The days of museum restaurants being overpriced, gourmet eateries or bland cafeterias are over. Buffalo’s cultural attractions boast affordable and creative food options, ranging from table service to grab-and-go.
So, if you find yourself staring down a painting of food while your stomach grumbles, devour some food along with the art. You may even find yourself dining next to one of the artists.
Albright-Knox Art Gallery/AK Café (1285 Elmwood Ave.)
Atmosphere: Jazz music plays as you walk into the art-filled room with wall-length, floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the sculpture garden. Soon, the café will open the patio and guests can catch a glimpse of their distorted reflection in artist Jim Hodges’ 12-foot, stainless steel “look and see” sculpture while sipping a glass of rosé and enjoying the quiche du jour.
Cory Wolin, assistant restaurant manager, describes the white-walled café as a “visual pallet cleanser.” The room is open and airy. Fern green chairs provide pops of color. A bar serves cocktails with Lockhouse liquors plus local craft beers.
Food: It tilts upscale with items such as sesame-crusted Thai tuna salad with lime ginger vinaigrette and duck banh mi with Asian slaw and sweet chili mayonnaise. But there is also a roasted turkey panini and a black bean veggie burger.
Kids can have a grilled cheese, pizza or mac and cheese. The menu often is modified for the current exhibit. For Pablo Picasso, the café curated a special Spanish-inspired burger with manchego cheese and roasted red peppers.
Prices: The items are surprisingly affordable. A cup of the soup of the day is $3, salads such as duck breast or sautéed shrimp scampi are $8 to $15. Sandwiches, paninis and burgers (grilled steak sandwich, roasted turkey and sage cheddar panini) are $12 to $14.
Extra: Reservations are not usually necessary, but for dinner on M&T First Fridays, when museum admission is free and the café has live jazz music, they are strongly recommended.
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday, lunch is served from noon to 3 p.m. and drinks and desserts are from 3 to 5 p.m. On M&T First Fridays, drinks and desserts from 3 to 4 p.m. and dinner from 5:30 to 10 p.m.
Buffalo Museum of Science/Elements (1020 Humboldt Parkway)
Atmosphere: Elements is a gift shop with a concession area that’s a grab-and-go spot to buy a sandwich or salad. Situated down a long hallway bordering the children’s play area and directly outside the National Geographic 3-D Cinema, the café feels like a movie theater lobby. The scent of freshly popped popcorn fills the air and children scurry about playing with the stuffed animals for sale or trying out the coin-presser machine.
Food: Candy, popcorn and sodas are available at the counter. A refrigerated case has pre-packaged food made by Nickel City Foods. The food options are healthy with vegetable or chicken finger wraps, chicken salad on naan bread and vanilla yogurt and berry parfaits, plus ham and turkey sandwiches and chef’s salads.
Prices: While it may feel like a movie theater lobby, the prices are not comparable. Popcorn and candy cost about $2, with other snacks similarly priced. Wraps are $5 to $6. Sandwiches and salads cost $3 to $4.
Hours: Open during museum hours, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily; until 9 p.m. Wednesdays.
Burchfield Penney Arts Center/Burchfield Penney Café (1300 Elmwood Ave.)
Atmosphere: The café is tucked away to the left when you enter the Burchfield Penney art gallery and hidden behind a line of barren, potted trees, which also decorate the window ledge. They’re a homage to Charles Burchfield, the painter whose works are the museum’s shining gems.
Julian Gremla-Roberts, the only worker on a recent Sunday morning, casually told his Amazon smart device: “Alexa, play Bob Marley.” Indeed, Marley music fits the calm café.
This casual café is a favorite among its staff and students from the adjacent SUNY Buffalo State. Pam Logue and her business partner Don Warfe, took over the café last June, after working at various lunchtime cafés, including The Lunch Spot and Solar Café in Collegiate Village. Logue isn’t alone in this venture; it’s a family affair. Her son, daughter and their friends work there, too. “They’re all in the business,” Logue said.
