““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
Airplane food of a different sort
No knock on onboard catering, but your flights likely bring you near some of the nation's premier on-the-ground dining spots. Why not try some of them? The 10 restaurants discussed here have been critically acclaimed for their food, service and ambiance. Plus, they're all close to general aviation airports-most within one mile. All the airports have at least 5,000 feet of runway and all but one sell jet-A fuel. Have a great flight, and bon appetit!
The Blue Heron Restaurant
Sunrise Springs Resort
242 Los Pinos Road, Santa Fe, N.M. 87507
(505) 428-3600, (800) 955-0028
The distinctive spices and piquant sauces that give Southwestern cooking its kick are infused with the spirit of Zen at the Blue Heron Restaurant, just outside Santa Fe. The facility is housed in an adobe building amid natural springs, gardens and huge cottonwood trees at the 70-acre Sunrise Springs resort. Chef Malik Hammond seeks to deliver regional cuisine that is as natural and healthful as it is delicious.
For starters, try flash-fried pepper calamari with lime chile dipping sauce or seared chicken dumplings with ginger soy.
Popular entrées include dried apricot and curry encrusted salmon with almond butter sauce; peppered duck breast perched on a light lentil and wild rice stew; and organic filet mignon rubbed with red chile and served with goat cheese chile relleno.
The restaurant recently engaged a "bio-dynamic" gardener, and using ingredients from its gardens, makes its own vinegar-infused oils, as well as yogurts and breads. "Which isn't to say it's a granola-esque, crunchy restaurant," said staffer Judy Herzl. "It's sophisticated."
The award-winning wine list features organic wines and finely crafted sakes. Breakfast: Mon.-Sun. Lunch: Wed.-Sun. Dinner: Wed.-Sun. Brunch: Sun.
Nearest airport (seven miles):
Santa Fe Municipal (SAF)
Longest runway: 8,324 ft
FBOs: Santa Fe Air Center,
Sierra Aviation, (505) 474-0774; Skyland Aircraft, (505) 473-1047
961 Ukiah St.
Mendocino, Calif. 95460
Ever-innovative California cuisine gets a free-spirited, nature-loving interpretation at this restaurant, which was proclaimed one of California's best by Country Living magazine. Café Beaujolais occupies a Victorian farmhouse that was built in 1893 and is surrounded by a lush, enchanting garden. The kitchen uses locally grown organic produce, organic meats from local farms and seafood from nearby waters. Its own bakery makes all of its breads. The sophisticated appetizers include sautéed prawns accompanied by corn cakes with roasted tomato-chipotle sauce and crème frâiche; and pan-seared quail glazed with raspberry vinaigrette, with raspberries and toasted walnuts on mixed greens. The chef serves the pork chop entrée with creamy polenta, sautéed chard and oyster mushrooms with Beaujolais herb butter. Washington sturgeon filet is pan roasted with truffle emulsion sauce and accompanied by house-made tagliatelle, wild mushrooms, beets and snap peas. And even non-vegetarians may be tempted by the corn crêpe cake with wild mushrooms, goat cheese and vegetables with stuffed poblano chilies. House-made desserts include blueberry brioche bread pudding with whiskey crème anglaise and a selection of fruit sorbets. The extensive wine list features choices from nearby vineyards in the Napa Valley and Mendocino. Dinner: Mon.-Sun.
Nearest airport (six miles):
Little River (O48). No jet-A fuel.
Longest runway: 5,249 ft
FBO: Coast Flyers, (707) 937-1224
1304 W. Pinhook
Lafayette, La. 70503
The metropolis to its south may get the jumbo portion of culinary attention, but Lafayette, La., is a capital of Cajun and Creole cuisine in its own right. "New Orleans doesn't want you to know about Lafayette," said dedicated gourmand Richard Fournet, who runs a ground-support facility at the airport nearby. Café Vermilionville ranks among the region's most-acclaimed restaurants. Occupying an antique-filled 1799 edifice that served as the town's first inn, it features a main dining room that looks out on a garden, the source of many of the fresh herbs used in the kitchen. Chef Jeremy Coco offers two dinner menus. One showcases the restaurant's signature dishes, including appetizers like jumbo lump crabmeat crostinis, made with Louisiana crabmeat, garlic boursin- infused cream, parmesan cheese and shitake mushrooms. Among the entrées you'll find Cajun-inspired meat and seafood dishes like fresh Gulf fish cooked with a dusting of sweet potato flour and served in citron sauce, and deep-fried jumbo shrimp stuffed with crawfish and crab. Meats get a regional treatment too, as in the Steak Louis the XIII, a filet mignon stuffed with crawfish tails and served with a mushroom demi-glace. The "redefined menu" is a weekly offering that gives the kitchen the creative freedom to use the freshest ingredients available. Lunch: Mon.-Fri. Dinner: Mon.-Sat.
