Best places to eat for airplane buffs
Casual eateries at airfields in Massachusetts and New Hampshire offer great plates with a view to match.
“I KNOW . . . beets, right? But trust me, they’re really good,” the server at HANGAR B EATERY in Chatham assures me. I’m not usually the trusting sort, particularly when I’m hungry and coffee-deprived, but she is right. Married with sweet and Yukon Gold potatoes, Vidalia onions, and crispy bacon, the beets that define the Red Flannel Hash are a true taste experience. Each bite carries notes of sweetness, saltiness, and earthiness, while a spicy horseradish creme fraiche and two poached eggs provide the perfect amount of sauce for the sourdough toast. I chew slowly, savoring each mouthful of beet-infused goodness, lost in the satisfaction that my wife and I had simply stumbled upon this place during a weekend getaway on Cape Cod.
That’s when I notice the woman falling from the sky.
Her body is fully horizontal, her arms and legs spread-eagle like a pool party belly-flopper. But there is no water to cushion the inevitable impact — only air, earth, and terror. I stop chewing altogether. Finally, a bright blue and green parachute balloons out from the woman’s back, jerking her up before carrying her gracefully to the ground, a mere 70 yards or so from my breakfast table.
Now, back to that hash.
Brian Erskine and his wife, Tracy Shields, purchased Hangar B in 2010. A chef who has plied his craft at fine restaurants in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Chicago, Erskine simply wanted a place he and his wife could call their own, one with a focus on local and organic products. It’s largely a breakfast and lunch establishment, because Erskine and Shields spend their evenings together as a family, which includes their 7-year-old son, Booker. Hangar B’s season officially begins in April, but it’s now open weekends. The regular menu features everything from lemon ricotta pancakes and house-made potato buttermilk doughnuts to Baja-style fish tacos, and there’s a good-sized kids’ menu, too.
But while the food at Hangar B is certainly worth a drive to the elbow of the Cape, it’s the location — at Chatham Municipal Airport and along Skydive Cape Cod — that has helped make this 40-seat restaurant a must-visit for children and adults alike.
Airstrip eateries are hardly new. Diners and cafes located alongside small airfields have long served private pilots and local residents. However, many of these eateries are expanding their menus and winning a growing and loyal clientele. Paired with an up-close view of the beauty and wonder of aviation, they are the perfect weekend destinations for families hungry for something a little different.
“This business exists because of families and children,” says Jamie Langley, owner of the RIGHT FORK DINER, located alongside a small airfield in Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard. “No matter where you go on the island in the summer, you’re going to have a wait. Here, kids can run around, watch planes. It’s heaven.” What they’ll see is the action at Katama Airfield, as well as at Classic Aviators, a sightseeing company that offers biplane tours of the island. Two biplanes routinely take off and land at the airfield throughout the day as children and adults watch, waiting contentedly for an open table at Right Fork.
Langley, a Mission Hill native, purchased Right Fork eight years ago. The restaurant is open from just before Memorial Day to Columbus Day. It features 35 seats inside and another 30 on a patio that overlooks the airfield. Langley offers up the typical and tasty breakfast and sandwich fare, but her menu also features dry-rubbed ribs, fried-seafood platters, and the occasional paella for dinner. Like most things on Martha’s Vineyard, the prices aren’t inexpensive. But they aren’t unreasonable, either. A pulled-pork sandwich on a brioche bun runs about $10, and a whole-belly clam plate with fries is $20.
“We love it here,” says Jen Ward of Concord as she and her young children, Tess and Austin, wait for a table at Right Fork. With mom standing nearby, the children play in a fenced-in grassy area next to the airfield. “They’re plane fanatics,” she says. “Plus, it’s easy here. It’s so kid-friendly.”
JUST A HANDFUL of miles from two of Stow’s most popular apple-picking spots, Honey Pot Hill Orchards and Shelburne Farm, is NANCY’S AIR FIELD CAFE, located at Minute Man Air Field. Nancy McPherson isn’t just a chef whose restaurant happens to be along an airstrip, though. For her, the two are inseparable; the airfield has been in her husband’s family since 1966.
Minute Man has undergone substantial renovations over the years and now features a 2,800-foot paved runway with lights as well as a 1,600-foot gravel runway without. Among the other businesses located on the airfield is a pair of flight schools. Day or night, small aircraft can be seen taking off, landing, or taxiing about.
McPherson has owned and operated the restaurant, which is open year-round, for 17 years and oversaw an expansion in 2003 that included a wall-to-wall window to view the airfield. She christened the new space the “Flight Deck,” adding to the aviation theme that runs throughout the 74-seat restaurant. The small bar area is called “Three Seats to the Wind,” and many of the mixed drinks on the menu continue the airfield theme, including Slow Flight and Carburetor-Ice.
McPherson describes her food as “clean and honest” with “no over-the-top presentations.” But don’t mistake that for bland. The lamb burger, with red onion and a homemade tzatziki sauce, is incredibly good. And the brunch menu changes regularly, but you can often find scratch-made banana pancakes, smoked salmon eggs Benedict, and homemade scones and breads. In addition, McPherson added an outdoor wood-fired pizza oven last year. Her dinner menu features everything from filet mignon with blue cheese to chicken marsala with gnocchi to linguini primavera. Suggested wine pairings are available for each entree.
“Some customers come once a year, in apple-picking season. Others are regular. We get a lot of seniors during the week and a lot of kids on the weekends,” says McPherson, who likes to boast that her restaurant is among the many airfield eateries that sell a $100 burger: Pilots will spend $90 on fuel to get to Minute Man and then pay $10 for a burger.
McPherson’s food is excellent and certainly worth a weekend drive to Stow, but it’s the location and environment surrounding the restaurant that make it really special. As McPherson and I sit in the “Flight Deck” talking about cooking, eating, and traveling — she and her husband, Don, own their own plane, a 1965 Piper Cherokee 6 — an array of small private planes takes off and lands on that lighted public-use airstrip, which runs parallel to the restaurant. While I chat with McPherson, my lunch companion, my 74-year-old dad, wanders over to one of the flight schools to look around. An instructor takes my father, who served in the Air Force, onto the field and gives him an inside-the-cockpit tour of a single-engine Cessna. By the smile on his face, you would think Santa Claus just brought him a pony.
It’s not every day one can enjoy a taste of youthful excitement. But it’s a taste most definitely worth pursuing, and savoring.
SPOTS TO TRY
Many airfield cafes offer only breakfast and lunch and aren’t open every day. A few operate seasonally. Call ahead.
The Airfield Cafe
Hampton Airfield, North Hampton, New Hampshire
Hangar B Eatery
Chatham Municipal Airport, Chatham
Joe’s Landing Cafe
Lawrence Municipal Airport, North Andover
Nancy’s Air Field Cafe
Minute Man Air Field, Stow
Right Fork Diner
Katama Airfield, Edgartown
Jeff Lemberg is an associate professor at Curry College in Milton. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.