Barely a handful of years ago, parents embarking on dutiful tours of New York City’s cultural institutions were coerced into plying their charges with T-Rex-shaped chicken nuggets at the Museum of Natural History, and pre-fab turkey wraps at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden—each commanding infinitely more than the (suggested) cost of admission.
But taking a page from Danny Meyer (who notably resuscitated The Modern and the Whitney), museums have begun to reward their captive audiences with distinguished in-house restaurants: from the Met Breuer (which commissioned the Estela team), to the Jewish Museum (home to an outpost of Russ & Daughters) to the borough’s own Brooklyn Museum, where local hero Saul Bolton oversees The Norm.
And now, just around the corner, the Botanic Garden has commendably followed suit, having consigned Rob Newton for its own culinary overhaul. Abandoning the shrink-wrapped tuna and roller-warmed hot dogs of yore, the chef has converted onsite food programs into a welcome extension of his work on Smith Street. There, he kicked things off a couple of years ago with Yellow Magnolia Canteen, and this past week the similarly-named Yellow Magnolia Café at the Botanic Garden began serving soup, salad, and sandwiches, all of which share the same locally-sourced DNA with Newton’s Carroll Gardens counterpart. But here, you can also enjoy Lily Pool-side dining, as well as gratifying glimpses of Newton’s dearly departed Seersucker.
Alongside signature, Southern-styled bites like biscuit boxes and fried chicken, the menu tends towards veggie-forward selections like chopped spring salads and crudité, making a riotously-colored bouquet that almost rivals the surrounding, verdant landscape. Fava bean falafel perch in butter lettuce cups, ancient grain bowls are embellished with spicy greens, and chicken and ramp dumplings combine classic comfort with a strictly seasonal sensibility—the gravy bobs with royal trumpet mushrooms and foraged fiddlehead ferns.
And with no item over $16, there’s justification in supplementing with a glass or two of rosè. Increasingly, membership cards are not just an acceptable means for occupying the kids for an afternoon, they’re doing well by the adults, too.
Yellow Magnolia Cafe at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden: 990 Washington Ave., 718-307-7136
Photos by Daniel Krieger