Garden Restaurant at The Barnes Foundation

By Phyllis Stein-Novack
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 8 | Posted Jun. 14, 2012

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Garden Restaurant, sit-down eatery offering seasonal fare, is located on the ground floor of The Barnes Foundation, which opened at its new location last month.

Photo by Greg Bezanis

When I was 16, and about to choose my roster for senior year at Lower Merion High School, I told my guidance counselor that I had no intention of taking physics. He handed me a list of electives and I selected music, art and literature.

Mr. Mims, a bohemian eccentric who opened my eyes to the art world, taught that enchanting class. By age 16, I had visited the Art Museum, the Academy of Natural Sciences and The Franklin Institute. But in my salad years of studying art history, I had never traveled to The Barnes Foundation, let alone heard of it.

It was at The Barnes that I began my lifelong love affair with the works of Paul Cézanne. On our wedding anniversary in 2008, Edward and I visited The Barnes because we wanted one last glimpse into the life of Albert Barnes, an extraordinary collector, before the contents of the museum moved to its new home on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Edward, Sandy and I were given tickets to The Barnes during its opening weekend. Looking at art makes me hungry. We lunched in the Garden Restaurant, a muted, airy space on the museum’s first floor. Save for a few items, the menu is plucked from the '80s. It’s for the ladies who lunch. Portions are small, service is courteous and prices are ridiculously high for what one is about to receive.

A carafe of iced tea for one ($4) comes with unlimited refills. Edward sipped a blueberry lemonade ($4), which was unusually delicious.

My niçoise salad ($17) consisted of eight small slices of cool tuna — seared rare — a tiny mound of local greens, sliced hard-cooked egg, three or four pitted olives, about six small slices of fingerling potatoes and a tiny scattering of haricot vert. I had to ask for bread and butter because my lunch was so small and light.

Sandy’s lunch was so late-'70s I had to laugh. Tarragon chicken salad served on a croissant with one leaf of Bibb lettuce and a smear of cherry compote ($13) was a tasty combination. A small tin bucket with about five or six in-house potato chips, along with a tiny ramekin that housed one tiny pickled red pepper strip, a carrot slice and piece of cauliflower came with all sandwiches.

Edward liked his buffalo mozzarella sandwich ($13) with roasted tomatoes and topped with pesto. It was served on a ciabatta roll.

We shared a chocolate mousse ($8), which was not at all sweet. I think we had two bites each.

I wanted to make a return visit to the Garden. Sandy and I arrived a few minutes before noon. By the time we left around 1:15, there was a line waiting to get in.

We shared the Farm to Table Tasting ($14).

“The vegetables today are green asparagus, white asparagus, roasted yellow beets, cipollini, eggplant and wax beans,” our server said.

The chef used baby carrots instead of wax beans but no matter. The cool vegetarian plate was lightly dressed in a vinaigrette, but cried out for salt and pepper. Our waiter brought us a pair of shakers. This dish was not worth the price.

We decided to sample the turkey BLT ($14). It was served on cool, slightly toasted slices of brioche, but I needed my handy dandy microscope to detect the Applewood smoked bacon and tomato. I guess there was about three or four ounces of roast turkey on the sandwich.

The Garden serves La Colombe coffee ($3), but desserts are lacking. The aforementioned chocolate mousse, cookies and tiramisu were on the dessert menu.

This restaurant should serve Bassetts Ice Cream during the summer. A cool soup such as gazpacho also would be welcoming. This is a most uninspiring menu.

I left the restaurant hungry on both occasions.

Our bill for our first lunch was $78.42. The bill for the second lunch was $45.80 including tax and gratuity.

Enough said.

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Comments 1 - 8 of 8
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1. Edward said... on Jun 14, 2012 at 06:31PM

“I was thinking, as I sipped that blueberry lemonade, that this was the culinary equivalent of purgatory. No liquor, no byob, no state store, and no local bar to escape to.”

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2. Phyllis Stein-Novack said... on Jun 15, 2012 at 06:07AM

“The restaurant at the Barnes has a license to sell beer and wine.

The blueberry lemonade was so delicious, I vowed to make a pitcher of it when the heat returns.”

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3. Marty you know! said... on Jun 18, 2012 at 06:27PM

“When I want to see fine art I do not go to Sabrina's. When I want fine food I do go to Sabrina's.
This place must have such a rental nut to crack you are lucky the added a single piece of Bibb Lettuce at all.
By the way Edward, when I go to the Broad Street Diner I being a bottle of red wine wit me.

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4. Phyllis Stein-Novack said... on Jun 19, 2012 at 09:20AM


I have enjoyed splendid meals at MOMA, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, The Tate in London and so many more. Whenever we visit the British Museum, however, Edward and I always visit the pub across the street. Can't remember the name but always find it.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Jun 19, 2012 at 09:38AM

“You always find that pub? Of course you do! Has Edward ever NOT found a pub?”

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6. Anonymous said... on Jul 10, 2012 at 08:41PM

“What a joke this place is. Guess what people watch to see how they clean there mats. They are just wipe the with a dirty rag. This means that the silverware and napkin that you are eating with has been sitting on the dirty mat. This place should be shut down for not being clean.”

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7. Anonymous said... on Aug 5, 2012 at 12:55PM

“I, too, found the restaurant disappointing. Most distressing was the fact that it is totally counter to Barnes' mission: to reach out to those who are not "elite."
The food was fussy & overpriced, & not very good either. The coffee bar is tiny--not a viable alternative. The suggestion to walk over to Whole Foods is ludicrous---except for young people who don't mind crowds & don't care about wasting energy & time that could be spent in the museum.......

Why not have a sit-down place with a limited but SIMPLE menu that doesn't try to compete with upscale restaurants? Or are you trying to impress the rich who might be donors? If so, this is a bad move.”

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8. Anonymous said... on Aug 20, 2012 at 07:06PM

“First visit with old friend. Lovely setting. Well trained servers. Limited menu. Hmmmm. Nothing much intriguing, but I ask about the crab cakes. Everything overpriced, so why not. Waiter: no filler. Can I believe that?

I did, but I shouldn't have. They looked pretty, but you wouldn't want to eat them.”


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