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In-flight meals on domestic flights have largely gone the way of the dodo. And with TSA rules that limit what you can bring through security, many hungry travelers turn to airport eateries for sustenance. Fast food is always an option, but celebrity chefs and healthier fare are boosting the culinary quotient in terminals around the country. We explore the menus at airport restaurants and scope out the best and worst options for a pre-flight meal.
- Tom Sietsema Food Critic, Washington Post; author of "The Washington Post Dining Guide" (2003)
- Steven Baker Vice President of Business Administration, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority
- Susan Levin Registered Dietitian; Director of Nutrition Education, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
Best And Worst U.S. Airports For Healthy Dining Options
Nutrition experts at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine surveyed restaurant meals at 18 of the busiest U.S. airports in more than a dozen states. They gave each restaurant a point if its menu included at least one high-fiber, cholesterol-free entree. The report found that 76 percent of restaurants at major airports offer at least one healthful plant-based entree. Below is the list of airports with restaurants offering the most variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes, ranked from best to worst. Read the full 2013 report.
Healthy Eating At Washington Area Airports
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, which tied with LAX for third place, is the most improved this year—gaining 14 points and moving up from 11th place. Travelers on the run can grab an Asian peanut-tofu wrap from Euro Café, a cup of Moroccan lentil soup or Smart Fit salad from Cosi, or stop by National Airport Grill for a grilled vegetable entrée made with squash, zucchini, and baked eggplant. Washington travelers looking to sit down can check out Cibo Bistro & Wine Bar, which offers Italian specialties, including fusilli telefono with crispy eggplant and tomato sauce.
- Here are the local eateries at National Airport that offer at least one high-fiber, cholesterol-free entrée:
Cibo Bistro and Wine Bar
Einstein Bros. Bagels
Jerry’s Subs and Pizza
Jet Rock Bar and Grill
National Airport Grill
Potbelly Sandwich Works
Qdoba Mexican Grill
Sam and Harry’s
Samuel Adams Brewhouse
- Here are the local eateries at BWI Airport that offer at least one high-fiber, cholesterol-free entrée:
DuClaw Brewing Company
Market Fresh International
Nature’s Fresh Kitchen Café
Obrycki’s Restaurant and Bar
Pax Bar and Eatery
Peppers Mexican Grill
Potbelly Sandwich Works
Vino Volo Wine Bar
- Here are the local eateries at Dulles Airport that offer at least one high-fiber, cholesterol-free entrée:
Capitol Grounds Coffee
Dulles Gourmet Market
Dulles Gourmet to Go
Great American Bagel Bakery
Guava and Java
Harry’s Tap Room
Moe’s Grill and Bar
Potbelly Sandwich Works
Vino Volo Wine Room
Baltimore/Washington International Airport, which tied for fourth place, gains four percent this year and moves up from 10th place. Silver Diner offers portobello vegetarian stir-fry, an all-season summer salad and a hearty autumn veggie chili with kidney beans, mushrooms, carrots, and squash. Maryland travelers can stop by Chesapeake Café or Rams Head Tavern for a variety of fresh cut greens, including ample servings of seaweed salad.
Washington Dulles International Airport, which tied with BWI for fourth place, drops two points this year but rises from sixth to fourth place. Early risers can stop by Capitol Ground Coffee for a quick breakfast or light lunch, which might include a Greek Islands Salad or the GWU Veggie Special, piled high with spinach, tomatoes, and roasted red peppers. There is no need to worry about mystery toppings at Green Leaf’s, where you can pick and mix your own salad. Matsutake Sushi serves as a healthful lunch or dinner destination, offering avocado cucumber rolls, pickled radish and asparagus, and steamed veggies with rice.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world on "Food Wednesday," for the traveler. Yeah.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIYou've slogged through traffic to get to the airport, inched through a long security line and taken off your shoes and belt and anything else that might beep. After being X-rayed and OK'd, you put everything back on and finally head for the gate. Now, it's time to eat. In this era of heightened security and reduced airline food service, travelers are spending more time at the airport looking for sustenance. Maybe you want a full meal before you get on the plane, or a snack to eat in the air, or both.
MR. KOJO NNAMDISometimes, the options aren't very appealing. But local eateries and celebrity chefs are boosting the culinary quotient at some airports. And in our area, both National and Dulles Airports are about to undergo a restaurant makeover as part of a five year concession upgrade that begins next spring. Joining me to talk about how to eat well at the airport is Steven Baker. He is Vice President of Business Administration with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Steven Baker, thank you for joining us.
MR. STEVEN BAKERPleasure to be here.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Susan Levin. She is a registered dietician and Director of Nutrition Education at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Susan Levin, thank you for joining us.
MS. SUSAN LEVINThanks for having me.
NNAMDIAnd welcome back to Tom Sietsema. He is Food Critic at the Washington Post. Tom, good to see you again.
MR. TOM SIETSEMAAlways a pleasure.
NNAMDIYou, too, can join the conversation. Give us a call. 800-433-8850. What's your favorite airport restaurant? You can send email to email@example.com or send us a tweet at kojoshow. Tom, give us your big picture impressions of airport restaurants. How good is their food? How do they compare with their counterparts outside the airport?
SIETSEMAWell, I do a lot of flying for my job throughout the year. Spend a lot of time in airports. Sometimes stuck there, sometimes in transit. I think, overall, it has really improved as the bar has been raised in major markets and small markets, so have the offerings in most of the major airports. And there are some places that are truly destination restaurants now, too. I think we're all spending so much more time, you know, thanks or no thanks to security and other things in airports that, you know, I was just in Seoul, for instance.
