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6 Pittsburgh museum cafes that cater to kids

museum cafes
Sally Quinn
May09/ 2018

Over the past few years, Pittsburgh museums have responded to the appetites of their visitors with quality food and creative menus. Including kids in the equation was a no-brainer.

These are perfect spots for taking a break between exploring exhibits. When spending a day at a museum, the cafes can be conveniently planned into your itinerary. Some include fun interactive activities along with kid-focused nourishment.

These cafes are open to diners without admission, too, so if you’re in the neighborhood, consider these excellent stops for snacks or lunch.

museum cafes
Choose from sophisticated or casual settings at Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History.

Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History

The Carnegie Museums’ Oakland campus offers two dining options with very different atmospheres and menus.

On the main floor, next to the fountain entrance in the Museum of Art, stands the modern Café Carnegie, a full-service restaurant with coffee and wine bar. Kids are welcome here with a special menu that offers sophisticated fare with a nod to a youngster’s palate.

The Pressed Sandwich, for example, is made with bananas, peanut butter and honey on Pullman bread. Le Hot Dog goes upscale with a locally made hot dog served in a baguette. Little seafood lovers might like the shrimp cocktail of artfully arranged wild Gulf shrimp and oyster crackers. Root beer floats are a likely dessert choice, but the Ice Cream Sundae with house-made ice cream, chocolate tulie, lavender caramel and bruleed bananas might satisfy any age of sweet tooth.

Grownups will be blown away by the specialty cocktails, “counter-culture” coffee and delightful menu. Wild Salmon Nicoise, Chilled Chicken Galantine and Jamison Farm Lamb Pot Pie are a few of the irresistible items.

Fossil Fuels Café is a casual spot in the basement of the Natural History Museum. Travel through the dinosaur hall, past the T-Rexes and take the elevator or stairs just past the giant bugs. The family-friendly space offers pizza, hot dogs and grilled cheese on the kids’ menu. More refined tastes might go for a roasted veggie wrap, roast beef sandwich or cranberry pecan salad. Grab-and-go items include chocolate mousse, hummus or guacamole, and fresh fruit cups.

The bakery display is a delight for the sweet tooth with house-baked muffins, Dino cookies and tempting options like Banana Foster Cake. But kids might prefer a bright slushy for their dessert.

Afternoon tea is a welcome treat at the Cafe at the Frick.

The Café at the Frick

In a world where the princess rules, it’s hard to resist the allure of afternoon tea. A three-tiered offering of pretty finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, plus exquisite pastries, will appease most royal palates. The tea menu at The Café at the Frick is served from 2-4 p.m. on weekends only.

From the daily and weekend lunch menu, kids will find plenty more to love. The Children’s Prix Fixe meal includes soup or kid-sized salad, an entrée and specialty drink. Choose from a PB&J, grilled cheese or scrambled eggs and cheese.

The specialty kids drinks include a bit of Frick family history. Kids can pick by the flavor or by the pet. Each drink – served in a fancy fluted (plastic) glass – is named after one of the family’s beloved pets. Miss Sunshine, for example, was the name of Helen’s cat. It’s made with orange juice and ginger ale.  Fred W. was Adelaide’s trotter horse. His namesake mixes orange and cranberry juices with Sprite.

While dining, check out the back of the kids’ menu. There’s a spot where kids can draw the favorite part of their visit to the Frick.  Select chosen artworks are featured on the menu cover!

museum cafes
The setting of the Big Red Room Cafe combines Children’s Museum fun of huge balloons with the elegance of marble walls. Note the colorful “Silly Faces” grid above the counter.

The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh

It’s no surprise that the Big Red Room Café incorporates healthy eats with fun distractions for energetic kids. The “Silly Faces” interactive video installment allows kids to upload a 5-second video of themselves making goofy faces. The videos loop in a grid of the 35 most recent shots on the wall above the café counter. The video “photo booth” is found against the opposite wall.

Fans of Mister Rogers will appreciate the series of black-and-white photos that testify to Fred’s gentle, fun-loving nature.

Another part of history can be experienced watching the 1939 Foucault Pendulum slowly swing back and forth, knocking down a peg every 15 minutes as proof of Earth’s rotation. A holdover from the building’s beginnings as the Buhl Planetarium, the pendulum has been fascinating young scientific minds for generations.

But wait, we almost forgot about the food! The kitchen caters to kids while keeping popular items fresh and healthy. French fries and chicken tenders are baked, not fried, for example. Families can save on the children’s value meals, which include entrees like whole beef hotdogs and Happy-Face Hamburgers with an order of fries, choice of fruit cup, plus milk or fountain drink. And there’s always pizza as a backup.

Mom will watch for the green Dining Smart logo on the menu to quickly find options such as a Black Bean Burger, Turkey Hummus Wrap and Greek Village Salad. All wraps and sandwiches are made with low-fat mayonnaise and dressings. Check out the monthly calendar of daily specials, including imaginative Grilled Cheese of the Week and inspired wraps.

museum cafes
The setting is part of the appeal of dining at Heinz History Center.

Senator John Heinz History Center

The Café at the History Center is designed to resemble a 19th-century brick storefront. The Common Plea caters packaged lunches.

Kids will love the bento box concept that bundles favorites into a handy package. The PB&J Bento box includes a crust-less peanut butter and jelly sandwich, carrot and celery sticks, ranch dressing and a clementine orange. Or choose wheels of turkey and provolone wrapped in a wheat tortilla packaged with ranch dressing and grapes. We know kids who would prefer the mix of cheese, crackers and grapes in the cheese platter box.

Boxes of Honest Kids drinks, Gogurt, and snacks like GoGo Squeez and Fig Newtons are part of the lineup.

Grownups will prefer gourmet sandwiches and salads. Try slow-roasted beef and cheddar on a pretzel bun or a Virginia ham, turkey and provolone club on an Asiago ciabatta roll.  

Outside the shop, families can munch happily near the historic streetcar or under a huge cannon. While grownups dawdle over their sandwiches and sips of Starbucks coffee, kids can climb a circular metal staircase to the second-floor play area above the shop. They exit squealing through the “Liberty Tubes,” a corkscrew slide that zips kids back to the main floor.

museum cafes
The newly refurbished RiverView Cafe at Carnegie Science Center cooks up food to order.

Carnegie Science Center

In the midst of major construction at the Carnegie Science Center, RiverView Café has enjoyed an upgrade, too. Located on the lower level, the windows open to a view of the Ohio River and the USS Requin, a WWII submarine. Sit outside in the sun as weather allows.

The in-house restaurant cooks up fresh food to order. Kids meals include the expected hand-breaded chicken tenders, grilled cheese and PB&J, all served with a side of applesauce. Older kids’ heartier appetites will be sated with pizza, grilled burgers and deli sandwiches, like Isaly’s chipped ham on sourdough or tuna salad croissant. Crisp salads are part of the lineup, too.

Grab-and-go items include fresh fruit, yogurt and silly mousse desserts topped with sprinkles or gummy worms.

A really cool attraction is the frozen yogurt robot machine with which kids can design up to four layers of a frozen yogurt treat. They choose a robot personality, then watch the magic as the robot builds it to their exact specifications. Just one more reason to love science.

Sally Quinn

Sally Quinn is an award-winning writer and editor who has been covering her favorite city for more than 20 years. She welcomes comments and story ideas for Kidsburgh.

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