Lunch and learn at Daily Planet Café

jstancill@newsobserver.com April 15, 2012 

Eating a burger or sipping a cup of coffee will be an educational adventure in the Daily Planet Café.

Wall-mounted monitors will show science programming, and a large screen will broadcast whatever is showing in the Daily Planet, the Nature Research Center’s multimedia theater.

When customers step up to the counter to order, they’ll see a menu board that changes with the season and features food from local or regional farms. An LED TV screen will have a slideshow about where the ingredients come from and who’s producing them.

Think produce, beef, cheese and honey from area farmers and coffee from Larry’s Beans, a Raleigh-based roaster. Eight beers will be on tap – all from North Carolina breweries, along with wine from Lexington-based Childress Vineyards.

“We want to use local ingredients whenever possible,” said Dean Ogan, owner of Rocky Top Hospitality, which manages the café. “This is a North Carolina museum.”

The restaurant is classified as “fast casual,” Ogan said, with no menu item costing more than $10. There will be sandwiches, salads and pastas, bison burgers, a local BLT on bread from Neomonde Bakery in Cary and Nye’s ice cream sandwiches from Wilmington.

But the café is about more than food. It is expected to be the headquarters for the museum’s monthly science cafés – gatherings where scientists speak on topics such as climate change, nanotechnology, heart disease, black holes, snakes, hurricanes and insects.

Such science cafés have sprouted around the U.S. in recent years, following the trend of Cafe Scientifiques that are popular in the United Kingdom and across Europe. The idea is to bring science into a casual, nonacademic place where people can discuss issues in a unintimidating environment.

The museum began hosting the events in 2006, and until now held them at Raleigh restaurants Tir Na Nog and the Irregardless Café.

“Now we’re going to have a place of our own to do it,” said Katey Ahmann, deputy director of education at the museum. The first is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. April 24, when Nature Research Center Director Meg Lowman will talk about the state of global forests.

Typically, Ahmann said, a scientist talks for 10 or 15 minutes on a topic, then answers questions for an hour. “The audience is directing what happens,” she said.

The museum’s science cafés regularly draw 60-70 people, and occasionally up to 150. The Daily Planet Café seats about 120 inside and 100 outside on a patio facing Jones Street.

The space itself, like the rest of the museum, is built with sustainable and recycled materials. A small stage is framed by wood recovered from a magnolia tree originally on the site.

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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