Culinary Artistry


//by Damon Noisette

The Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville offers a refined culinary option in its Café Nola, a bustling, upscale lunch spot featuring meals based mostly from locally sourced ingredients. Chef Kathy Collins has crafted a menu of dishes with Mediterranean and Southern influences that sets Nola far above the quick lunch bite in flavor and price, with sandwiches and entrées ranging from $10 to $17.

I spotted the grilled cheese du jour ($11) on the specials board, and it came neatly pressed with aged cheddar, onions, and barbecue chicken oozing slightly onto the plate along with house made chips. My sandwich was no slouch, but I coveted my companion's crispy pork chop sandwich ($15), which was perfectly fried and topped with a spicy pimento cheese that made it worthy of its place as the most expensive sandwich on the menu.

The only dessert options were sweet potato pie and gelato (each $6), which by the numbers was disappointing. Our server made a point to tell us the sweet potato pie wasn't an ordinary slice of Thanksgiving season fare and she was right. What came to the table was a pie the size of a small plate, topped with a huge scoop of house made vanilla ice cream that melted slowly away from its delicious warmth.

After a $4 million renovation in 2013 and a recent update to its branding as well, the Cummer Museum is looking to show it has kept up with the Riverside restaurant scene with its Cummer Café. The cafe is at first glance a bit unassuming, with tables nestled in two rows beside the floor-to-ceiling windows in the hallway. Take a left to the outside dining space, with a massive oak tree towering over a wooden deck with comfortable seating and shade, and you will see the promise of the cafe.

A number of outside tables were combined quickly to accommodate our large group for a late Sunday brunch. Our server was nice enough to alert us to a short supply of the quiche du jour ($8) and I was able to get in one of the last orders.

The brunch menu options are straightforward, with a variety of specialty coffees ($2-4.75) and a few gluten-free and vegan options. The steak chimichurri naan flatbread pizza ($8) is probably the most interesting item on the menu, combining Argentine and Indian flavors in a shareable format. The cheese plate ($6-14) was notable for its per-person pricing scheme and the eggs benedict is served with poached eggs over bacon instead of Canadian bacon.

The consensus of our group was the portions suited smaller appetites, but each of the dishes we ordered was happily consumed. A fellow diner offered a valid, if not expensive, solution: order two entrees next time.