"Best of the Best" Airport Restaurants Part Two

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Start flight planning today to point your Cessna at these destinations, where an awesome meal awaits.

March 2015-

In part one of the "Best of the Best" Airport Restaurant series that ran last month in this magazine, I told you about steakhouses, bistros, laid-back cafes and white-tablecloth dining rooms.
All of the restaurants—those highlighted last month, and those featured this month— are located right on an airfield and have been given five stars by visitors of John Purner's $100 Hamburger website.
In the coming weeks, winter weather will give way to spring temperatures and blue skies, and soon we'll all be out there looking for more places to fly our airplanes. So grab your iPad or paper charts, and get to work setting course now for the following 13 airport restaurants.

Rick's Crabby Cowboy Café and Marina – Montauk, N.Y. (KMTP)
"This is my favorite stop in New York, maybe the whole earth," John Purner says. "Nice location at the end of Runway 24, and it's right on Montauk Sound. Rick's has a nice, airy marina atmosphere, amazing seafood and great service."
Sure, you can order the 18-hour pulled pork or chicken, but I'd go for one of the famous "Crabby Bakes" with your choice of lobster, rib eye steak or crab legs in a bake bowl with steamers, mussels and shrimp.
If you desire the full dinner experience, Montauk Pearl oysters are a longtime favorite. At Rick's, lobster is always available, and for appetizers, online reviewers give raves to the New England clam chowder and homemade onion rings. (According to online review site Yelp.com, Rick's is temporarily closed but scheduled to reopen on May 1, 2015. —Ed.)

The Pik-n-Pig
– Carthage, N.C. (5NC3)
The Pik-N-Pig really welcomes pilots, and its website has an information-packed page with everything you need to know to fly into Gilliam-McConnell Airfield. (The airport is private, so prior permission to land is required.) When you taxi up and park on the grass next to the other pilots looking for incredible barbecue, you will realize the effort was worth it.
Owner Ashley Sheppard says, "Our most popular menu item is the fresh smoked pulled pork barbecue. We dry rub Boston butts (the best part of the shoulder) before slow-smoking them for at least eight hours over hickory coals. And all of our desserts—including our very popular Coca-Cola cake—are made in-house." Of the barbecue, Purner says, "it stacks up with some of the best I've ever had."

Sky Galley Restaurant
– Cincinnati (KLUK)
Lunken Field is a significant part of United States aviation history and it's also a great choice for an airport meal, with a restaurant that has been in nearly continuous operation for decades. "From the Art Deco building, to the amazing food, to the uninterrupted airport view," Purner says, "the Sky Galley is a must-stop. It has long been one of my favorites."
View photographs and memorabilia of early Lunken Field history (it's the birthplace of American Airlines, among other things) and try Bubba's BBQ burger, a half-pound monster topped with sautéed onions and barbecue sauce.
Sky Galley may be the only airport restaurant serving a Braunschweiger sandwich on dark rye bread with sliced egg, red onion and spicy grain mustard.

Tin Goose Diner
– Port Clinton, Ohio (KPCW)
The Tin Goose Diner is dedicated to serving large portions of aviation history along with each meal in an authentic 1950s diner that is a permanent part of the Liberty Aviation Museum on the field. Its managers encourage you to view artifacts, aircraft and memorabilia from the Golden Age of Aviation, and according to the website, proceeds from the diner help fund the operation of the museum.
"This diner was built by the Jerry O'Mahony Diner Co. of Elizabeth, N.J," explains Purner. "The food is wonderful diner food... if you want a malt, this is the place to get it."
The aviation ambiance of this restaurant is clear the minute you open the menu. You'll find recognizable names attached to breakfast, lunch and dinner items, including the Wing Walker, the Barn Stormer, the B-25, the Stearman, the Gee Bee and the "Wrong Way" Corrigan—and of course, the DC-3 French dip sandwich and Tri-Motor burger.

Jake's Joint
– Ardmore, Okla. (KADM)
Owner Jerry Allan King-Echevarria (JAKE) has operated an aircraft maintenance company at Ardmore Municipal since 1993. He's seen several airport eateries at KADM come and go, so he decided to open his own joint, and it comes highly recommended by Purner.
"This place is perfect, with one big exception," says Purner. "Many of the menu items are Jake's favorite recipes from his ranch—and they're prepared by a team of renowned chefs and a couple of good old-country cooks—including some popular homemade desserts. The best thing on the menu is Jake's Blue Plate Special, which changes every day, for just 10 bucks."
That exception Purner is referring to is this: Jake's Joint is only open for lunch Monday through Friday. So even though Runway 13/31 is 9,002 x 150 feet—large enough for just about anything that flies—don't fly there expecting to eat at Jake's if it's Saturday or Sunday.