SIETSEMAAnd you could go to the airport early and take a sauna, if you wanted to. You know, there are all these places you can go and places you can eat and spend your money before you ever get on the plane that give you a sense of the city or a sense of the market. But I do think things have improved. Not maybe as quickly as I had wanted them, as a traveler, to improve, but certainly, things have gotten really a lot more delicious in the last five years.
NNAMDISusan Levin, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine does an annual ranking of airports, based on how many of their eateries offer a healthy entrée. You've been overseeing those rankings for the last eight years. How have the scores and how has the landscape changed since the survey began in 2001?
LEVINYeah, so it's changed a lot. And I have to agree with Tom that it's gotten better, and we have numbers to show that it has gotten better. And when we did start this report fortuitously, I suppose, in 2001, when travel became more difficult after 9/11. You have to get to the airport sooner, it's maybe a little more confusing about what you can bring through security. So, you're captive in this space with a lot of food offerings. And I think that the restaurants and businesses have -- are catering to the demand for healthier food options.
LEVINPeople are becoming culturally more aware of how food plays a part in their health, and they want to eat better. That's happening outside of airports, and it's happening inside airports, as well.
NNAMDISteve, you oversee restaurant selection for Reagan National and Dulles Airports, and it's my understanding that big changes are coming to the restaurant lineup at both airports. What's the timeline for the concession upgrade, and why now?
BAKERThe concessions upgrade is actually a three year program, as opposed to a five year. And it's already underway, so you'll begin seeing changes in the spring of 2014. The why now answer is because we have the opportunity. Typically, concession leases at airports run from seven to 10 years, and it's when they expire that you have a chance to really do something significant with your program at an airport. It just so happens that now we have the opportunity of both airports, and we're seizing it to bring new content, both in food and in retail, at the airport.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Which terminal or which airport do you think has the best food? You can also send us a tweet at kojoshow. So, you're starting to roll this out. We should see results as early as spring of 2014. And over what period of time will you be rolling it out?
BAKERThe final phase will end in December of 2016. So, over the next three years, you will see the first piece. You will see about 40 different locations, food and retail. You'll see concepts such as Legals returning to National Airport. You'll see Ben's Chili Bowl making its first appearance in any airport. You'll see a return to Five Guys, Au Bon Pain, BRB Burgers, Bistro (word?) will be a French pub on concourse C out at Dulles. You'll have an American tap room at North Terminal at National Airport.
BAKERAnd that's just the first phase.
NNAMDIHow have long security lines, tighter security screening and cutbacks, especially in onboard food service increased the demand for good food at the airport, Susan?
LEVINI think exponentially, because you are getting to airports sooner, and you may be waiting for a long time for a flight that is to the other coast. You don't know what kind of food they're gonna have for you on the plane. So, you're gonna wanna buy snacks or maybe even a meal. Because your next meal may be 10 hours away. And therefore, because you're flying, because it is a very stressful time, a lot of people, when they travel, might get upset stomachs. They might get constipated.
LEVINSo, suddenly, eating better actually -- there's good reason to want to choose healthier foods, high fiber foods, low fat foods. And as travelers and people get more savvy to that, they're going to demand better food, and these are businesses. They want to be there to fulfill that demand and make money.
NNAMDIBecause, as you mentioned, Tom, you travel a lot for your job, and I have certainly noticed over the years that because I insist on being on time, or early, I have a lot of time after arriving at the airports. And I'm contemplating the fact that I'm probably not going to get a meal on this flight. So, I have time to look around and pick and choose, and it's often disappointing when the variety and the selection is not that great.
SIETSEMAAbsolutely. You know, and there are two ways of looking at this. Some people know they're gonna get upgraded, so they wanna eat a little light if they get there early. Some people know it might be, as you suggested, 10 hours before they eat again, so I like the fact that there are light and heavy options at most of the airports. Here, locally, I fly out of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport the most. I love to get there early and go to Matsutake. I think they do a great job, you know? They have really nice sushi. They often have sea urchin. I always ask the chef what he would eat. They have buttery toro. And it's sort of this serene environment right before you get into the, sometimes, chaos of the security line.
SIETSEMAAnd it's right there, and I've even had waiters -- you know, they're so attuned to passengers and the need to eat quickly. I've had waiters volunteer to go and look at the schedule for me so I wouldn't be late. You know, that's service.
NNAMDITom Sietsema is Food Critic at the Washington Post. He joins us in studio with Steven Baker, Vice President of Business Administration at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Susan Levin is a registered dietician. She's also Director of Nutrition Education at the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. If you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call. 800-433-8850. Steve, how are airport restaurants adapting to the growing demand for carry out food?
BAKERA couple of ways. One, it's a matter of how it's packaged. You look at the packaging options so that people know that if they do purchase something to go, they can take it safely on board without it spilling down the front of their suit or down the side of their skirt. Secondly, you're also trying to promote it in a way that people know where to go for takeout. Many of the restaurants, historically, have not had takeout. And so you start trying to brand the location for takeout, so that people walking down the concourse will say, oh, OK, that tap, American Tap does have a takeout component.
BAKERHarry's does have a takeout component.
NNAMDIYou said that the guiding philosophy in airport restaurant selection is choosing a mix of eateries that create a sense of place. How is that sense of place different at National and at Dulles? And what new restaurants, well you mentioned some of the new restaurants already, but how do you create that sense of place?
