Saturday, December 13, 2003

Variety, quality of airport food soars

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HEBRON - The days of equating airport food with greasy hot dog turners and a bag of chips caught on the fly are long gone, especially at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

Here are some of the lighter food offerings available at restaurants at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport
Gas Light Baking Co
Garden Salad: $4.25
Smoked Salmon Sandwich: $5.99
Chicken Breast Caesar Wrap Sandwich: $5.49
Eggplant and Red Pepper Tuscan Panini: $5.99
Veggie Sandwich: $4.99
Panda Express
Chicken and Steamed Broccoli: $4.99
Fresh Mixed Vegetables: $4.19
Moe's Grill & Bar
Bombay Salad: $8.99
Wasabi Grilled Tuna: $12.99
Grilled Vegetarian Sandwich: $7.99
Key West Chicken Filet Sandwich: $8.49
Blue Grass Brewing Co.
Grilled Chicken: $8.29
Veggie Burger: $7.99
Damon's Grill
Grilled Salmon: $13.99
Flame-grilled Chicken with Garden Vegetables: $10.49
Soup and Salad Combo: $5.49
Salads: $4.19
Grilled Chicken Sandwich: $3.14
(these items are priced individually and not as value meals)
Source: Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport
Many airport concessionaires locally and nationally are offering more health-conscious food such as veggie burgers, wasabi grilled tuna and grilled chicken in a variety of offerings for travelers.

It's all part of the drastic evolution of the airport food business, which has begun using big names such as Max & Erma's, Wolfgang Puck's and Damon's Grill to draw waiting passengers.

"This is definitely a market for all airport concessionaires," said Paul Damico, vice president of operations for Foodbrand LLC of Westlake Village, Calif., which is opening several new restaurants at the Cincinnati airport.

"I mean, who would have thought of buying a salad with blue cheese crumbles at an airport even five years ago? Now, it's one of our biggest sellers," said Damico, a 16-year-veteran of the industry who was in town Friday to prepare the opening of Moe's Grill & Bar.

The trend comes as the airport continues its $25 million renovation of its concession/shopping program - all paid for by the companies involved.

All told, the airport has added 13 restaurant names in the past year for travelers both behind and in front of the security checkpoints. Another seven restaurants will open by the end of next month.

A new study suggests that airport food is getting healthier nationally as well. According to the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine, passengers are thinking more about their cholesterol levels and waistlines when they fly.

The organization, which promotes preventive health through better nutrition, surveyed the nation's top 15 airports (Cincinnati was not on the list), looking at the healthiness of their food.

There are still trouble spots, such as Dallas-Fort Worth and Las Vegas; but considering how many menus included at least one low-fat, low-cholesterol offering, the survey found that airports are getting better, with Denver ranking first.

"Passengers have enough to worry about before boarding a plane. They don't need the added fear of skyrocketing cholesterol levels," said Brie Turner-McGrievy, a registered dietician who conducted the study for the committee.

Michael Mullaney, the airport's manager of commercial and business development, said one reason for the increased healthiness is that more name brands are entering the airport market, and that means better quality and variety.

"And those places are cooking instead of just preparing the items, which means that you can get the mayo on the side or an item without the bun if you are on a low-carb diet," Mullaney said. "Yes, we still have McDonald's, but even McDonald's has a really good line of salads.

"We get some people who still splurge at Cinnabon because they are on vacation. ... But it's gotten to the point that you can eat healthy pretty much anywhere you go."

The Associated Press contributed. E-mail

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