Enrique's Mexican Restaurant
– Ponca City, Okla. (KPNC)
You almost cannot read online reviews of this Mexican restaurant without reading about its fresh, homemade tortilla chips served warm to your table. There's a lot to love about Enrique's according to these reviewers, some of whom seem amused that such a restaurant is located at an airport. But its location is precisely why this spot has earned a "three-peat" on the $100 Hamburger "Best of the Best" list.
"I love Mexican food and I love flying," says Purner, "so put the two together and I'm good to go. Enrique's has been serving some of the best Mexican food I have ever eaten, since 1982."
Once the plane is tied down at Ponca City Regional and your belly is stuffed with Enrique's highly-recommended enchiladas, visit the nearby Marland Estate mansion, a local attraction built with influences from the Davanzati Palace in Florence, Italy. With Waterford crystal chandeliers and gold leaf ceilings, the 43,500-square-foot mansion is a notable national historical landmark.

DeNunzio's Italian Chophouse
and Sinatra Bar
– Latrobe, Penn. (KLBE)
The field where DeNunzio's is located—Arnold Palmer Regional Airport—is your first clue that Latrobe is a famous golfer's boyhood home. So if you're like Purner and two of your greatest passions are golf and flying, this is a very good place to celebrate both. A quick scan of golflink.com shows no less than 40 golf courses within a 20-mile drive of KLBE.
"DeNunzio's is in the terminal building and is easily accessed via the FBO next door," Purner says. "The ambiance is impressive while casual, the food is very, very good and the service is stellar. Plan to come on a weekend evening and enjoy the live entertainment."
What stands out on this chophouse's dinner menu is the center-cut pork chop, broiled and served with an apple brandy sauce. But DeNunzio's is at heart an Italian restaurant, so ask for the spicy strozzapreti, a delicious pasta dish with sautéed banana peppers and sausage in a port wine marinara sauce.

Ryan's Hangar Restaurant & Ace Lounge – Huron, S.D. (KHON)
There are numerous places on Purner's list to fly in and grab lunch, but Ryan's is not one of them. This is a dinner house, open daily from 4 p.m. With ambiance and a panoramic view of the large runway, Ryan's is a casual, relaxed place to fly in for steaks, ribs and seafood.
"The food at Ryan's is excellent, and the crisp white tablecloths set the mood for a very enjoyable dinner," says Purner. "I have never had anything but an exceptional meal here, always followed by the best three-layer carrot cake in the country. It is one of the best dinners you'll ever have at an airport restaurant."
The Huron area is well-known among pheasant hunters across the nation, and South Dakota's hunting season traditionally opens the third Saturday in October and runs until Jan. 1.

Southern Flyer Diner
– Brenham, Tex. (11R)
Chicken-fried steak, fried pickles, okra, catfish, cornbread and "shut up" puppies, all washed down with a giant glass of sweet tea. If that doesn't get your prop spinning, you've never had great food from the Southern tier of the United States.
This restaurant has been voted on to Purner's annual $100 Hamburger "Best of the Best" list five times. It's so well-known as a fly-in diner that the website offers an explanation to locals so they can understand exactly what a hundred-dollar hamburger really is.
"To say I like this place is a big understatement," says Purner. "The ambiance is perfect, and the food is amazing. I will gladly stand in line behind all of the locals and wait my turn for a seat."
Owner Jack Hess says, "If we can't make a selection delicious, it will not be on the menu. It seems obligatory for pilots to have one of our large burgers and a shake or malt, because they've earned it!"
Hard Eight BBQ
– Stephenville, Tex. (KSEP)
Flying carnivores, this could be your new favorite restaurant. But you better arrive hungry, because the brisket, pork ribs, sirloin, sausage (regular or jalapeno), turkey, chicken or shrimp poppers and chicken or sirloin kabobs are all priced by the pound.
The restaurant is across the airport from transient parking, and because golf carts used by pilots are no longer available, Hard Eight provides complimentary transportation service. Just call when you arrive and they'll send a staff member over to pick you up.
Restaurant owner Vicki Nivens says all first-time visitors should not get out the door without trying the sliced brisket served hot off the mesquite wood pit. "We love it when pilots fly in," Nivens says. "Many tell us we've become a recommended stop on cross-country flights."
And Purner agrees, saying, "I'm strictly a brisket guy, and Hard Eight does brisket right. But no matter what you order, you will not be disappointed. Just don't forget the pecan pie."