BAKERTwo ways. You look at the airport and the region it represents. Most of the traffic in and out of National Airport is domestic, and there you're really catering more to a US passenger. You're really representing the metro D.C. region, and so you try to incorporate cuisine, as well as retail, that reflects the metro D.C. area. At Dulles, you're really focusing not just on the local passenger, but also international passenger. In some respects, our responsibility is to reflect not just northern Virginia and Washington D.C., but the United States. So, you look for a blend of those things that are representative of the country, as well as the region at Dulles.
BAKERWhereas, at National, it's more focused on the region.
NNAMDIGotta get to the phones. Tom, I think our caller, Alan, in Washington, D.C. has hijacked the question I was going to ask you. But, let me see. Alan, I think, has the answer already. Alan, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALANOh, yes. Thank you, Kojo. What a great show idea. My favorite restaurant in all airplane, well domestic places I've ever been to is Rick Bayless's restaurant in Chicago, and I can't think of the name of it.
ALANAbsolutely. Yes. And I even have a frequent eater card from that, because I was going in and out with elderly parents, and dealing with their needs, and it was just a great refuge. And great margaritas of varying types and sipping tequilas, and just wonderful food. Freshly made.
NNAMDIWell, Alan, that was going to be my next question to Tom Sietsema. Because Tortas Frontera turns up lots of best airport restaurant lists. It's the creation of Chicago celebrity chef, as you pointed out, Rick Bayless. What makes it so good, Tom?
SIETSEMAWell, I think the fact, you know, those margaritas, for instance, don't come from a mix. They come from fresh limes. It's as if you're on the ground, outside the airport, at a really good bar. Or, in this case, a really good cantina. They have short ribs that are melting, they have really good pork that tastes like someone's Mexican grandmother made it. You know, and it's all sort of assembled there in front of you, so you could see this little show. I mean, I love being grounded at O'Hare for that reason. It might be a slight exaggeration, but I can see why you have a frequent eater card from there.
NNAMDIAre there other celebrity chef restaurants that are a hit at airports?
SIETSEMAI'm just going around the country, thinking right now. Well, we had mentioned earlier this sense of place. When I landed, recently, in San Francisco off a Virgin American flight, I felt like I'd already stepped foot in Napa Valley when I got off the plane there. They have a place called the Napa Farm Market, which is an assembly of food and drink from the wine country. And you just got this sense, like, I have arrived. I'm in California. I'm already in the wine country.
SIETSEMAAnd it was just such a -- it was as if the Chamber of Commerce had put this together for you, you know? And on top of it, it wasn't just this little Potemkin Village. It was truly delicious stuff. And as delicious as the restaurants are, and as exciting as the restaurant scene is in San Francisco, I though, I wanna come back to the airport and check these places out.
NNAMDII know of Wolfgang Puck has a number of places, and I think Steve Voltaggio has -- Michael Voltaggio has something at the Los Angeles Airport. We're gonna take a short break. When we come back, if you'd like to join the conversation about eating well at the airport, and I guess eating healthily at the airport, call us. 800-433-8850 or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org, and ask a question, or make a comment there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIIt's a Food Wednesday conversation on airport food choices with Tom Sietsema. He is food critic at the Washington Post. Steven Baker is vice-president of Business Administration with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. And Susan Levin is a registered dietician and director of nutrition education at the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine. We got a Tweet from Lauren, Susan Levin. "It would be phenomenal if every restaurant and kiosk had vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free food. I'm sick of humus and pretzels." I guess you hear that a lot.
LEVINI hear that a lot and I say that a lot so I can sympathize. And it's getting better for people who choose plant-based eating as well. I know I fly in and out of national a lot and I'm really impressed with something as small as the cheebo in the Cheebo Express kiosk that have quinoa salads and oatmeal and other plant-based hi-fiber options. I'm just thrilled to death with where I see things going, even in the airports that we see that don't rank very well for offering a lot of low fat vegetarian options.
LEVINEven they -- like Atlantic, for example, came in last this year but it has an amazing restaurant in its international terminal called One Flew South, which is an appropriate name because I'm usually flying south when I go through there. And I will gun it for the international terminal just to eat there because it is that good, even though thankfully it's one of those airports where no matter where you are, you can get to any location within the airport, unlike others where you're kind of stuck in your terminal. But I sympathize and we're working on it.
NNAMDISteven, there's one specifically for you that Elizabeth tweeted. "Can you ask the MWAA representative for an espresso card to the American terminal at DCA? We need -- that's of course Regan National -- we need lattes while waiting for a flight.
BAKERWell, it's a great comment and one that we're working on. We're actually looking at all of the end piers in this next iteration of concessions as a way to bring fast coffee, news and grab-and-go gifts to the end of the pier, so that people who are sitting out there who have already passed the locations going down the corridor can make that second trip. So we're working on it. And thanks for the thought.
NNAMDITom, it's my understanding that since you travel from Regan National a lot, you -- one of your favorite preflight meals is a plate of oysters. Where do you get that at National?
SIETSEMAWell, we're about to get it at Legal (sp?) , right. I mean, that's a stop that I've made before. I'm trying to remember are they -- they're open there, aren't they?
BAKERThey are not open there now. They're returning there after a six-year hiatus. They'll be coming back and they'll be part of this first round. They'll be opening in the spring of next year.
