Airports have a tendency to be a barren wasteland when it comes to food. You can find fried, reheated, packaged and reconstituted, but seldom civilized, and hardly ever flavorful. Healthy? Not so much, and Vegans beware.
While I am a dedicated omnivore, finding something to eat that I will not regret later is challenging. There are a couple of exceptions to this, like the Wolfgang Puck’s in Chicago O’Hare, the Gallagher’s in Newark, Chef Jimmy’s in Denver and the Yan Can Bistro in San Diego. These, however tend to be singular oases that you need to have pre-marked on your schedule with just the right amount of layover, the blessing of a gate close by and the knowledge to get to them.
There is a company that is aiming to change that, particularly if you have a penchant for wine and some layover time to kill. Vino Volo currently has a dozen locations from Seattle, to San Antonio to JFK. They are a wine bar/tapas sort of place and they are a breath of fresh air in the deserts of the airports the reside in.
Vino Volo is Latin/Italian for Wine To Fly. The obviously intended double entendre refers to the fact that they serve flights of wine, and all of their locations are in airports. You are likely to stumble into Vino Volo the first time by accident. You are likely to seek it out on purpose after that.
The wine menu is varied and is available in themed flights of reds and whites, single glasses and bottles. The staff are knowledgeable and more than willing to spend a little bit of time educating you on the relative merits of the different wines. If they do bring a flight out they bring it out on cards that spell out the attributes of each. They will also recommend an order so you drink them in an order that keeps you from stunning your taste buds with a muscular malbec, leaving them helpless to appreciate the subtleties of a pinot.
They also serve a limited, but very flavorful array of food that can be addressed as nibbles to go with the wine like the Marcona almonds and house cured olives, or something more substantial. I particularly enjoyed the artisan meats and cheeses the last time I was through, but they have a couple of sandwiches and even some South American pork tacos. They will also bundle the food up to go if you prefer to make the person next to you on the flight painfully jealous.
I had occasion (read that as “long layover”) to stop at the the Detroit location on my way to Germany. I stopped and had a late lunch by local time that would qualify as a late dinner before I got onto my flight to Germany.
Although I was initially looking at the braised pork tacos, I was gently steered towards the Chickpea and Chorizo chili by the waiter. I got this in the small size and paired it with the cheese plate which featured a drunken sheep, manchego and a parmagiano reggiano with marcona almonds, craisins and a fig compote.
The portions are well structured and are available in large and small sizes so you can choose the direction you want to go on the quantity of food. The chili was very flavorful with authentic Chorizo and even being a New Mexico ex-patriate I was not offended by the interesting twist of the chickpeas. I am sure the Chorizo destroyed all of the health benefits of the chickpeas!
After I explained my preferences in wine the waiter directed me to a Meritage flight and I was very pleased. My favorite of the three was a Fisher Vieyards Unity 2008. Good tannins but not painfully overdone. According to the tasting notes this Napa/Sonoma blend has “rich blackberry and currant notes with a cupboard spice and toasted oak.” I just know that I liked it!
Chris took excellent care of me at this location and you should ask if he is there when you swing through the Detroit location.
I have been to the Philadelphia and Detroit locations and have found them to be very consistent, and very tasty. I am also pleased that they have interesting wines on the menu, some of which are from little vintners that I have never heard of, but am glad to know. Because all of the locations are owned by a single company rather than franchised out willy nilly, the level of quality is likely to stay very high.
So if you are stranded in one of these airports for a couple of hours, you may well see me, lingering over a Shiraz and hoping they delay my flight another thirty minutes!