Food: Serving breakfast and lunch, the menu includes omelets, sandwiches, salads, soups, protein plates and pasta, with rotating specials chalked onto the daily board. There are spins on classics like a grilled cheese with bacon and tomato and an ALT (avocado, lettuce and tomato). All food is made from scratch. Beverages include coffee and espresso drinks, tea and smoothies.
Prices: Most of the menu is in the $6 to $9 range. Sandwiches and wraps such as hummus bruschetta or Greek souvlaki cost $6 to $8. Protein plates (choice of meat, vegetables, greens, grains, nuts) are $10 and daily soups are $4.
Hours: Breakfast and lunch are served from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Dinner is available until 8 p.m. on Thursdays and during M&T Second Fridays.
Central Library/Fables Café (1 Lafayette Square)
Atmosphere: Fables Café, located at the rear of the main foyer of the Central Library, is a quick stop for a warm lunch downtown. It feels like a chic cafeteria – and a diverse one, too. On a recent afternoon, men and women in suits dined next to a woman with a pink pom hat who brought her own lunch.
Nearby was a mom with small children. Two women with stacks of books conversed about their latest reading while a woman sitting solo had a paperback in one hand and a salad fork in the other.
Food: When Oded Rauvenpour took over the restaurant in 2015, he revamped the menu to make it resemble The Falafel Bar, another restaurant he owns.
Breakfast choices include The Usual (sausage, egg and cheese sandwich) and the more nutritious Early Riser (a sandwich with egg, turkey sausage, sautéed spinach and guacamole).
For lunch, there are more than 10 sandwiches, salads, soups and combo platters and multiple vegan options, including a quinoa and black bean pita pocket and a veggie delight pita stuffed with hummus, spinach, tomato and guacamole.
For grilled cheese lovers, there are four spins on the sandwich, including the Modern Grilled Cheese, a melty concoction of Brie and cheddar cheeses, sautéed onions, applewood smoked bacon, Granny Smith apples and drizzled honey.
Prices: Breakfasts (health nut parfait, breakfast sandwich,) are $2 to $5, panini (tuna melt, quinoa pita pocket) and salads (Cobb, Greek) are $6 to $10. Daily soups cost $3 to $5.
Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
CEPA Art Gallery/EXPO Market (617 Main St.)
Atmosphere: The CEPA Art Gallery, Buffalo’s contemporary photography and visual arts center, spans every floor of the downtown Market Arcade Complex. It’s connected to the EXPO Market, a spacious, trendy space with exposed brick walls on one side, and six restaurant counters on the other.
On a Saturday morning, a painting class occupies one of the sitting areas normally used for dining. There are plenty of other tables, since the market has four dining areas of tables and booths. Hordes of people in their 20s crowd the Gypsy Bohemian Grove Bar and several are playing foosball in the gaming corner.
Food: Breezy Burrito Co. displays a simple menu of customizable tacos, burritos, bowls and taco salads, along with a few special burritos and nachos grande “smothered in homemade queso.” Newbury Salads features a build-your-own salad, grain bowl or wrap bar with a plethora of greens, toppings and dressing choices. It also sells cold-pressed juices and smoothies named after well-known streets, one being Elmwood and Hodge.
Frank’s Gourmet Hot Dogs sells build-your-own hot dogs, with three different meats, including a vegetarian option. GBGB serves craft cocktails, craft beer and wine plus coffee drinks from Public Espresso. Mercato by Osteria 166 has made-to-order pasta bowls, with choices of sauce, meat and vegetables. Sun Roll by Sun Restaurant has several kinds of black rice sushi rolls and is known for its mega roll, a stuffed sushi burrito.
Prices: Most meals are $8 to $10. Craft cocktails at the bar are $10.
Hours: CEPA Gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday; closed Sunday. The EXPO Market is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and closed Sunday.