The opening of the Café Carnegie this past December was something new for more than visitors to the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History, who were long used to cafeteria-style lunches in the museum’s lobby: Now they could enjoy a full-service restaurant, plus a wine, beer and coffee bar. It was also a big change for Sonja Finn, the Dinette chef and owner who’s the new restaurant’s executive chef.
Finn is celebrated for her use of local and seasonal ingredients. But managing that fea(s)t was easier at Dinette, where she could revise the menu daily, if necessary, to accommodate what was available from area producers during long Pittsburgh winters. At Café Carnegie, working under food-service provider Culinaire, she’d need to maintain the same menu all winter, and then some.
It took research, and ingenuity. Finn uses standbys like Jamison Farms Lamb and Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance, and has added greenhouse-grown salad greens, from Who Cooks For You. Of course, on a menu that includes a raw bar with Island Creek oysters on the half-shell, and starters like house-cured salmon, it’s not all local. But thanks to a handy sub of local chicken bones for beef broth, the French onion soup, for instance, is completely local, Finn says. There’s also butternut squash soup, a roast-leg-of-lamb sandwich, and vegetable pot pie. All the bread is made on site, with local flour. Even the beer is neighborly (Full Pint, Grist House, East End, etc.) — though the wine list, admittedly, skews international.
“We’ve been able to continue to source locally even in the dead of winter and coming out of it,” says Finn.
Café Carnegie is open for lunch weekdays (closed Tuesdays), and until 8 p.m. Thursdays, plus weekend brunch hours; the coffee and wine/beer bar keeps longer hours. The restaurant, situated by those floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the museum’s landmark fountain and Forbes Avenue, will seat 100 with room for outdoor seating once the weather breaks. That’s probably also around the time spring produce season starts coming available.
4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland. www.cmoa.org