Nearest airport (less than one mile): Lafayette Regional (LFT)
Longest runway: 7,651 ft
FBOs: Paul Fournet Air Service/Avitat,
(337) 237-0520; Million Air, (337) 234-3100
269 S. Milwaukee Ave. (W. Dundee Rd.)
Wheeling, Ill. 60090
In the early 1970s, Le Francais, just north of Chicago, brought classic French haute cuisine to mainstream America. By the 1980s, Bon Appetit magazine had anointed it the best French restaurant in North America. The operation still upholds the Gallic gold standard of culinary arts, featuring the rich sauces and layered flavors and textures that are the hallmarks of the haute tradition. "This is not bistro food," stressed owner Mike Moran. That's demonstrated from the start with appetizers such as caviar and foie gras "torchon," a combination of caviar, roasted cauliflower emulsion and Hudson Valley foie gras with liquid black truffle ravioli; and entrées like Assiette de la Ferme, which features roasted squab, poached poussin and farm-raised Wisconsin venison.
The surroundings are decidedly unprepossessing, which keeps the focus on the food, and chef Roland Liccioni keeps the cooking spirited rather than hidebound. Even the simple slow-poached veal medallions, with slices of dry-aged ribeye steak with cepes-mushroom sauce, evince the kitchen's masterful skills, according to the Chicago Tribune. A seven-course Chef's Seasonal Dégustation menu is offered. And with 12,000 bottles in the wine cellar, you're sure to find one that perfectly suits your palate and your meal. Lunch: Tues.-Fri. Dinner: Mon.-Sat.
Nearest airport (less than one mile):
Chicago Executive (PWK) (formerly Palwaukee Municipal)
Longest runway: 5,137 ft
FBOs: Atlantic, (847) 808-0812; Signature Flight Support, (847) 537-1200
The Meadows Restaurant
1 Center Drive
Sunriver, Ore. 97707
(541) 593-3740, (800) 801-8765
The Pacific Northwest forges a distinct regional cuisine from its abundant seafood, wild game and organically raised meats, locally grown fruits and vegetables, and herbs and mushrooms from its forests.
The Meadows in the Sunriver Lodge in Sunriver, Ore., prides itself on being an example of this cooking style. The dining room, which looks out on an inspiring Western landscape of mountain and forest, has earned Mobil Travel Guide's four-star designation and an Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator magazine.
Appetizers underscore the regional accent: seared razor clams are served in brandy hazelnut beurre blanc and the Meadows seafood pot features local seafood and shellfish. Entrées continue the theme: the grilled center-cut pork chop arrives with Washington cherry-apricot chutney and smoked bacon apple stuffing; the elk chop is served with sautéed blueberries and crushed potatoes; and the winter vegetable ravioli, of course, uses local veggies.
For dessert, you can get a taste of locally grown raspberries in the homemade sorbet, or in the raspberry sauce with the chocolate decadence cake. Or if you've got an appetite as big as the Northwest, go for the dessert sampler with caramel apple tart, chocolate mousse and Pyramid vanilla bean ice cream. Breakfast, lunch, dinner: Mon.-Sun.
Nearest airport (less than one mile):
Longest runway: 5,455 ft
FBO: Sunriver Resort (541) 593-4603
95 Cordova St.
St. Augustine, Fla. 32084
In the heart of North America's oldest city, chef Rene Nyfeler is drawing on a world of tastes and influences to create inspiring, innovative cuisine. Located in the landmark Casa Monica Hotel, which magnate Henry Flagler built in 1888, this restaurant features gilded furnishings and fixtures echoing the hotel's architectural theme of a Moorish pleasure palace.
But the true pleasure here is the food. The menu is an eclectic, masterful fusion of Spanish, European, Pacific Rim and nouvelle American influences. The Moroccan pesto-spiced calamari appetizer is moist and tender, devoid of the heavy breading and rubbery texture common to this standard starter. Tangy sauces accent the high quality meat and seafood entrées, which are well paired with wild mushroom risotto, garlic mashed potatoes and other sides. The seafood strudel in its phyllo wrapping is almost sweet enough to be a dessert-at least until the dessert menu is presented, with standouts like bananas foster, chocolate "fonduet" for two and fresh berry Romanoff. The menu changes seasonally, and there's also a six-course tasting menu that's revised weekly and is paired with wines from an impressive list. Breakfast, lunch, dinner: Mon.- Sun. Brunch: Sun.
Nearest airport (five miles):
St. Augustine (SGJ)
Longest runway: 7,996 ft
FBO: Galaxy Aviation,
(904) 824-1995, (800) 840-1995
The Palms Restaurant
246 N. Pleasantburg Dr.
Greenville, S.C. 29607
(864) 233-4651, (800) 257-3529
The Palms delivers classic Continental cuisine with a light Southern touch. Located in The Phoenix, a charming hostelry, the Palms has an Old World ambiance. Chef Tim Sprague is more interested in offering a taste of another time and place than in reinventing regional fare.
