Perhaps the only food with a reputation of being as bad as hospital food is airport food. At Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport, there hasn’t been much to get excited about since the opening of Surdyk’s Flights (which is still amazing—I bought a bottle of wine for $16 the last time I flew out, took it on the plane, and enjoyed it while I was stuck on a long Chicago layover).
But Delta and their foot partner OTG are really stepping things up in Concourse G. They’ve brought in local chefs as consultants—big names like Erick Harcey from Victory 44, Ann Kim from Pizzeria Lola, Doug Flicker from Piccolo, and Andrew Zimmern from Bizarre Foods.
We went to the airport early a couple weeks ago so we could eat. There’s still a lot of construction underway, and only half of the restaurants are open, so we chose to eat at Mill City Tavern, inspired by recipes from Chef Lenny Russo of Heartland.
The cocktails are outstanding (and a bargain for airport cocktails, at $12). We loved the MN-hattan Rye Whiskey with Carpano Antica and Cynar. Just delicious. The aviation also was lovely: Beefeater Gin with Crème de violette and Maraschino. They had Fulton Sweet Child of Vine on tap, as well as Surly Bender, Summit’s IPA, and Schell’s Pilsner. (Note to OTG, your online menu spells it “Shell’s”—local is hard.)
We ordered bison tartare ($13.75), which was spectacular. Pickled green onions and ice wine vinegar gave a real pop to this generous portion of tartare.
They were out of the spinach salad with lardon, so we went with the beet salad ($10), and ended up skipping the pumpkin soup ($7.50), a favorite at Heartland, thinking it was an odd summertime choice on this menu inspired by the seasons.
The grilled eggplant sandwich ($12, shown above) was quite nice—the radicchio, herbed chevre, and preserved tomatoes made for a nice combination of flavors—but I could have eaten an entire plateful of the crimini mushroom salad on the side.
There are kids meals, and frankly, I was a little envious of Seth’s kids cheeseburger ($8.50), which was delicious.
I found it strange they didn’t use Chef Lenny Russo’s name or restaurant in any of the marketing though—I’d think that knowing the restaurant was inspired by a James Beard Award nominee with a great St. Paul restaurant would be a plus. So I asked Lenny why. He told me: “They haven’t paid for Heartland’s name, but they did use my name extensively to help seal the deal with Delta and MAC. It’s important that people understand that the restaurant does not belong to me. I am simply a hired gun, so in referencing me on the menu they would open themselves up to some confusion. Besides, I am only contracted for a year.”
Basically, Lenny created the concept and wrote the first menu copy and the recipes. “Then they run the menus through the corporate machine until the final menu drafts are done,” he explained.
I was particularly impressed with the expert service, because even though I was in the middle of MSP Airport, it was among the best service I’ve had at a Twin Cities restaurant.
“I hosted their key personnel here and put them through Heartland training for months so they could better understand the concept,” Russo explained. “Also, I supplied them with their chef in the person of Robb Moore, who was my Chef de Cuisine for over five years at our old location. He knows all my moves, so he hit the ground running.”
If Mill City Tavern is the template, I can’t wait for the other Concourse G restaurants. This is great news for frequent travelers stuck at the airport, and for us locals, it’s a great reason to get to the airport early, to eat.
Mill City Tavern
Concourse G near Gate 17