SIETSEMARight. And in the meantime, if you want something light of course you can go to Matsutake and have oyster sushi.
NNAMDISteve, how does the fact of having limited space affect your ability to offer variety and to offer sufficient restaurant capacity at both National and Dulles?
BAKEROne of the things that we've looked at as we began this program was the recognition that we're going to have to reduce some level of our retail offerings to increase the food offerings because it's a higher need. We are regretful of that but based on the fact that we are making that conscious decision, there will be greater options in food than there have been in the past. That's what's led to American tap coming to the North Pier at National Airport. It's a whole new restaurant space that was retailed before.
BAKERAt Dulles, you begin to look at other opportunities for us to introduce smaller grab and go options as you go down the piers to supplement the limited space that you have, for example, on Concords C and D. But it's a quality issue. it's a quality issue.
NNAMDIAnd how do you resolve the tension between shoppers and foodies? Because it's my understanding that you're going to be replacing some retail with food in the upcoming concession renovations at both airports.
BAKERWhat you do is you try to do less better. So you take the approach that rather than having some of everything, which you could never achieve, you look at the limited space that you have and you try to create opportunities. Well, for example, Bistro (word?) will be a 3,000 square foot restaurant, the largest restaurant that's ever been in Dulles. But it came at the expense of having to collapse three locations into one and make a decision that you're going to present a quality product, one that people can get in and out of with luggage and suitcases and baby carts and all the rest of it, because it is an airport environment.
BAKERYou then bring the retail in and you look for places to do the retail like the Estee Lauder that's coming in, like Svortski (sp?) , like Tumi Luggage, all of which are coming to Dulles.
NNAMDISo you're trying to please all the people all the time, is that what you're saying?
BAKERNo, we're trying to please more of the people more of the time.
NNAMDIHere is Rozzi in Washington, D.C. raising an issue that was raised earlier by Susan. Rozzi, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROZZIHi, how are you? And it's a pleasure to be on the show. And my basic question, I think you already covered that, is about getting vegetarian food at the airports. I'm a vegetarian and I find it very hard to find wholesome vegetarian food at the airports.
NNAMDIWe asked this of Susan the last time. We'll put it to you this time, Steve.
BAKERYeah, and that's also one of the things that comes not as a store but as an item on the menu. So one of the things that we look at when we're looking at menus that are being proposed by operators are, what other variety in plant-based or vegetarian or just a variety. For example, we're looking at BRB Burger. And they'll be doing a vegetarian as well as a Turkey. There used to be a time when someone would come in with turkey and they think they had done it all. And now you say, well no, you need to go a little bit further. What else are you offering? What are you offering the breadth of the person who has no interest in meat whatsoever? And the operators are responding.
NNAMDITom, care to comment?
SIETSEMAI just think again it's an -- I like having more options. You know, if you want to eat light before you go, if you want to eat heavy before you go . What I'm most excited about is the fact that we have these independent restaurants moving in. People like Ben's Chili Bowl and out at Dulles we've got Attilier (sp?) which will be run by the impressive restaurateur behind Al Dente in upper northwest. And it's exciting to have that sort of local aspect. And also it's not often that you find French restaurants in suburban airports.
NNAMDIHere is Jessica in Annapolis, Md. Jessica, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JESSICAYes, honey. I have a question. I'm wondering how businesses can get more active in promoting healthful options at airports. And how they can kind of, you know, come together and work together to promote some new menu items to passengers to let them know that they have high fiber, low-calorie menus?
NNAMDISusan then Steve.
LEVINYeah, well, they can label things better in their -- at their venues -- at their kiosks so that people know what they're getting without having to ask the -- sometimes I feel sorry for the person standing there when I'm asking, well what's in that and how did they make that? It would be great if it were labeled better. And as far as I can tell from talking to people like Steve that this is happening and it is getting better labels. And once you know where to go for a good option, you will be a return customer. So I think it does pay to invest in that.
NNAMDIAnd Jessica, you should know that in the airport survey that was conducted by the Physicians -- the nutrition education that the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, Regan National showed the biggest improvement in healthy eating options this year, gaining 14 points and moving from 11th place to tie for third. What's happening there?
LEVINWell, I'm not sure. I mean, personally I do experience more options, as we addressed earlier with another caller, with places like Cheebo Express and Japanese restaurants and Mexican restaurants. You're able to put together your own meals. You have more control over what you're eating, which is really great when it's made to order especially.
NNAMDISteve, what's happening?
BAKERAnd to the caller's point, the other thing that we're working on is improving our website so that people know how to find things in the airport so that you can actually land in the airport and know not just by our signs that we have in the airport, but before you ever get there by going to our web page, to know what restaurants are located where, where the shopping it, what the prices are. So it's a matter of communicating that information to the passenger.
NNAMDIHere's Craig in Arlington, Va. Craig, your turn.
CRAIGHello, sir. I was curious. So often when traveling domestically and internationally, I found restaurants -- chain restaurants to be in abundance inside airports. I was curious how Washington DCA is moving towards better opportunities for, you know, other non-chicken restaurants (unintelligible) in there and actually do a great job, like the food trucks that you see. Thank you.
NNAMDIUnderscoring the point that Tom Sietsema was making earlier, Steve.
BAKERYeah, one of the challenges -- and we talked about it briefly earlier -- is the limited space. And when you have limited space it's a challenge to have a breadth of concepts. And when you can't have a breadth, you try to find something that is appealing to the larger masses. We can and have tried to spice that up a bit with things like Matsutake, which are not traditionally found in airports. But it is a challenge. And the big constraint is space.
