The new Café Carnegie in Oakland (Photo: The Carnegie Museum of Art)

What was once an afterthought is now a destination.

With the opening of The Café Carnegie, one of the city’s top cultural institutions now boasts a culinary destination all its own.

The new restaurant is in the same brightly lit atrium space as the former and unremarkable restaurant in the Carnegie Museum of Art in Oakland. But The Café Carnegie offers much more creative dining with a livelier atmosphere that will serve to enhance the experience at the museums. Not to mention a walk-up espresso and wine bar in a separate section.

Chefs Sonja Finn and Becca Hegarty have curated a menu with fresh and light options designed to appeal to busy museum goers, along with heartier plates for those looking for a solid and creative lunch destination in the city.

Executive Consulting Chef Finn, a James Beard semi-finalist, brings the same focus on fresh and simple ingredients she is known for at her restaurant, Dinette. She’s joined by her former sous-chef, Hegarty, for the challenge of bringing a fresh and bold menu to a unique environment.

The Café Carnegie logo.

Easily accessed within the museum, and of course the adjacent Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the new café is open to the public with no museum admission fee required.

“We’re hoping people will visit the Café Carnegie as a special part of a trip to the museum or simply as a destination all its own,” says Brad Stephenson, director of marketing for the Carnegie Museum of Art. “We want to encourage people to explore and experience it that way.”

Fresh oysters on the half shell. Photo courtesy of Carnegie Museum of Art.

With the menu’s bounty of fresh vegetables and appetizing ingredients, it has all the makings of a hit.

The bread is made and baked in house by Becca Hegarty, which bodes well given her background at the much-loved Bread and Salt.

There’s a winter faro salad with roasted apples, blue cheese and toasted pecans, along with grilled caesar and pulled chicken salads.

On the sandwich front, there’s a classic club and the Griddled Sandwich featuring broccoli rabe, cheddar, spicy soppressata and egg-in-the-whole on fresh baked sourdough.

Pumpkin pasta and moules frites are just two of the larger plates offered. Starters include oysters on-the-half-shell, soups, cheeses, and bacon and cheddar gougeres (think cheese puffs) served with pickled onion and arugula.

The kids menu offers tea sandwiches, hot dogs, and what could be a crossover hit–a grilled peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich.

There are already plans in the works to add a brunch menu beginning the second week of January. And the café hopes to feature an evening menu on Thursdays to go along with the Museum’s extended hours on that day of the week.

The new restaurant, which had a soft launch open on Friday, is offering a full menu and the staff is welcoming feedback before the café’s grand opening in January.

The café is open daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is closed Tuesday along with the museums. The walk-up espresso and wine bar opens at 8 a.m. during the week and 9 a.m. on weekends. It closes at 2 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday and 5 p.m. on all other days (except for Thursday when it will be open for the museum’s extended hours until 8 p.m.)

Follow the Cafe Carnegie on Instagram @thecafecarnegie.

Tom O'Connor

Tom O'Connor is a photographer and writer currently based in Pittsburgh.