As I mentioned in my previous review of Surdyk’s Flights at MSP, there are good and bad airports for layovers, at least if you are looking for good dining options. And unfortunately, SEA seems to be perpetually locked sometime in the mid-1990s when it comes to airport dining. Aside from a number of Starbucks that would be considered implausibly high in most other places (I passed three just walking from my gate back to security, this is Seattle, after all!), aside from Ivar’s Seafood Bar, the options at SEA mostly involve… Sbarro and McDonald’s (the latter being a fairly recent addition). But there’s actually a good, non-obvious option at SEA, at least if you’ve got a layover of at least two hours: Leave the airport! In a mere five minute walk from any gates but the N/S concourses (which have the little tramway connecting them to the rest of the airport), you can not only be back through security, but outside of the airport, and in another 5 minutes of walking, you can be off the airport entirely, and sitting in the warm comfort of 13 Coins.
One of our vacations this year was a trip to Oahu, and, quite frankly, coming from New Hampshire, there’s no easy way to do the trip. Most every option either involves multiple hops, a very long layover, or a red-eye flight. Indeed, our trip this time was BOS-MSP-SEA-HNL, with moderate layovers at MSP and SEA. And that means airport dining. There are good and bad airports for layovers, and I’ll have to say Terminal 1 (the Lindbergh Terminal) at MSP is one of the better places to have a layover. The terminal is huge, and has more than a few good options for food and drink. Previously, I’ve enjoyed sandwiches and beer at Ike’s (including indulging in a rare pint of Surly Furious), and just about every coffee company in Minnesota (Starbucks, Dunn Bros, Caribou, …). There’s even a reasonably good burger place (TwinBurger) and a good sushi place (Shoyu). But a fairly recent addition has been an old Minneapolis favorite of mine: Surdyk’s.
While generally I’m a fan of air travel, one of the less fortunate aspects of the experience is that most food in airports, well, sucks. Oh, there are the exceptions (like my recent review of Sora in Detroit, or Legal Sea Food in Boston, or even the Milltowne Grille at my own Manchester airport, but generally you need to be setting your expectations rather low. So when I find a place that, well, doesn’t suck, I try to write it up for my readers. In this case, it was getting breakfast at The Counter at San Diego airport that actually started the day off on a good note.
A continuing mission of mine here at Offbeat Eats is trying to help fellow travelers find good places to eat. As I’ve commented many times before, airport food is generally a dismal experience, and with a few rare exceptions (notable airports I’ve found that have multiple good options for food include Heathrow and San Francisco, for example), airport dining is best avoided, and if you find yourself needing a meal, you often pay through the nose for it. One particularly pleasant exception to this, however, lies in Detroit’s International Airport. Detroit is often the butt of jokes, and it often has earned that status, but for a city of its status, Detroit actually has a rather nice airport, particularly in their main McNamara terminal (home of the particularly cool colorful tunnel between concourses, which you can see here). There are a lot of restaurants here, of varying quality, but one thing stands out: primarily due to the large number of Japanese passengers passing through the airport, it sports multiple Japanese restaurants. One of these, Sora Japanese Cuisine and Sushi Bar, is one of my rare examples of “Good airport food”.
Well, the 2012 round of travels continues, this time with a trip to Iceland (for pleasure, it’s been on our to-do list for years). But before I could start reviewing Icelandic food joints, we had to actually get to Iceland. Which means a plane flight. Which means airports. Which often means airport food. As I’ve commented before, airport food is generally a dismal experience. Airport dining options are generally limited, overpriced, poor quality, and, bizarrely, often seemingly unaware of the fact that they are located in an airport and their customers have planes to catch (Yes, Todd English’s Bonfire at Logan, I’m still pissed at you…). But we again found ourselves with a red-eye flight across the Atlantic, and our bus schedule leaving us some time to kill in Terminal E before our flight. Not having quite enough time to take the Silver Line over to South Station, we had to find some dinner at the airport. While I’ve had some decent meals at the restaurant located right outside security in Terminal E, I decided that this time we’d mix it up, and walk over to Terminal C (as an aside, it’s an interesting walk, since you go through the remnants of Terminal D, which has been subsumed by Terminals C and E) to check out the Logan Airport edition of the Legal Sea Foods chain (this is their “Legal Sea Foods” location in Terminal C, they also have a “Legal C Bar” in Terminal B, and “Legal Test Kitchen” in Terminal A)….
As any of us that travel frequently can attest, the average quality of airport food is particularly lousy. Usually it’s either fast food (served up by HMS Host catering, or some other similar foreign equivalent), captive-audience priced, or served by people that don’t seem to understand that airports are frequented by people that are often in a hurry. So usually the result is quickly wolfing down some overpriced crappy food, hoping that your next flight won’t be plagued by food poisoning.
We’re all familiar with the great quandary when traveling, which is where to eat. Most airport restaurants aren’t terribly well known, are expensive, and generally serve sub-par food. However, when traveling, I occasionally come across a gem that’s worth noting (Burger Joint in San Francisco and Milltowne Grille in Manchester, to name two). Obrycki’s is another one of these places that’s head and shoulders above the rest (although not without it’s flaws). Obyrcki’s is an airport branch of the venerable on Pratt Street over in Baltimore, long known as a quality vendor of crab cakes. The BWI location is but a mere shadow of the real Obrycki’s…
One of the unfortunate facts of life is that, in general, air travel isn’t as convenient as it used to be. In these days of higher fuel costs and lower profits, most airlines have trimmed back their food service, mostly replacing it with expensive “buy-on-board” meals. We’ve got the silly TSA liquid ban as well, which also make it harder to bring stuff with you. Which makes it increasingly likely these days that on longer plane trips, you’ll be getting some of your sustenance from various food vendors at the airport. Unfortunately, in most cases, airport food sucks. While there are a few notable exceptions, the general airport fare is either poorly done versions of your basic fast food fare, ultra-expensive, or both. However, there are a few places that seem to fill the airport food niche decently. Recently, on a trip to Miami we had a nice long layover at Newark’s Concourse C, and we spied Garden State Diner and decided to give it a try.
Sometimes you find quality in places you really aren’t expecting it. I’ve been a fan of the French Dip sandwich since I was a kid. There’s just something nice about some good rare roast beef served in au jus on a nice crusty roll. Unfortunately, most places don’t do a good French Dip. They use overcooked, cheap roast beef; low-grade salty bullion; and soft buns that quickly get waterlogged. There is, of course, the occasional exception. That place that makes a good case for having inventing the sandwich in the first place, Phillipe, makes a seriously good French Dip (I particularly recommend their Lamb Dip). And, to this day, my gold standard for a good French Dip is the version that was made by the Harrison Roadhouse in East Lansing, Michigan (with extra-rare, cold roast beef on a delicious onion bun, served with a rosemary-infused au jus). Alas, the Harrison Roadhouse itself stopped making it more than a decade ago…