BAKERSo you continue to push us and we appreciate that because that's what we're trying to respond to is how do we then create opportunities within locations for something on the menu of somebody that might not otherwise consider it because they do have a challenge to present interesting foods even if they are a large national food provider.
LEVINSusan, I don't know how often you fly out of Dulles but Dulles Airport tied with BWI for fourth place in your healthy food rankings. What are the best options there?
LEVINWell, it's like any other airport. It's starting to have a lot more diversity and global cuisine. And I think when you have global cuisine options as opposed to say a bar or places with standard American food, you're able to have higher fiber foods like rice and bean dishes. And when it's made to order, especially in a sit-down restaurant, you're able to control what goes in that. So I can have my avocado cucumber sushi rolls with edamame and steamed tofu with mixed vegetables and steamed rice. So you're able to control what food you're eating. It's just become such a more pleasurable experience when you're "stuck" quote unquote in an airport.
NNAMDIAny thoughts on Dulles, Tom?
SIETSEMAOn Dulles? I haven't spent a lot of time out at Dulles but I do know they have a pretty good wine bar that I've spent a little time in, drinking more than eating, I must say.
NNAMDIWe had an email from Kate who says, "Whenever flying out of Dulles I make sure to grab a breakfast burrito from Chipotle. As of the last time I flew out of there, it was the only Chipotle in the country to offer breakfast burritos." Do a lot of restaurants expand their offerings in airports to meet demand, Steve?
BAKERYeah, basically when a restaurateur comes to us, we're sharing with them in advance what (unintelligible) they need to cover based on their location. And it does lead to innovative concepts that may not exist off airport because of the need to serve the public. And just to pick up on the comment that was earlier made by Tom, that was Vino (word?) he was referring to at Dulles Airport, which not only has a great wine selection but also offers a great variety of small intimate portions also.
NNAMDIDulles, the restaurant maker but Dulles will be changing how much over the course of the next few years?
BAKERIn the next three years, 80 percent of the locations in Dulles, both food and beverage and retail will change.
NNAMDIGot a tweet from Mini who says, "Atlanta's international terminal had the best value and the best food, real food. Not some of that prepackaged junk." I pass through Atlanta a lot and I guess I do have that experience, Tom.
SIETSEMAYou know, Susan had mentioned this earlier, and every food lover, every -- a lot of food writers I know make it a point to go to the airport early in Atlanta or at least linger before they get in a cab and go into the city. They go to One Flew South. it's at the E center point, I believe. And I was looking at the menu today and they've got -- you know, they've got Japanese dishes. So one of the vegetarian options there would be a seaweed salad, for instance. But then they've got all this upscale stuff like pulled duck sandwiches and pecan-laced scallops. And they've got a thyme roasted pork belly.
SIETSEMAAnd the chef behind that -- Kojo, you had asked earlier about celebrity chefs -- is Duane Nutter who's quite a name in the Atlanta market down there. So that is an example of someone local who is doing some local good for his restaurant.
NNAMDIYou mentioned the sauna at an airport earlier. Let's go to Samira in Vienna, Va. who'd like to tell us about some other stuff. Samira, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SAMIRAOkay. I'm going to turn off my radio. Well, I have two comments. One of them is a question within a comment. Have any of you been to the Amsterdam Airport, which is really a pleasure to spend two, three hours there with that supermarket that they have? Any ideas for opening a little supermarket? And another thing I want to say is, the moment you enter Dulles Airport, the odor of frying really whips you in the face. And I wonder whether they want to do anything about ventilating. Because the moment I enter Dulles Airport I get turned off completely.
NNAMDISo there's a supermarket in the Amsterdam Airport. I'm going to be there next month. I've got to check that out.
SAMIRAYeah, go try that supermarket.
NNAMDIBut the question about Dulles, Steve.
BAKEROn both counts, we have been looking for a number of years to entice local operators such as Whole Foods, Balducci's, Wegmans to come into the airports and have not been successful. It is a tremendous opportunity, I think -- and I agree with the caller -- for us to tap a market that is grossly underserved, which is the arriving passenger, the person who's coming home from a trip and doesn't want to go home and cook, who has to pick up a loaf of bread or a carton of milk.
BAKERSo we will continue to push on that because I agree with the caller, that it's a great opportunity to have those kind of opportunities in there, for particularly one like Dulles. In terms of the wafting in which you call an odor, there are actually airport restaurants that will tell you that one of the greatest ways that they pull people in is by the awareness of having the restaurant down the hall. Now, I'm not going to characterize the scent that you enjoyed at Dulles, but Harry's has said that they -- while they would like to have more space and do a better job of ventilation, it's also a way that people know that you have a restaurant down there. And we'll see if we can get some better smells for you.
SIETSEMAIt's a marketing tool.
NNAMDII thought so. Nancy (sic) , thank you...
SAMIRAThank you very much.
NNAMDI...thank you very much for your call, Samira. Here now is Nancy in Silver Spring, Md. Nancy, your turn.
NANCYHi. I haven't heard any discussion about the Baltimore Washington International and the really lousy food options, if you want to call them options, that exist there. Can you comment on BWI, please?
NNAMDINancy, would it surprise you to know that the survey by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine found that 80 percent of eateries at Baltimore Washington International Airport have a healthy entrée option? Does that surprise you, Nancy?
