Food Truck Craze Lands at the Airport

Nov 12, 2017

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What better way to sample delicious and cheap local eats than via a food truck? Airport terminals at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP), Portland International (PDX) and Austin-Bergstrom International (AUS) are now offering you just that. Here’s why you should have an empty stomach the next time you’re flying through.

Meat’s on the Menu at MSP

Minneapolis broke out of food court mode in August by opening Food Truck Alley, designed to showcase cuisine from three popular local eateries. Located near gate E4 in the Lindbergh Terminal, Food Truck Alley includes two refurbished food trucks and an Airstream serving up dishes from Twin Cities favorites Salty Tart, Holy Land and Red Cow.

Salty Tart is a popular bakery from James Beard-nominated pastry chef Michelle Gayer. The MSP outlet serves croissants, chocolate-chunk cookies and Gayer’s famous macaroons, while savory offerings include regular and pressed sandwiches, quiches, soups and salads. Holy Land is a deli with a Mediterranean-inspired and halal-certified menu offering traditional items including gyros, falafel, kebabs and sambousek, along with combination plates and plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free options. Red Cow, with three outlets in the Twin Cities, is known for its Angus beef burgers served in combinations like the Royale — with pork belly, brie, arugula and tomato jam — with sides like hand-cut french fries, poutine and caramel-bacon puff corn, as well as a good selection of craft beers and fine wines.

The Red Cow food truck at MSP. Image by The Metropolitan Airports Commission.
Image by The Metropolitan Airports Commission.

Liz Grzechowiak, who oversees MSP’s concessions, said the idea for Food Truck Alley came as the airport was putting together a plan to revamp its concessions program. “We wanted a space that was unique and cool and that hit on the latest food trends,” she said. “It gives passengers a great experience of what it’s like to be in an outdoor alley tasting eclectic and diverse foods from local institutions.”

Food Truck Alley is decorated with a pergola, string lights and a starry sky ceiling for the full outdoor effect. “Food trucks create an experience. You’re able to transcend the busy airport and enjoy amazing food in a fabulous setting with lots of personality,” Grzechowiak said. The original plan was to regularly swap out the vendors in Food Truck Alley to keep up with trends, “but these are such strong and successful brands serving top-notch food, we’re keeping them longer,” she said. “Our design is flexible enough to change, but we have no intention of doing it because they are doing well and are already revered.”

Awesome Eats in Austin

Austin opened its new South Terminal on April 13, 2017, in a space that includes an indoor/outdoor waiting area with a retro 1970s design, a live-music stage, a bar and a space for food trucks. The idea of bringing food trucks to the new South Terminal came from the airport, said Terry Mahlum, regional vice president for Buffalo, NY-based Delaware North, the food-service company that oversees operations at AUS. “When they designed the South Terminal, they included space for a patio and also made room for a food truck to just drive into the space,” Mahlum said.

Three popular Austin food trucks are currently being rotated at the airport, including Stacked Sliders, famous for its trio of beef, chicken and pulled-pork sandwiches served with french fries or sweet-potato fries. Offerings at Mellizoz Tacos include meat and veggie tacos and tortas, along with tostadas, Tex-Mex rice, black beans, guacamole and chips. Stony Crust Pizza sells what it calls “huuuge” slices of cheese, pepperoni, sausage and veggie, along with whole pies. “The truck program is a positive for the airport and helps keep Austin weird,” Mahlum said.

Get yer Stacked Sliders at AUS! Image courtesy of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
Image courtesy of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

Portable Chow at PDX

Food carts are a big thing in Portland so it’s only natural that they would end up at the airport, said Abby Carey, the concessions-development manager at PDX. “We have them all over our downtown and they offer a real sense of place for Portland, so why not bring them to the airport?”

The carts landed at PDX in October 2014 and are located before the security line in the food court between concourses C and D, using a common kitchen that used to be a Wendy’s — each has its own space for food prep. Korean Twist is a family-owned Korean fusion cart that serves bulgogi beef, spicy pork, spicy chicken and tofu as tacos, burritos, rice bowls and yakisoba noodles, as well as kimchi quesadillas, egg rolls and potstickers.

Chez Dodo is a husband-and-wife-operated cart offering Mauritian cuisine — chicken, lamb or veggies are the base for dishes like pan-fried noodles, stir-fried rice noodles, rice with herbs and vegetables and the country’s traditional flatbread, served across a spectrum of spiciness. You’ll also find vegetable samosas, traditional spicy lentil soup and a daily vegan or meat special.

Meet the Chez Dodo family at PDX. Image courtesy of Portland International Airport.
Image courtesy of Portland International Airport.

Poblano Pepper is a family-owned-and-operated Mexican food cart serving up popular items like meat and seafood tacos, burritos and quesadillas, along with guacamole, chips and salsa, rice, refried and black beans and Mexican sour cream, as well as a robust vegetarian and vegan menu.

“The average stay is now eight months,” Carey said. “We choose carts based on a targeted concept and filling a niche. For example, we had a Mexican restaurant that closed, so we were able to fill that market niche with Poblano Pepper.” This program is a really great way to bring innovative food to the airport that isn’t always seen, said Carey. “Customers love this program because it offers them a sense of place,” she said. “You can get a good meal for around $6, which is really popular for both passengers and employees.”

What are your favorite airport food trucks? Rank ’em for us in the comments, below.

Featured image by The Metropolitan Airports Commission.

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