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The Cafe Carnegie is a required stop on next museum visit

| Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017, 9:00 p.m.
Amanda McFadden
Farro Salad
Amanda McFadden
Pumpkin Pasta Bake
Amanda McFadden
Dessert selections

Chefs Sonja Finn and Becca Hegarty are no strangers to the Pittsburgh food scene. Their latest endeavor is the remodeled space shared by the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Oakland. The Cafe Carnegie is an approachable restaurant that has mass appeal.

Open for lunch weekdays and brunch on the weekends, the cafe itself is light and airy with a menu to match. Hegarty, known for outstanding housemade breads, is doing just that at the Cafe Carnegie. But don't think you'll just be carb loading, because she and Finn struck up a delicate balance of fresh, healthy options that pair nicely with the cozy items so you won't feel like taking a nap instead of taking in another exhibit.

They worked with a handful of local purveyors to round out a small but comprehensive menu. Onion Soup Gratin and the Grilled Caesar Salad are classics on any menu, but they aren't your run of the mill recipes. And speaking of salads, they'll be seasonal so you can take full advantage of the fruits, vegetables and grains our area has to offer. The current winter salad is chock full of farro and is paired with roasted apples, toasted pecans and a beyond generous portion of bleu cheese.

If you're looking to share an appetizer, the House Cured Salmon is a colorful dish that is a work of art in its own right. The deep red shades of the beets and the pink shades from the fish and citrus are complimented by the stark white crème fraiche. Now for the contrast, plenty of bright green dill. As good as that dish looks, it tastes even better.

If you're feeling a little more peckish and you know an appetizer won't satisfy, the sandwiches surely will. The Grilled Pear Panini is served on two pieces of perfect Pullman loaf and is spread with an herbed mayo. It comes pressed with Taleggio, red onion and raddichio beside a bed of mixed greens.

For a slightly heavier option you can opt for a main course. The Pumpkin Pasta Bake will warm your belly but won't drag you down. Orecchiette pasta overflows a crock with a mix of diced pumpkin and creamy ricotta. A golden brown layer of gruyere makes this dish as does the perfectly accompanying sage.

If you want to feel fancy, you can get a glass of wine and an order of oysters on the half shell. But the cafe is for everyone, including the tiny tots. A kids' menu is available (and honestly, has some options we wish were on the big kids' menu).

Definitely leave room for dessert. Or if you didn't, just finish your museum stroll and come on back. You can be a kid again and order a root beer float or an ice cream sundae or you can indulge in a decadent bowl of chocolate mousse.

The Counter Culture Coffee offered at the Cafe Carnegie will help keep you awake so be sure to put in an order at your table or pull up a seat at the coffee bar. From Nitro Cold Brew to espressos, Americanos and hot chocolate, you'll find yourself sitting, sipping, discussing the latest exhibits and not wanting to leave.

Kudos to Finn and Hegarty for creating a space and menu that enhances the museum experience, not one that makes you think … well, I'm hungry, and we're here … this'll do.

Whether you stop by for brunch before your museum visit, coffee or wine after your visit or a full-blown meal mid-gander, you'll be glad you did.

Amanda McFadden is one of the food-savvy ladies of eatPGH.com, who contribute to the Dining Out column to the Tribune-Review.

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