Rickenbacker's Steakhouse
– Odgen, Utah (KOGD)
During the early years of commercial air travel, when Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker wasn't in New York making Eastern Airlines profitable, he'd escape to Bear Creek Ranch in the Texas Hill Country where he was known as a talented chef who knew how to grill a great steak. It was there that the recipes and grilling methods used today at Rickenbacker's Steakhouse were perfected.
"Come for the food and stay for the view," Purner says of Rickenbacker's in Utah, which he calls one of the 10 best airport-located steakhouses in the United States. "Do not miss having a meal here. It's that good."
Of Rickenbacker's signature dishes, The Lindbergh Steak and Pasta Supreme seems to be a "can't-miss" choice; your 8 oz. New York strip steak is grilled and served on a bed of linguini that's been tossed in Alfredo sauce with gorgonzola crumbles, spinach and scallions.
The field elevation is 4,473 feet, but all 8,103 feet of Ogden-Hinckley Airport's Runway 03/21 allows just about anything to get in and out of here even when it's hot and density altitude is a consideration.
The Basin Harbor Resort
– Vergennes, Vt. (B06)
The term "farm-to-table" describes a relationship between chefs and local farmers that's built on the premise that fresh ingredients will create a better meal. The Basin Harbor Resort fully embraces the concept, and with over 200 farmers and producers in proximity to the restaurant, this upscale resort offers guests a seasonal menu Purner highly recommends.
"The accommodations are superb, the staff is friendly, the food is fabulous and the wine list is first-rate. You can golf, swim, boat, hike or just relax. A weekend here is expensive and worth it," Purner says.
The 3,200-foot turf runway is well-maintained, but bring your own tiedowns. The field also has no lighting system or Avgas, so manage your fuel accordingly. When you land, you can either call to arrange a quick shuttle ride, or take the short scenic walk along the shores of gorgeous Lake Champlain to the resort.

Spruce Goose Café
– Port Townsend, Wash. (0S9)
For an airport restaurant to be remarkable, it must have two things: a truly memorable food item and a great view of the airport action. In the Pacific Northwest, the café at Jefferson County International has both.
With the ramp just outside the door, watching small planes come and go is a popular activity for locals, and online reviewers say this is a great meal spot for kids, because we all know kids dig airplanes.
But pilots—and locals—don't come here to watch Cessnas arrive and depart. They come for the pie. This signature dessert is what the café does best, and its daily pie menu is long and enticing.
"I like this place," Purner says, "their homemade pies and the daily lunch specials are awesome. I had a friend once tell me that while the burgers and Rueben sandwich are fab, it is the Spruce Goose Cafe's pies that should be spoken of in hushed, reverent tones."

Set your own course soon
With these 13 great restaurants—along with the 13 other greats discussed in the February issue of Cessna Flyer—you are now able to set a course toward this country's best airport restaurants. It almost doesn't matter what corner of the United States you depart from, you're likely to find something you'll love at one of the many airports with great places to eat.

Dan Pimentel has worked in journalism and graphic design since 1979, and is the president and creative director of Celeste/Daniels Advertising and Design (celestedaniels.com). He's an instrument-rated private pilot and has been writing the Airplanista Aviation Blog (airplanista.com) since 2005. You can find him on Twitter as @Av8rdan. Send questions or comments to .

The Basin Harbor Resort
Vergennes, Vt. (B06)

DeNunzio's Italian Chophouse
and Sinatra Bar
Latrobe, Penn. (KLBE)

Enrique's Mexican Restaurant
Ponca City, Okla. (KPNC)

Hard Eight BBQ
Stephenville, Tex. (KSEP)

Jake's Joint
Ardmore, Okla. (KADM)

Marland Estate
Ponca City, Okla.

The Pik-n-Pig
Carthage, N.C. (5NC3)

Rick's Crabby Cowboy Café
and Marina
Montauk, N.Y. (KMTP)

Rickenbacker's Steakhouse
Odgen, Utah (KOGD)

Ryan's Hangar Restaurant
& Ace Lounge
Huron, S.D. (KHON)

Sky Galley Restaurant & Bar
Cincinnati, Ohio (KLUK)

Southern Flyer Diner
Brenham, Tex. (11R)

Spruce Goose Café
Port Townsend, Wash. (0S9)

Tin Goose Diner
Port Clinton, Ohio (KPCW)