NANCYWell, that does surprise me. I guess what I'm commenting on is that there aren't many options period.
NNAMDIWell, what's the restaurants in -- before I get to you, Susan, let's start with you, Tom.
SIETSEMAI was stuck at Baltimore one time and I have to agree with the caller. I thought the options were really limited. And just because there's a healthy option doesn't mean it's a delicious or palatable option. I will say though that Baltimore is lucky to have a Jamba Juice and also a Chipotle there too, both of which are pretty pedigreed sources of healthful food.
NNAMDISusan, same question.
LEVINYeah, our method for gathering data doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be 84 percent appealing to everybody. But there is at least one option that we would consider supportive of health. But whether you would want to eat that or not, of course, is up to you. And we were talking about this earlier, how even if there's a lot of options or a high percentage of restaurants that have a healthful option, sometimes it's more fun to be in the airport that has one or two really good places that you're actually forward to, even if they scored low on our report.
NNAMDIThank you so much for your call. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this Food Wednesday conversation on dining fare at airports. We're interested in hearing from you. Call us at 800-433-8850. What food do you buy at the airport to take on the plane? What's your favorite preflight meal at an airport, 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing dining fare at airports with Susan Levin, registered dietician and director of nutrition education at the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine. Tom Sietsema is food critic at the Washington Post, and Steven Baker is vice president of business administration with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority which bears responsibility for Regan National and Dulles Airport, but not for Baltimore Washington International Airport. Is that correct, Steve?
NNAMDIWe got an email from Erin who says, "I fly weekly for my job and I have two places to mention as standouts. Sora Japanese Cuisine & Sushi Bar in McNamara Terminal in Detroit, and Legal's Test Kitchen in Boston Logan Airport." I can testify about Legal's Test Kitchen in Boston. How about you, Tom?
SIETSEMAYeah. I love Legal. I've not eaten in Boston Airport. I ate at Legal in an airport when we had it here at Reagan. I'm pleased to hear that it's coming back. I'll add those to my list.
NNAMDIHere is Lynn. She writes from Shepherdstown, West Va. by email. "This may be a little off topic, but I do hope area airports install water bottle filling stations as some airports do." Is that something that has come under your consideration?
BAKERThat's something that is under consideration by Dulles, and they're looking at opportunities of where they would position it, yeah.
NNAMDIAlso we got an email from Jean in Annapolis. "The Winter Olympics in Russia will have lots of U.S. customers passing through the airport. Do your guests know food choices are available at Moscow Airport?" And Jean couldn't help adding "Edward Snowden probably tried them all while he lived in the airport."
NNAMDIHave you passed through that airport at all, Tom?
SIETSEMAI have not. No.
BAKERNor have I. I'm sorry.
NNAMDIOkay. In that case we'll go back to the phones. We'll go to Kathy in Silver Spring, Md. Kathy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KATHYHi, Kojo. Love the show, and am just wondering, when I travel, I'm on local time, and when I get local time, my departure time, when I get to my destination, I'm hungry, especially if I'm traveling with friends and we've been planning on breakfast together, for example. We to where we're going and it's dinner time, and there are no breakfast options, or vice versa. And I'm just wondering how aware restaurants are of catering to passengers who are on their own time zone not on local time.
NNAMDIAnd how aware airports are that there are people flying into your international airport who may be looking for breakfast at six o'clock in the evening, or dinner at seven o'clock in the morning.
BAKERAnd we are looking at those options. We're looking at restaurants that can provide an all-day breakfast services, as we look at options for replacing some of the existing restaurants at both Reagan National and Dulles Airport. And most places are serving or a strong lunch throughout the day, so that usually isn't a big challenge. The challenge is often finding a breakfast place late in the day.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Here now is Michelle in Reston, Va. Michelle, your turn.
MICHELLEHi. I have a preschooler with food allergies. She's allergic to eggs and dairy. You know, just vegetarian or vegan or other healthy options are great, but kid-friendly healthy options and allergy-sensitive options are so important because chicken nuggets just doesn't cut it with a kid when you don't know if there's dairy or eggs in it.
NNAMDIAnd it's funny because if you're traveling internationally, the airline may ask you if you have specific food allergies or options, but I hadn't thought of it in terms of what's available in the airport, Steve.
BAKERYeah. Our concessionaires are made aware to know what's in their product and to be able to tell passengers upon request. As you might imagine, it's fairly difficult to put that up on a menu board and be able to identify all the ingredients, but anyone, upon request, should be able to tell you what is in any particular menu item so that you can avoid those items for allergies which can be varied.
NNAMDIAnd we got a -- and thank you for your call. We got a post on our Facebook page from Paula who says, "I would love to see at least one kosher option." Is that something you looked at Susan Levin, at all, whether there are kosher options available?
LEVINWe haven't looked at that, but that kind of goes back to better labeling at the concessions, and I do think that that's happening. But to some of these points, I am maybe -- Steve's not going to like this, but I am an advocate for taking your own food on planes when you're traveling if you have that many restrictions and you're unsure. Things like allergies, kosher, sometimes it's just a good idea to be prepared in case you can't find something.
NNAMDIAnd the uncertainty that people have about what they can get through security, they should understand that if it's not liquid, it can probably go through?
LEVINNot liquid, not paste. You don't want take a, you know, one-pound tub of hummus. They're not going to allow that. But if you spread a one-pound tub of hummus on pita bread, then it's allowed. So you just kind of have to work with the system.
