A stop at a museum café rivals a trip through the gift shop on any visit. Pittsburgh museums cater to the appetites of kids and adults alike with quality food and tempting menus that reflect the institution’s mission, attitude and patrons.

With some adjustments around Covid safety issues, these cafés once again are welcoming diners for a pause between exploring exhibitions or meeting friends for happy hour or a full-blown meal.

Admission is not required for dining in any of these museum cafés so keep them in mind for a stop while you’re in the neighborhood.

The Café Carnegie. Photo by Sally Quinn.

1. The Café Carnegie

The Café Carnegie is an elegant full-service restaurant that parallels the Carnegie Museum of Art’s sophistication. Overlooking the water feature at the museum’s main entrance, the beautiful space invites leisurely conversation over inspired dishes prepared by Executive Chef Doug Genovese.

Toast your companions with a handcrafted cocktail such as the colorfully layered Sparkling Sunrise, a Prosecco Spritz or The Café Carnegie Bloody Mary.

Savor large plates like Grilled Shrimp served over creamy polenta with sofrito and fried jalapeno or Wild Mushroom Risotto with kale, delicata squash and Manchego cheese. For meat lovers, there’s Short Rib Pappardelle made with mirepoix, thyme and lemon crème fraîche.

Small plates, salads and sandwiches are available, too. Nibble on Goat Cheese Crostini with roasted beets and Marcona almonds. Or poached Salmon Salad with a hearty mix of red lentils, roasted celeriac, green beans, winter greens and pine nuts tossed in a zesty Dijon vinaigrette.

Traditionalists might opt for the turkey and bacon club sandwich or the Brisket & Short Rib Burger, while the Apple & Brie Panini will appeal to vegetarians.

Hanging out with picky kids? You can satisfy their simple tastes with a hot dog or grilled cheese with Barmy Soda Company Root Beer.

Those looking for a more casual break can stop by the Coffee and Wire Bar just outside The Café Carnegie. Expect specialty Commonplace coffee drinks, a full bar, craft beer and cask wines on tap. Slide onto a barstool or get cozy in the lounge area with your beverages. Head there for happy hour on Thursdays when the museum is open late.

The Café Carnegie is open Wednesday through Monday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and accepts online reservations. The Coffee and Wine Bar is open on Monday and Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Café Phipps. Photo courtesy of Phipps Conservatory & Botanical Gardens.

2. Café Phipps

Café Phipps at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens has the distinction of being named to Food & Wine magazine’s 2019 list of the country’s best museum restaurants, citing its health-focused menu and attention to sustainability. The café’s mission is to create food that’s not only good for patrons but also good for the planet. Diners can find a variety of dishes that are vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free — and delicious. In season, café chefs take advantage of fresh herbs, greens and vegetables picked from the site’s edible garden.

A specialty of the house and perfect for a wintry day, the Cuban Style Chickpea Stew blends butternut squash, sweet potatoes, chickpeas and Cuban spices served over rice. Grab-and-go dishes include a substantial Harvest Salad, Curried Chickpea Wrap and Carolina Mustard Pulled Pork Sandwich.

Meals for kids include an Almond Butter and Berry Sandwich served on whole wheat bread and Gluten-Free Pasta topped with a vegetable Bolognese sauce. Both are served with carrot sticks, Greek yogurt ranch dressing, salad and milk. Other treats include yogurt parfait and fruit salad.

Along with eliminating junk food, Café Phipps removed soda with high sugar content. Instead, order a signature Phipps Splash, a blend of fresh fruit juice and seltzer. Grownups can enjoy a refreshing bottle of beer or glass of wine.

Café Phipps is open daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Photo courtesy of the Bean Sprouts Café.

2. Bean Sprouts Café

Billed as a hip and healthy café, the award-winning Bean Sprouts eatery feeds kids at 20 family destinations across the country, The newest location is at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. The space had been open to families who tote their own eats. Now, parents get a break from packing lunchboxes with an engaging menu that kids are sure to love.

The clever Imaginibbles section of the menu offers kid faves with silly names and creative plating. Grilledzilla is a gooey grilled cheese, cut into a jagged mouth with cucumber and olive eyes. Spaceadilla is a rocket-shaped chicken quesadilla. Crocamole looks like a crocodile with guacamole and veggie dippers. The Flutter Bite is a turkey and cheddar sandwich that resembles a butterfly.

Parents appreciate that Bean Sprouts adheres to organic and sustainable food sourcing. Feel free to substitute according to allergies and preferences, like switching standard pizza to a cauliflower crust or choosing gluten-free bread.