Starters include spinach salad with warm goat cheese, applewood smoked bacon and teriyaki vinaigrette dressing; and seared scallops with asparagus and saffron vinaigrette dressing. The Continental inspiration is evident in the Roquefort cream sauce accompanying the mushroom ravioli and the mushroom Bordelaise sauce dressing the grilled New York strip steak. Meanwhile, you can taste a nouvelle touch in sauces like balsamic raspberry glaze and accompaniments such as saffron risotto. But this being the coastal Low Country, seafood gets its due in entrées such as feuillete of fresh shrimp and Southern fried oysters with a light spinach sauce, and herb bread crumb crusted grouper filet with a roast red pepper and tomato coulis.
Hailed by Southern Living and Gourmet magazines and Fodor's, The Palms' greens and produce come from a local organic farm that sells to no other restaurants in Greenville. Desserts like the signature Chocolate Volcano reportedly keep the palate palpitating to the very end. Lunch: Tues.-Fri. Dinner: Tues.-Sat.
219 W. 9th St.
Kansas City, Mo. 64105
In the late 1800s, when cattle, grain and railroads made Kansas City boom, the Hotel Savoy was its social center. In 1903, the facility added the Savoy Grill, and today, sitting in the city's oldest restaurant, one can imagine those boom times never left. The Savoy's murals, painted by Edward Holslag, still adorn the walls, depicting the pioneers' journey along the Santa Fe Trail. Art Nouveau-styled stained-glass windows, high beamed ceilings, old "gas" lanterns and an enormous carved oak bar add to the cosseted atmosphere, which has earned the restaurant a listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
The original menu that once featured prairie chicken and buffalo steaks has been updated considerably, and of course, beef remains a specialty: top sirloin, T-bone, prime rib, tournedos, chateaubriand, steak au poivre and 4-H sirloin have all won praise, as have the accompanying peppered cognac and red wine sauce. But the menu also features a surprising variety of seafood for such a land-locked, beef-centric locale. The Savoy New England dinner offers steamed clams, broiled Maine lobster and Gulfstream shrimp.
Booth No. 4, by the way, is the Presidents' Booth, having hosted Warren Harding, Harry Truman, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. Lunch: Mon.-Sat. Dinner: Mon.-Sun.
Nearest airport (less than one mile):
Greenville Downtown (GMU)
Longest runway: 5,393 ft
FBOs: Greenville Jet Center, (864) 235-6383;
Tac Air, (864) 232-7100.
The Stonehouse Inn
4753 West Lake Road
Erie, Pa. 16505
"Life is too short to eat ordinary food," according to Jim Baldauf, chef and owner of The Stonehouse Inn. The restaurant-located in an English manor-style house overlooking a pond and waterfall-is his shrine to that philosophy.
Critics say the food is as elegant and refined as the setting. Baldauf draws his inspiration from around the world, and tastes of Europe, Asia, the Mediterranean and the Middle East accent the selections. Shopping is done daily to ensure the freshness and quality of the ingredients, and the menu, written on a small chalkboard, changes just as frequently. Perennially favorite appetizers include smoked salmon ravioli and a lively honey macadamia nut salad. A popular main course is center-cut filet mignon, which is pan-seared, then encrusted with bleu cheese and bread crumbs, oven roasted and served with a port wine sauce. Other standouts include duck-à-la-raspberry and beef Wellington.
The wine cellar contains exceptional vintages and unusual labels from almost a score of countries. Throughout the year, culinary events ranging from wine tasting to ethnic dinner presentations draw serious gourmands to the restaurant. Dinner: Tues.-Sat.
Nearest airport (less than one mile):
Erie International (ERI)
Longest runway: 6,500 ft
FBO: Northcoast Air, (814) 836-9220
The Yacht Club
Horseshoe Bay Resort
Horseshoe Bay, Texas 78657
(830) 596-0881, (830) 598-6524
You'd expect to find superior steaks in Texas rangy and scenic Hill Country. But at a waterside restaurant serving unabashedly artful haute cuisine? All come together at The Yacht Club, the flagship dining room of the Horseshoe Bay Resort on the shores of Lake LBJ. Chef Andrew Wintz pays homage to the restaurant's Texas roots with certified Angus beef filet mignon and New York strip steaks. And its maritime motif is echoed in dishes like blue crab-stuffed Gulf shrimp with roasted pepper risotto cake and a Mediterranean bouillabaisse of Block Island shellfish, Gulf snapper, jumbo prawns and Maine lobster with saffron-garlic rouille.
The kitchen shows its haute hand with elaborate presentations and rich sauces from the start, in appetizers like the escargot baked en croute with Pouilly-Fuisse garlic butter and sauce Provençal and the Maryland blue crab cake accompanied by smoked jalapeno aoli. Southern accents are emphasized at lunch with hearty sandwiches like the New Orleans-style oyster po'boy and barbecue pulled pork.
The menu changes seasonally, and an outstanding wine list ensures finding the perfect bottle to complement your meal. Lunch, dinner: Mon.-Sun.
(Nov.-Feb. dinner: Mon.-Sat.)
Nearest airport (two miles):
Horseshoe Bay Airpark (4R2)
Longest runway: 5,600 ft
FBO: Horseshoe Bay Resort Jet
Center, (830) 598-6386