SIETSEMAI do think there's a certain amount of responsibility that every passenger has to know his or her needs, you know, whether it's with medications or food, and just be prepared like Susan said, because, you know, the choices aren't limitless at airports. They're varied but they're not limitless, and some people have really severe allergies and everything and just, you know, you need to be mindful of your own -- your own situation.
NNAMDIOn to Joe in Rockville, Md. Joe, your turn.
JOEYes, in many places, in the past decades when you got to an airport, you talked a little bit like your choices and the prices they were offered at were benefitting from that fact that you were a captive audience and they maybe they might not see you again so they didn't need to care. Can your guests talk about whether this hopefully wrong perception today is changing and how that's changing?
NNAMDII'll start with you, Steven Baker.
BAKERYeah. I was going to say not only do we recognize that passengers are not captive to a concession, we recognize they're not captive to an airport. So when we make decisions we're looking at how to get you back to Dulles or back to National Airport, not just from the food and the retail offerings, but from our entire service attitude. So from that perspective, I know that we are changing and airports are evolving. There was a time when all you got at an airport and the gift was what I used to call the swimming frog in the little tub at the bottom.
BAKERAnd airports have grown tremendously, recognizing that passengers do have options, they do want options. From a pricing standpoint, we have continued to try and make sure that what we offer is what I'll call value pricing. That people do not feel as though they're being taken advantage of because they're in an airport setting. Many airports at one time had looked at doing it as a street pricing model, but the cost of operating at an airport are greater and they tend to drive greater costs for the operator.
NNAMDIAnd Joe, you have found that much of food you get at airports is, in your view, overpriced?
JOEWell, there are different restaurants in different airports that act very differently. And like you say, at different airports like you can feel like, my gosh, you know, I don't want to buy anything in here, the way the price is going. I know it's a special environment because they have, you know, who gets to come in and who doesn't. It's not like some of the train stations of past where they would have tracked everybody to come in whether they were flying or not.
JOEToday you get to some restaurants unless you're going to be flying and it's hard to work through. And I have seen an improvement over the years, I've just been hoping that the folks that drive the leases and everything take the view that I just heard the Washington National and Dulles fellow talk about. But hey, we're trying to actually create a better experience for everybody so it speaks well of our region, of our airport, and the people that we all try to work together around.
NNAMDIWell, I know, Steve Baker cannot impose price controls, but do you respond to complaints you get from travelers about things like prices in some of the restaurants?
BAKERYeah, we do. We follow up on it, both electronically and with a follow up note to the operator to let them know that these are the concerns that are being raised.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We got an email from Susan who said, "I've noticed that as security has increased at airports there's a shortage of places for someone waiting on an arriving visitor can have a coffee or treat them to a snack after they arrive. Is MWAA considering doing anything about that?
BAKERYes. On two fronts. We actually tried to have a location at National Airport for a number of years. That was not feasible economically. There were not enough people who wanted things upon arrival for us to sustain a business in the baggage claim area. We actually brought retail and food down there. At Dulles it's quite different because you have a large international arriving population, and you have longer wait times where people are coming in, and we have a fairly sizeable arrival food and retail piece in the baggage claim area of Dulles compared to National.
NNAMDIOnto Joe in Frederick, Md. Joe, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOEHi. This is a great show.
JOEI was actually at Logan Airport yesterday, and I saw something that interested me at Potbelly there. Each of the menu items had the calorie count and some of the nutritional information right on the menu and it was -- it was stated briefly so it didn't take a lot of space on the menu. But that -- other than if -- if that hadn't been there, I wouldn't have gone to Potbelly because a sandwich place is usually overpriced and doesn't have a lot of vegetarian options which is important to me.
JOEAnd to call out a couple of other places, in Minneapolis St. Paul Airport there was a place called Burrito 360 that had a tofu option for -- so you could be vegetarian and get protein at that particular place. And that place is gone now, it's been replaced by a Taco Bell, but it was a great place to stop and It's a Wrap It's a Bowl at Denver Airport has a tofu option for just about any entrée. So I wish we could something like that BWI or Dulles or Reagan.
NNAMDISteven is making notes even as you speak, okay? So thank you -- thank you very much for your call, Joe. Which brings me to what's your favorite airport restaurant period, Tom, and where is it?
SIETSEMAWow. Well, I think Amsterdam is great. You know, I didn't take notes on this. If you're stuck in Heathrow, they have an oyster bar there that I really like to frequent. Amsterdam. Again, I think San Francisco is good. If I'm stuck in Miami, I got to Cafe Versailles, which is a spinoff of Versailles, a longtime Cuban restaurant in Miami. That's always kind of fun, and again, it gives you the sense of place and where you are. You know, you're not in North Dakota, you're in Miami, and people line up for Cuban sandwiches which are quite delicious and Cuban coffee, the really strong stuff.
NNAMDISusan, did you already One Flew South?
LEVINI did. That is probably my favorite domestic airport restaurant, but I really appreciate airports like Atlanta and like Charlotte where you can get anywhere. You can walk in any terminal you want to get to any restaurant you want, so you just have more options. And I'm hoping one day National is more free range so you can spread out and go check out all the options that they have because they have a lot.
NNAMDISteven, what's your favorite airport restaurant that is not in Reagan National or Dulles.
BAKERI was going to say, I can't answer that question.
NNAMDII was about to say I don't want you to lose your job here.
BAKEROh, no. It's not about losing my job, it's about not wanting to pick favorites among those who may be coming to our airports.
