Counter service at Bistro

Counter service at Bistro

Image: Chad Spencer

Restaurants located inside museums have a tough task. They’re less destination eateries than pit stops—places where people can take a break, chat about what they’ve seen and recharge before hitting the gallery floors again. That means museum restaurants must offer a wide enough selection of dishes to appeal to the masses and get you in and out in a jiffy, but they also can’t skimp on flavor.

At Bistro, the restaurant that opened inside the Sarasota Art Museum last October, executive chef Kaytlin Dangaran is pairing Florida ingredients with traditional French preparations, to delicious effect.

The restaurant is only open 9 a.m.-3 p.m. daily, so the menu is focused on daytime favorites like tartines, salads, sandwiches and soups, plus snacks like croissants and a variety of coffee drinks.

The menu rolls with the seasons and changes regularly, but I hope some of Dangaran’s creations stick around for good. The mushroom tartine ($10) is made by smearing a thick wedge of crusty bread with a soft mushroom spread and then topping it with sautéed mushrooms, thin shards of Mimolette cheese and a perfectly poached egg. The earthiness of the mushrooms is intoxicating—rich enough to give you visions of scampering along a dense forest floor.

A salad highlighting “charred winter chicories” ($13) is also exceptional. It’s enormous, more than enough for lunch even without a protein topper. Made with fresh, crunchy frisée, blackened chicory and dried pear slices, it’s flavored with a roasted pear vinaigrette that expertly balances sweet and acidic. A cup of tomato bisque ($8), meanwhile, is pure umami. You’ll be rubbing the edges of the bowl with a piece of bread to get every last drop.

A working lunch at Bistro

A working lunch at Bistro

Image: Chad Spencer

Over at The Ringling Grillroom, which replaced Muse at The Ringling last year, the menu is broader because it stays open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., meaning it also serves dinner. You’ll find sandwiches and salads like at Bistro, but you can also order steaks and pasta. The steak frites ($32) is made with a New York strip that is grilled and then dressed with a mushroom and cognac sauce. It’s well-cooked, if a little underseasoned. The fries on the side are thick wedges of potato, not the typical thin, crispy variety that come with steak frites.

You might think a “crispy chicken” entrée ($18) would feature big hunks of fried chicken, but the meat is instead grilled, and it comes with a nice charred flavor. On the side, you’ll get terrific mashed potatoes and a smattering of unimaginative vegetables. A traditional Caesar salad ($10), meanwhile, gives you exactly what you’d expect.

One sticky issue for most museum restaurants is price. Whether you’re catching a bite at the Louvre or LACMA, it always seems like you’re paying too much, probably because the museums know they have a captive customer base. Both Bistro ($8 for a cup of soup?) and the Grillroom ($13 for a chicken panino?) seem overpriced, but not so much that you’ll have to check your bank balance before ordering.

I should also note that both are open to diners even if they’re not visiting the museums. I’d recommend even the art disinterested check out Bistro. The bright, stylish dining room is a great spot to meet up for lunch. I probably wouldn’t send people to the Grillroom unless they’re going to the museum anyway. But if the goal of museum restaurants is just to give your eyes a rest and help you fuel up before taking in more masterpieces, both get the job done.

Bistro | Inside the Sarasota Art Museum, 1001 S. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, (941) 330-9881

The Ringling Grillroom | Inside the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, (941) 360-7390

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