Museum dining has improved by leaps and bounds since I was a kid. Eleven at Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas has delicious food in a gorgeous atmosphere.
On Memorial Day, I went with Michele and her family to visit her parents in Perry OK, a tiny town about 30 minutes from Stillwater. Somehow we started talking about my upcoming trip to Arkansas, and Michele’s aunt told me about Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. A few days before my trip, I read a review by Travel Pockets about Bentonville, raving about Crystal Bridges. I had never been to Bentonville, and it’s on the way to Eureka Springs, where I was spending the weekend. Consequently, a stop in Bentonville was inevitable.
Wal Mart began in Bentonville and, as you can imagine, Wal Mart is very visible throughout the town. Crystal Bridges was founded by the Walton Family Foundation in 2005. The museum features art from Colonial times through present-day, and also includes pieces from Sam Walton’s original collection. I’m glad to see Wal Mart providing complimentary admission for guests. I grew up in the Washington DC area, where all of the Smithsonian museums have always been free. That is the opposite of many cities that charge high admission costs.
I remember when food in museums was an afterthought, typically little more than some basic concession-type food. Now, museums put a lot of focus and funding into their restaurants, to keep guests on property. Eleven at Crystal Bridges is the museum restaurant. The gorgeous vaulted ceilings is the first thing you notice; the wall of windows on either side is a close second. Eleven sits at the front of the museum, so it is the first thing you see when you enter the building. The exhibits are accessible through doorways on either side of Eleven, and the exhibits go all the way around in a huge semi-circle.
Eleven is open for Sunday brunch, lunch every day except Tuesday, and dinner Wednesday-Friday. Eleven also has a culture hour–think happy hour–and includes live music on Friday evenings.
Eleven is a fast-casual restaurant; you order at the counter, and a staff member brings your food to you. The order counter is at the far end of the restaurant, which at first seems like an odd setup. But it’s actually a great use of space, not taking up valuable real estate at the museum entrance. The restaurant seating is a combination of regular and high-top tables.
The Eleven lunch menu is not large, featuring soups/salads, sandwiches, signature dishes, and a kid’s menu. As I was deciding on what to eat, I noticed this sign advertising the Blended Burger Project.
This seems like a lot of “stuff” in one burger. But, who can pass up a project for a great cause? So I decided to be adventurous and dive in. Besides, I like all of the ingredients, and I love that Eleven uses locally sourced products. The cashier said I would love it.
My first thought: this looks nothing like the picture. My second thought: I don’t see any beef, only mushrooms. I was honestly disappointed. I started by taking a bite of the pickle, which is tart, and has a great bite. Then I took a deep breath, and took a bite of the burger.
What’s that saying, don’t judge a book by it’s cover?! This burger is outstanding. The beef is incredibly juicy, the bacon is a great combination of sweet and salty, and the mushrooms add a fabulous earthy flavor. The tartness of the pickles plays so well against the sweet bacon and the flavorful beef, and I really enjoyed the contrast in textures. The chips are very good as well.
I went back to the order counter, and raved to the cashier about the burger. I also got a free cookie, for promoting the burger on social media! It’s the little things.
Will I go back to Eleven? Well, I won’t make a special trip just to eat, but I will go back to the museum when I have more time. I really enjoyed the early art pieces. I had a hard time getting into the modern art, but I am willing to give it another chance. Crystal Bridges also has outdoor art and several walking trails, and I want to explore those.
Have you ever visited Bentonville? What was your favorite part of town?
I’d love to hear from you!