Art Bites

Despite the excellence of afternoon tea at the Met, the best combination of art and food in town remains the Neue Galerie, a Fifth Avenue mansion that specializes in German Expressionism and related movements. I'm talking Egon Schiele, Vasily Kandinsky, Gustav Klimt, George Grosz, and their pleasantly creepy pals. A current show centers on a painting of a Berlin street by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, with a collection of related works that could be described as "Crowds and Hookers," including some nudes that brought a blush to my world-weary cheeks.

Under the direction of chef Kurt Gutenbrunner, Café Sabarsky occupies half the main floor, and offers spruced-up Viennese fare that ranges from composed salads to sandwiches to hot dishes to elaborate pastries. Conventional choices include bratwurst with roasted potatoes, and the boiled beef called Taffelspitz, but why not go kinky with a sausage salad, or vegetarian with spaetzle and wild mushrooms? Alas—the pastries arranged along the marble sideboard now look a little dry and shopworn.

At the corner of Prospect Park, a quartet of attractions can make a perfect afternoon's romp. If you can stand the newfangled entrance (the architects should be shot), the venerable Brooklyn Museum has one of the country's best Egyptian and Assyrian collections, and always manages to put up a whimsical special display or two in a Red Grooms or Judy Chicago vein. The European painting and African collections are formidable, too. Skip the lackluster café at the museum, and head straight for the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, right next-door. There, the late-summer pleasures include plenty of outlandish water lilies, dinner-plate-size red hibiscuses, white and pink crepe myrtles, and the rose garden's final blown blossoms—but your real reward lies in the outdoor Terrace Café. Oft-vegetarian, and oft-fantastic, the soups are loaded with vegetables that the menu assures us are "garden fresh." Your menu choices include decent burgers and even better sandwiches of herbed tuna and mozzarella, tomato, and basil. Afterward, take a tour of the mind-warping bonsai collection, in a greenhouse at the northern end of the glassed-in complex that the café sits in the middle of. You might want to drop acid first.

Illustrations by Sarajo Frieden

Two other stops beckon, and if you could jump the fence from the botanic garden, you'd be right there. Instead, exit by the under-utilized south gate, take a right, and propel up Flatbush Avenue into the park. Soon you will encounter the picayune Prospect Park Zoo, where colorful exotic birds are one of the highlights. It will remind you of what zoos were like before they went high-concept. Just north of the zoo, our last stop is the Lefferts Homestead, an 18th-century Dutch farmhouse that will put the history of Brooklyn into perspective.

Last year, I fell in love with the Bronx Museum of the Arts. Housed in the ground floors of a pair of conjoined buildings on the Grand Concourse, the museum presented a show of Brazilian avant-garde art from the 1960s. Partly, it was like holding a cracked mirror up to American psychedelia. Upcoming shows include a retrospective of the work of Cuban/Dominican artist Quisqueya Henríquez, whose work encompasses performance art, installations, sculptures, drawings, photos, and videos, with an emphasis on issues relating to the environment and feminism, but always with a humorous outlook. Opening September 16.

The Grand Concourse is devoid of food in these latitudes, but the side streets abound with Jamaican bakeries and Dominican diners. One of my favorites in the former category, especially noted for its jerk chicken and carrot cake, is Concourse Jamaican Bakery. There's no seating, so you'll have to find a curb or stoop to perch on.

Downtown Manhattan possesses a wealth of museums, many virtually unknown to the general public. It's the perfect place for a serial museum experience, since the distance between attractions is slight, and the foot traffic that might impede your progress is light compared to, say, the East Side's Museum Mile. In addition, the museums downtown are small and eminently doable—no death marches through dozens of galleries you might feel compelled to pursue at places like the Met. The Skyscraper Museum is one such small gem. Located at the bottom of Battery Park City in the ass-end of the Ritz-Carlton, the museum is confined to a couple of small rooms. These rooms are loaded with info, though. The current show (through the end of September) centers on the currently under construction Burj Dubai, which will soon be the tallest building in the world at 2,300 feet—nearly twice the size of the Empire State Building. Included are 3-D renderings, aerial photos, and schematics in a breath- taking presentation.

Walk a few blocks west to the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, which has been recently overtaken by modern museum methods, so it's not just a heap of baskets and blankets anymore. The best part—free admission! Other museums in the area you might consider: the Museum of Jewish Heritage, the New York City Police Museum (where you can lock yourself inside a real cell), and, for actuaries on holiday, the Museum of American Finance.

None of these small museums possess a cafeteria, but your culinary salvation lies on nearby Stone Street, which has turned into a pedestrian-only campus of middlebrow eats. Among the better choices are the gastro-pub Ulysses, where the fare goes way beyond burgers and Buffalo wings, and Adrienne's Pizza Bar, where the standard square pie has a crust midway between Neapolitan and Sicilian, the cheese is especially good and gooey, and Saturday and Sunday boast a brunch with an over-the-top pie featuring four cheeses and four sunnyside-up-eggs. Yum! Consider it a Museum of the American Pizza.


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