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First Look: Grain Stack settles into MIA

Grain Stack: An ingenious selection of food and drink
Grain Stack: An ingenious selection of food and drink
Hannah Sayle

As kids, we remember taking field trips to the art museum. History, culture, capturing the human experience, sure. But what really stuck with us was the feeling of unpacking a sad sack lunch while the museum cafe sat tantalizingly out of reach. We requited that childhood injustice this week with a trip to MIA's new restaurant.

Grain Stack opened quietly in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in January, taking over the space that formerly housed Mezzanine. The new cafe is just one of MIA's three new food offerings from Stock & Badge, a collaboration between Rustica and Dogwood Coffee.

Stock & Badge's makeover includes a Dogwood coffee and cocktail bar, a kid-friendly quick-service spot called Half Pint, and Grain Stack, a sophisticated cafe with hearty and healthy lunch options for gallerygoers. We stopped by for a look at the new space and menu.

See also: First Look: The new and improved Birchwood Cafe in Seward

Order at the counter and grab a seat
Order at the counter and grab a seat
Hannah Sayle

Grain Stack is not a full-service eatery, and you might find yourself waiting in a long line to order during the noontime rush, but things move at a fairly quick clip thanks in part to a pared-down menu.

The chalkboard menu at Grain Stack
The chalkboard menu at Grain Stack
Hannah Sayle

Order at the counter, tack on a treat from Rustica Bakery, select a drink (we recommend a Fentiman's cola or rose lemonade), and then grab a seat in the dining room. Waitstaff brings your meal to your table, so don't forget to tip when you order.

The menu is simple -- just 13 options, one of which is Rustica bread and butter. Though Grain Stack describes its offerings as "Minnesota modern comfort food," we found the menu a little lighter and more European in style.

There is plenty here for health-conscious diners -- the harissa beet salad and the spinach salad with quinoa and herbed goat cheese, for instance -- but big eaters will find more filling options toward the bottom of the menu, where salmon gravlax, a sausage plate, and braised lamb pasta await.

Sweets from Rustica
Sweets from Rustica
Hannah Sayle

Big eaters that we are, we set our sights on the braised lamb orecchiette, probably the closest thing to comfort food on the menu, but they served their last portion just as we reached the counter. Though we toyed with the idea of asparagus and salami panzanella served with Pleasant Ridge cheese, the Croque Monsieur won out in the end, in addition to the soup du jour and a carrot grain salad.

The standout carrot and whole grain salad
The standout carrot and whole grain salad
Hannah Sayle

The winner from our lunchtime selection, in both flavor and presentation, was the carrot and whole grain salad. Tiny orbs of pasta, fregula, are dressed very lightly in a sweet vinaigrette, offset by a tangy curry yogurt. The salad is tossed with chopped purple carrots, pickled mushrooms, and thinly sliced fennel, and segmented by wafer-thin, sea-salted lavash. Sweet baby carrots that look freshly plucked from the dirt top the whole display, bringing home Grain Stack's emphasis on local, farm-to-table ingredients.

All-smiles lentil soup with cheesy foccacia
All-smiles lentil soup with cheesy foccacia
Hannah Sayle

The soup du jour was a hearty, creamy lentil soup with a hunk of cheesy focaccia bread -- a well executed classic and a nice option for a light lunch.

The Croque-Monsieur gets 'shroomed
The Croque-Monsieur gets 'shroomed
Hannah Sayle

The Croque-Monsieur was a little dry and a few bites had more toasted bread than sandwich fixings, but the tart stone-ground mustard and the savory ham and cheese combo were elevated by the addition of earthy, meaty mushrooms. It was served with a small salad, lightly dressed to bring out the nutty, bitter flavor of the greens.

 

The Grain Stack dining room
The Grain Stack dining room
Hannah Sayle

Grain Stack is located on the Mezzanine level of the museum overlooking the lobby. Ample seating for big groups and two-tops for quiet conversation (as quiet as conversation can be in a large museum restaurant) fill the dining room, which is clean and modern. Tables are turned quickly by the attentive staff.

Grab a coffee, beer, wine, or cocktail and have a seat in the lobby
Grab a coffee, beer, wine, or cocktail and have a seat in the lobby
Hannah Sayle

Downstairs, a more casual seating arrangement in the lobby was filled with museum attendees sipping their afternoon coffee. Dogwood also does a pretty impressive happy hour with two-for-one beers Tuesday and Wednesday and Friday through Sunday from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. and Thursday from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. On Thursday, the museum is open until 9 p.m., making Dogwood's wine, beer, and cocktail offerings all the more enticing.

Dogwood Coffee
Dogwood Coffee
Hannah Sayle

As with Grain Stack and Half Pint, the Dogwood Coffee bar offers Rustica pastries to accompany the selection of espresso drinks and pour-over coffee. By the time we made it downstairs, the pastry selection was almost entirely picked over, so we grabbed a cappuccino and headed to Half Pint to see what sweet bites they still had on offer.

Half Pint for half-pints
Half Pint for half-pints
Hannah Sayle

Half Pint serves a number of treats aimed at the museum's younger guests but still enticing for the adult set: single servings of Izzy's ice cream, bento box-style lunches, and a "cookie jar" sampler of Rustica cookies. We went for the cookie jar, which included a chocolate caramel truffle, rugelach, and a house-made Oreo called a "Chocolate Yo-Yo."

Dogwood cappucino and Rustica's house-made Oreo
Dogwood cappucino and Rustica's house-made Oreo
Hannah Sayle

With such a variety of dining experiences available at MIA, there is no reason not to spend the entire day milling about the museum, taking in the impressive collections and occasionally sneaking away for some tasty eats and drinks.

Grain Stack
2400 Third Ave. S., Minneapolis
Tuesday through Friday: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Thursday: 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.


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