Most of us don’t associate fine dining with the airport; usually we grab a quick pre-packaged sandwich to hold us over on a long flight (see sidebar for your best options at three area airports). At Fort Lauderdale’s Executive Airport, they’ve taken that concept and flipped it around. The tiny airport’s Runway Café is a dining destination, drawing folks as much for its unique location and view as for its upscale and well-prepared breakfast and lunch service. It also serves as a private event space in the evening.
Driving up to Runway Cafe you won’t be impressed. As you wend your way north of Commercial Blvd., along a road that winds through an industrial park, you eventually reach the parking lot, unassumingly tucked behind an old airport hangar. I guarantee that you will be underwhelmed.
Then, you enter the 90-seat dining room, and your breath is taken away by the sleek dining room with a wall of windows overlooking the airfield (you are literally on the edge of the tarmac) with planes parked (almost) close enough to touch. The modern space’s grey and white décor is very minimalist. Who needs airport kitsch, when there’s a giant engine turbine mounted near the entrance? With a view so breathtaking, you don’t need any more reminders that you’re near the runway.
During the week, Runway Café is a favorite spot for local business people, while grandparents entertain the kids on the weekends. While the view is breathtaking, it’s the food that keeps folks coming back. It’s nothing fancy or inventive, but it is all well-prepared and artfully presented. Service is friendly, if not always as attentive as it should be.
The breakfast menu includes the expected entrée options; pancakes, eggs (scrambled, fried and Benedict). There are a few stand-outs such as the rich crab cake hash and crunchy brioche French toast. Lunch is where the menu gets creative. The flatbreads, topped with barbecue chicken and a trio of pork products (called Three Flying Pigs), make a nice light lunch or a shared appetizer, as does the jumbo coconut shrimp; served in lettuce cups with Thai peanut dipping sauce and pickled cucumbers.
Meal-sized salads offer quite a variety of dining selections; mixed greens with grilled chicken, candied pecans, dried cranberries, mandarin oranges and gorgonzola or crispy goat cheese croutons over baby spinach with blackened shrimp, strawberries and blueberries, both served with balsamic vinaigrette.
In addition to those more unusual offerings, there are the traditional Cobb, Caesar and Asian chicken salad as well as a BBQ chicken and crab cake topped versions. A quinoa salad, topped with grilled skirt steak, black beans, and avocado is perfectly accented by green herb vinaigrette.
Burgers are available in many varieties and topped with everything from bacon, cheese and fried eggs to crispy onions, deep-fried jalapenos and guacamole. A favorite of mine is the pretzel burger; served on a pretzel bun, of course, and topped with mac and cheese and bacon. Let’s just call it a heart attack on a plate and get over it! For those seeking something lighter there are Caprese chicken, blackened mahi-mahi, crab cake or California club sandwiches as well as a coconut shrimp wrap. There’s also a combo of a grilled three-cheese on brioche served with tomato bisque. Speaking of soups; the daily specials go far beyond the expected with such options as conch chowder, butternut squash and lobster bisque joining the more expected French onion and buffalo chili.
Reservations are suggested, especially during high season and I would suggest car-pooling as parking is somewhat limited.
While Runway Café is a destination dining spot for most locals, sometimes you want to grab a bite when you’re jetting out of town. Many airport restaurants may look more like a bar or deli, but a few do offer some pretty terrific fare. Since airlines no longer serve meals on most flights, many airport restaurants package their meals to go, making it convenient to pick up a gourmet bite to enjoy before or during your flight. Check out these spots at our three local airports.
Chef Allen’s 2 Go
Terminal 1 - Concourse C
Terminal 3, Concourse E
Terminal E, Gate E-30
Terminal D, Gate 8
Fig & Fennel
Terminal D, Gate D-28
Estefan Kitchen Express
Terminal D, Gate 27
Nick’s Tomato Pie