VISUALLY DELICIOUS

Food and art make a powerful combination. A few places around Northeast Florida are making the argument that the place for art is no longer just on the walls; rather, art belongs in every aspect of the dining experience.

Several local restaurants are promoting arts and culture by exhibiting the works of local artists, intentionally orienting their spaces for art to be featured and, in some cases, creatively expressing an artistic vision through the cuisine they serve.

The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens and The Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville are known for the variety and caliber of works of art they display; the high regard in which they are held has enabled both museums to launch successful restaurants inside museum grounds.

Before she became the new owner of The Café at the Cummer in Riverside, Liz Earnest would dream of catering an event there. She says she always loved the space.

“The first event I did at The Cummer was in the Italian Gardens. I heard the person who was running the café at the time was leaving. That’s when I decided to jump on the opportunity to help the café grow.”

When a new exhibit arrives at The Cummer, Earnest says the restaurant’s chef uses the new art for inspiration. “We are inspired by the art and the regions the artists come from,” she says. Every Tuesday from 5 to 7:30 p.m., the Cummer Café’s Tapas Tuesday is the new hot night spot for local millennials.

Café Nola, located in the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville, has opened the door to innovation Downtown. Chef Kathy Collins, a Chicago native, has worked in Jacksonville for quite some time, so it’s no surprise that she took some Southern favorites and created a modern twist for the menu at Café Nola.

There are a ton of restaurants and cafés in Northeast Florida with art on the walls, and many that have full-fledged art programs. Moon River Pizza, in Murray Hill, is a funky pizza joint with an art program to match. In the past, the walls of Moon River featured works by several various artists. Grant Thornton, a local artist who worked at Moon River Pizza for years, changed all that.

“They went through pretty much all of the artists until I spoke up and offered my talents to them,” Thornton says. After having a few successful shows at Moon River, Thornton ran out of new art. So he took some time, replenished the collection, and is now Moon River’s artist in residence. “Being the full-time resident at Moon River,” Thornton explains, “I sell almost 100 percent of my work. It is much better being in a restaurant rather than a gallery for my type of art. There is more foot traffic and people can see my work in a different way.”

Upon their opening in 2014, BREW FIVE POINTS, in 5 Points, duh, shook up the world of craft coffee, hipster toast, and the local art scene, too. Helping local artists was always part of the plan at Brew. Hanging local art in retail spots has long been at the heart of the 5 Points experience, and the owners at Brew wanted to continue that tradition.

The shop curates the art they display in much the same way they choose their coffee; by giving their customers not only what they ask for, but also presenting them with things they may not know they want yet. Brew currently has a sold out show featuring artist Chad Landenberger, and sales of food and coffee are trending upward.

Parker E. Williams is a regional food and culture blogger whose work can be seen at fastfoodie.us.

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