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'Field Bistro' Brings Local Food, Beer To The Field Museum

By Anthony Todd in Food on Nov 14, 2013 5:40PM

Photo by Bart Palka.

"It came down to a belief that we needed to integrate the restaurants into the Museum and vice versa," explained Megan Beckert, Director of Special Events, Tourism Group Sales and Food Operations at the Field Museum. "We weren't taking advantage of our own real estate or messaging our core missions of conservation and education." Anyone who's been to the Field Museum in the past decade and found beautiful galleries about conservation upstairs and a McDonald's downstairs knows exactly what Beckert is talking about. Not any more. As of this Friday, a new restaurant is coming to the Field complete with local food, craft beer and a whole new look.

The Field Bistro will open in the same corner space that used to house the Corner Bakery. It will offer a full menu for breakfast and lunch, and instead of the cafe tables you're used to, they've switched to communal seating. "It's very contemporary, it's very clean, but at the same time, it's also very inclusive," said Beckert. "We have community tables, tables pushed together, for people to be able to talk with one another." The menu includes beef from CDK Ranch, chicken from Miller Farms, local cheese, pastries from West Town Bakery and Diner and Intelligentsia coffee.

They've teamed up with Off Color Brewing to create Tooth and Claw, a beer inspired by Sue, their famous T-Rex. We've complained for years about how none of the major tourist attractions in Chicago are capitalizing on the craft beer boom (best of luck finding anything more adventurous than Goose Island Green Line at Navy Pier) and it looks like someone finally had the same thought. Beckert said, "Off Color has taken a cast of Sue's claw and made a tap handle out of it. We'll have custom pint glasses and the bottled beer will be available for special events."

Tooth and Claw is a dry lager, which Beckert describes as "accessible," but they'll also be pouring two other beers on draft. The opening selection will be Two Brothers Domaine Du Page and Three Floyds Alpha King.


In addition to the taps, they plan to collaborate with Chicago's brewing community to make beers for special exhibits or based on items in the permanent collection. A large part of the inspiration for these collaborations? Local food consultant (and one of our favorite chefs, based at Fountainhead) Cleetus Friedman.

Three years ago, the museum's restaurants came under Beckert's purview and she decided that, rather than automatically renewing the contracts when they expired, she'd put them out to bid. After vetting more than 25 vendors, she chose Aramark Parks and Destinations. But there was a catch. Rather than allowing them to chose a third-party green certification program (which creates a conflict of interest, since they are paying the certifier), the Field has teamed up with Beyond Green, a local food consultant. They've developed a 10-year plan with increasingly strict standards over time for sustainability and local sourcing to ensure that this won't just be the average museum food service operation.

That's where Friedman comes in; he's keeping them honest. "Cleetus knows all of the local vendors, he knows who is genuine and he also knows who can handle our capacity to feed 600,000-1,200,000 per year," explained Beckert. "I hired Cleetus to work with Aramark's Vice President of Food and Beverage to vet out the local area vendors to make sure that yes, these people are legitimate, they are genuine and they can handle your volume."

The food itself won't be terribly fancy ("We're not the Art Institute - we have to work with the demographics of who we are") but it will offer a rotating selection of dishes from around the world inspired by special exhibitions. Eventually, there will also be displays in the space, including a huge timeline of the development of the Field Museum. In 2014, the McDonalds in the basement will become the Explorers Cafe, a more kid-friendly destination with lots of interactive elements.

The Field Bistro opens this Friday. Check out the complete menu below.

Field Bistro Menu