More adult items include salads like the Mediterran-Yum and the BBCoop with barbeque chicken. From the gourmet sandwiches, standouts include Tuna Dillight, served cold or as an open-faced melt, and the hot Chicken Pesto Chango that includes mozzarella, sun-dried and fresh tomatoes, drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette on a ciabatta roll. There is also a range of hot and iced coffees, fruity smoothies and tempting treats, too.

Bean Sprouts Café is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., serving hot food until 3 p.m. and drinks and snacks until 4 p.m.

RiverView Cafe at Carnegie Science Center. Photo by Sally Quinn.

3. Riverview Café

On a bright day, the RiverView Café at Carnegie Science Center is the perfect spot to catch a few rays glinting off the Ohio River. Watch tugboats pushing barges upriver just past the USS Requin submarine. The café is a great place to rendezvous for a lunch break during a day of high-energy SportsWorks play and soaking up scientific knowledge.

RiverView Café caters to all ages with a fresh, made-to-order menu. Healthy offerings include a Chicken Caesar Salad and a Spicy Black Bean Burger with Pepper Jack Cheese. Order pizza by the slice or the pie. Deli choices — such as the Tuna Salad Croissant and Roast Beef with Cheddar on an Onion Roll — come with a side of macaroni salad. Little ones will be happy with a Kids Meal of a PB&J, hand-breaded chicken tenders or grilled cheese. You’ll find lots of grab-and-go snacks, too: yogurt, fruit cups, hummus with pretzels, and string cheese.

For safety, the number of tables has been reduced with plenty of space in between families.

Riverview Cafe is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Monday.

Photo courtesy of The Frick Pittsburgh.

4. The Café at the Frick

We were delighted to see the reopening of The Café at the Frick on the Point Breeze campus of The Frick Pittsburgh. The newly refinished café is taking a slow but steady approach returning to its former level of dining. Currently, diners order at the counter and are seated to await delivery of their meals. Hours are limited and no reservations are being accepted. The hope is to expand hours and dining options, including adding picnic fare, evening dinners hosted by visiting chefs and high tea.

Meanwhile, the food remains top-notch for a brunch gathering or lunch break. Share a charcuterie board of Parma sausage, gherkins and olives or an assortment of flatbreads. Try the personal-sized quiche with wild mushrooms, sausage, spinach and Swiss cheese.

Sandwiches are stuffed with inspired fillings on a variety of bread: Turkey and Smoked Cheddar arrives with apple bacon jam and arugula on a pretzel bun. Black Forest Ham and Swiss includes tomato and greens on rye with a swipe of brown mustard. A ciabattini roll works as the base for the Roast Beef and Provolone Sandwich, matched with horseradish mayo and mixed greens.

Fresh-baked scones, blueberry muffins and cookies are also available. But it’s impossible to resist the warm Pain au Chocolat, a chocolate-filled croissant. A scaled-down afternoon tea service has just returned, but without the fanciful tiered plate stand. Current tea service includes a pair of finger sandwiches, a scone with house-made clotted cream, a cookie and fresh berries, along with your choice of loose leaf tea.

We’re looking forward to warm sunny days when we can enjoy patio dining at one of our favorite outdoor spots.

The Café at the Frick is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

Pick up lunch at Atria’s Kookaburra Kitchen and enjoy it in the National Aviary’s Garden Room lobby. Photo by Sally Quinn.
Pick up lunch at Atria’s Kookaburra Kitchen and enjoy it in the National Aviary’s Garden Room lobby. Photo by Sally Quinn.

5. Atria’s Kookaburra Kitchen

The National Aviary accommodates family appetites with Atria’s Kookaburra Kitchen. Make your choices as you move along the counter, then carry your food to the sunny Garden Room lobby, where tables are spread out in the open space.

Kids will find joy in chicken tenders with fries, pizza and soft pretzels with cheese dip. Grownups can choose from a Chicken Salad Croissant, BLT Wrap or Green Salad. Watch for specials like Pot Roast Nachos, Black Forest Cake and the soup of the day.

Pick from a variety of packaged treats: yogurt granola parfait, fresh fruit, Uncrustable Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches and apple sauce cups. The freezer stocks too many ice cream delights to list.

Atria’s Specialty Catering hosts occasional brunches for more formal family outings, too. They’re held in the Garden Room, where weddings and other special events are booked. Graze on dishes such as Firecracker Chicken and Waffles, Cinnamon French Toast and Smoked Mozzarella Ravioli. The Valentine’s Day Brunch offers two seatings on Feb. 13. Aviary admission is included in the price of $55 ($35 for kids). Mark your calendar for upcoming bunches planned for Easter, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.

Atria’s Kookaburra Kitchen is open daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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Sally Quinn

Sally Quinn is a Pittsburgh-based editor and writer who writes about food, entertainment, kid stuff, pop culture, cocktails!