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“Well, it’s better than airplane food,” says Ken. “And Surly Jim here makes a good vodka.”

OK, so damned with faint praise on the food front. But hey, even though this is the airport, I’m actually chewing on some pretty nice pot stickers.

I’m here waiting for Jan’s plane to arrive. Carla’s friend from Florida. Coming for a week.

Eating at the airport? For the first time in my life, I’m early. Disturbing feeling. I wandered the hallways looking for something to eat, but just see Starbucks stand-ups and the usual franchises.

Then I spot this dragon, on the floor.

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Its long tail leads you into a Chinese fast food place...

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...and it's owned by – hey, that Chinese TV chef. Martin Yan. Yan Can.

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I recognize his face in a big picture on the wall.

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Don’t want to go crazy here. Three big menu boards above the dragon’s head have trad. dishes like Kung Pao chicken ($8.99), Mongolian beef ($9.49).

Too mean for that. But this is so much my m/o: I decide to go for an appetizer. Veggie spring rolls (2 for #4.29. It’s $5.49 for 4). Fine, but then I get tempted by the pot stickers ($4.29 for four, $6.49 for eight). “This is not your ordinary chicken pot sticker,” it says. “It’s light and crunchy, served with a spicy soy sauce.”

What the heck. I go for that too. Get the four. See? Now I’m paying what I would have for the Kung Pao Chicken.

Still, looks pretty good. I follow the dragon tail deep into the bowels of the place, kinda walking parallel to folks heading for their planes. End up sitting at the bar.

“You could have ordered it here,” says Surly Jim. “What can I get you?”

Gotta work after I get Jan home, so I order a St. Pauli N.A. Oh wow, $6.79. Plus tax, $7.32.

Get talking with Ken, guy sitting next to me, the way you do in airports (though how long since I took off in one of those sky trains?).

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Ken and Surly Jim

Ken’s from El Cajon. Meeting someone from Seattle delayed by all that weather up north.

Some guy named Joe heading up to snowboard in the mountains says he knows the all-time champ of airport food places.

“Best airport food?” he says. “Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Place that serves only brotwurst and beer cheese soup and Pabst Blue Ribbon. That soup…people fly to Milwaukee just to have it.”

My pot stickers have chicken and veggies inside. The spring rolls are cabbage and carrot, tastes like.

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What $16.56 buys

“Actually,” says Surly Jim, who’s really quite a merry feller, “what I like best is that cole slaw salad on your plate. It’s not cole slaw. It’s a vinegar-based mix. Really quite delicious.”

He’s right. Like kim chee.

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And – who knew? - it’s hard to leave this little group of guys, instant compañeros. But there’s Jan’s plane announcement. Gate One.

Jan appears. Looking pretty good, considering 9 hours from Jacksonville, Florida, couple of them in Baltimore.

“What’d they give you to eat?” I ask.

“Well let’s see,” she says. “A small pack of peanuts, some Wheat Thins, a Sprite, and the big treat? A tiny pack of mini-pretzels.”

Like Ken said…airplane food…isn’t it a federal crime to link those two words?

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