NNAMDIOh, I see. You're always an eye on the business. Here is Ann Marie in La Plata, Md. Ann Marie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANN MARIEGreat. Thank you so much for doing this show around the holiday time when we're all traveling. I'm kind of piggybacking on one of the other callers who mentioned kids and kid-friendly food.
MARIEI have three young boys and they're always -- always very hungry, and we noticed not only are there not a lot of kid-friendly healthy options, but there's also not kid-friendly spaces to eat. The BWI airport has added these like, small, low tables near TV screens that are sort of in the general waiting areas, but we find if we want to have better quality food in a restaurant, they make it very inconvenient to take your children, and I -- perhaps they're discouraging them because they'd rather have an adult clientele, but even in the Orland airport where I'm sorry, they need to expect some kids are going to be there, we find it really difficult to wrangle the kids and find somewhere they can sit and be and eat their -- eat a healthy meal.
NNAMDIHow do you encourage kid-friendly options, Steven Baker?
BAKEROne of the challenges the caller identified is space. It's a matter of how do you create enough space. Kids need more space. I mean, they literally just have to have space to place in, run in. I think everybody who's on a plane is happy when a child has had time to be in space. So it's a great...
BAKERIt's just a challenge when you don't have enough space for food to then say how do you create more space? But one of the things, ma'am, that we look at is the ability to negotiate the restaurant itself. Can people with small children or young children actually get in and work their way through the space or do they feel as though they're so constrained that if the bottle falls off the table they can't get to it on the floor. So a lot of it has to do with the space planning, but it is a challenge, and one we'll keep working to get better at.
NNAMDIAnd I'm shocked -- shocked to hear about Orlando, Ann Marie. That's really true?
MARIEIt's true. And you have -- that's the airport where I've been and my -- we've traveled quite a bit with our kids and our kids are great travelers because they're used to it. But we've found more scowling, angry adults at -- we have children with us, we're like, are you kidding? Of all the airports you're gonna go to, this is the one where's there's gonna be children.
NNAMDIAh, somebody needs to talk to Mickey about that. Ann Marie, thank you very much for you call.
MARIEThank you so much.
NNAMDIHere is Mohammad in Alexandria, Va. Mohammad, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MOHAMMADThank you, Kojo. I just wanted to bring up the Muslim meal option on American airports. Whenever Muslims travel within the country or even internationally, we don't get Muslim or as you -- as we call it halal meat options, or halal meal options on the airports. Our options are always limited to seafood and (word?). So if your guests could talk about this.
NNAMDIIt's interesting. Do you get that option on the airlines that you fly with?
MOHAMMADYes. Internationally we do, but domestically we do not. And internationally it's usually seafood or (word?). But if it's like a Muslim country's airline, then we do get the option of having halal meal. Or in the airline language, we call it Muslim meal.
NNAMDICare to comment, Steven?
BAKERYeah. I think it's an evolutionary process. One of the things that we're just beginning to catch up with is the recognition of the variety of passengers and the market. So I think in the coming weeks, months, years, you will see it not just at our airports but around the country as people become more aware of the business opportunity by being able to serve that market. We just opened our first Mexican restaurant in National Airport, and that is a part of the population that has been large for some time. So I think it's a matter of evolution and awareness, but I thank the caller for the perspective.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Mohammad. We got an email from Sam in Chapel Hill who says, "What about those of us who often have to fly very early or very early late in the day? So often my flights have left at 6:00 a.m. just when the best restaurants are opening." What do you in that situation, Tom?
SIETSEMAWell, you hope for an upgrade. I always have like a little emergency kit though. It's usually raw almonds, and I get sparkling water. Somehow it's more refreshing to me when I'm traveling, and I take either a banana or an apple me because they're popular, they kind of stay in your duffle bag for a little bit longer than cooked foods would, and they're inoffensive to other people. And that's another thing that I think we have to be mindful of. The stuff that you're bringing on board might be okay on the ground, but at 30,000 feet you're in a very small little tube and a very small space, and you want to be mindful of what you bring on board.
NNAMDISusan, what do you do when you're traveling early in the morning?
LEVINI really like Tom's idea of the, you know, nuts, dried fruit. Always, always, always bring extra water which is why I really like the water stations that I've -- I think I saw one recently in the Portland airport. I'd like to see more of those because I'm the person standing there with my water bottle for five minutes at the water fountain because you're never going to get enough water on board that you actually need. So yeah. Traveling with a food kit is a great idea.
LEVINSteve Baker, looking ahead, how is the desire for one-stop shopping at the airport affecting the types of places that sell food?
BAKERBasically what you're seeing is an evolution of the newsstand. The newsstand used to be just that, it's a place where you went to get a book or a newspaper. But now they're actually becoming known as travel marts, and people are able to grab not just a newspaper but maybe a cup of coffee, a bottle of water, some trail mix, light snacks that do not require preparation. And that's helping people as they make those decisions. As you mentioned earlier, people are often buying two meals, one to snack on there, and another to carry on board. So if they can get the one that's a snack in the same place they can get their newspaper and their bottle of water, then it's better customer service.
NNAMDISteven Baker is vice president of business administration at the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Thank you for joining us.
NNAMDISusan Levin is a registered dietician and director of nutrition education at the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine. Susan, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd Tom Sietsema is food critic at the Washington Post. Tom, always a pleasure.
SIETSEMAThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. Happy Thanksgiving. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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