually operated by the same restaurant group, known as Restaurant Associates. Despite the overwhelming monotony for years at many of these ventures, 2019 has brought on a new era for the company, more focused on a celebrity chef angle. Since February, The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s restaurant has been operated by Michelin-starred John Fraser; he elevates dining with dishes that could pose as art itself, such as his Porcini Pavlova that looks like a clay mushroom. And, more recently, Tom Colicchio signed on to update the offerings at the Morgan Library.
We’re intrigued to see how new restaurants like Danny Meyer’s Cedric’s (inside Hudson Yards’ performance space, The Shed) will create menus to interact with its attached programming, particularly given that the Union Square Hospitality project is at the heart of the hate-it-or-love-it Hudson Yards development.
And, soon, Stockholm’s acclaimed Fotografiska photography museum will land in Manhattan with a European restaurant and café called Veronika, operated by Stephen Starr, with a name in reference to “the patron saint of photography.”
But it’s clear Mina’s already has much more of a DIY spirit, knowing better than most about the role of cooking in these types of art spaces, years of experience interacting with both worlds under Stone’s belt. “Museums are already such a cool platform, the food should be as good as what’s happening in the museum. I think it’s a game-changer. I can go see that show and have a beautiful lunch,” says Stone. The Mina’s team has plans to evolve the menu to reflect the current PS1 programming, with more details to come.
Mina’s is located at MoMA PS1: 22-25 Jackson Ave, Long Island City, NY 11101.