March 1, 2012

Eat and Run: Museum Cafe by Aurora Provisions, Portland

Aurora Provisions puts quality on the menu at the cafe at the Portland Museum of Art.

Looking at art demands energy. It's not just the physical aspect of walking through galleries, up and down staircases and across the wide swath of the echo-inducing hallways of the Portland Museum of Art. Looking at art also extracts mental energy.

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Patrons enjoy lunch in the Museum Cafe by Aurora Provisions at the Portland Museum of Art.

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Manager Hannah White prepares to deliver two baguette sandwiches – one made with smoked ham, ripe Brie, Dijon mustard, cornichons and field greens, and the other made with roast chicken, smoked cheddar, caramelized onions and avocado.


WHERE: Basement of Portland Museum of Art, 7 Congress Square

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday

CHEAPEST GRUB: Cup of soup, $4.95

WAIT: Five minutes or less

PARKING: Museum parking


RATING: ****

Based on a five-star scale

The entire process is exhausting -- and in a good way.

After a recent morning looking at the drawings of Degas and the photographs of Hollander, I stepped into the quiet and solace of the museum's basement level to partake in a lunchtime meal at the newly renovated and retooled Museum Cafe.

The cafe is now under the direction of Aurora Provisions, a West End bistro, wine shop and bakery. Smart move. I had no major issues with the previous management of the cafe, but it felt more like an afterthought, or add on, rather than an important element of the visitor experience at the museum.

It feels different now. With the expertise of Aurora comes new attention to detail.

I ordered a roast chicken salad sandwich. My colleague opted for her standby choice, the famous mozzarella sandwich. Both were excellent.

My sandwich tasted entirely original. Served cold on dark bread with fresh greens, it included moist flanks of freshly prepared chicken with a creamy, zesty sauce. It came with a few chips on the side, and was entirely satisfying.

Confession: It was so good, I even ate a small chunk of chicken that dropped out of the bread and onto the table. I did not violate the five-second rule, but I am a bit of a germ hound, and typically would have simply wrapped the chicken chunk in a napkin and set it aside. But this was so good, I did not want it to go to waste. I snared it with my fork and popped it my mouth before anyone knew the difference.

My companion's mozzarella sandwich came with tomato and cucumber on focaccia bread with a basil mayo. Outstanding.

We each ordered a dessert, for which Aurora is famous. I couldn't resist the oatmeal raisin cookie (soft, gooey and still slightly warm), and my friend opted for the peanut butter fudge brownie (decadent, sugary and sweet). We split both, and left a small portion of each on our respective plates.

The menu also includes salads, full plates (including the ever-popular chicken pot pie) and other sandwich choices, such as roast turkey, chicken and avocado BLT. Everything is prepared fresh at the museum. These are not premade meals brought in from the West End bakery.

There is also a daily selection of specials and soups. On the day of my visit, the soup of the day was chipotle chicken and black bean. Yum.

These sandwiches are more expensive than those at the West End shop. Each cost $8.95, which is a tad steep but not overvalued. I felt the cost was justified, given the quality of the sandwich.

Kudos to the museum for stepping up its food service. Now it has a cafe equal to the quality of the art in its galleries.

The staff of GO anonymously samples meals for about $7.


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