Inside a hangar on the edge of the tarmac at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport sits one of the best lunch spots in Fort Lauderdale.
Two weeks ago, I wouldn't have believed I'd ever write that sentence. But then, I found myself at Jet Runway Cafe.
You wend your way to the restaurant off Commercial Boulevard and arrive at what is truly one of the most-nondescript restaurant locations in the region. Off the parking lot, a nicely landscaped, covered walkway leads diners into one of those hangars. At 1 p.m. on a Thursday, the place was packed. I mean hopping.
Aside from a couple of well-placed decorative turbines, you'd never know that aviation was the theme. The 89-seat restaurant is set with metal and wooden furniture. A long banquette separates the dining room from a long window into the kitchen. A pile of oversize white plates sits on the pass-through. This place is cool.
On the other side of the narrow room, a row of windows looking onto the tarmac provides the restaurant its name. That view is why the weekday office workers get replaced by parents and grandparents with kids when Saturday rolls around. What kid doesn't love airplanes?
But don't just come here for the kids. Come because chef Sean Anderson turns out some of the most-artfully presented food I've seen in ages. It's served by a team, led by general manager Felicia Singh, who seems to never miss a beat, even when every seat in the house is full.
The breakfast menu includes the Full Tank ($10): pancakes or French toast, two eggs, potatoes or grits, bacon or sausage. It's served on two of those big, white plates, and every element is better than the next. The Egg Scrambler ($8) is a huge skillet of scrambled eggs, diced ham, peppers, onions and cheddar cheese. The breakfast burrito ($8) wraps scrambled eggs, black beans, salsa, cheddar and jack cheese inside a toasted tortilla.
All breakfasts come with something called "famous fried bread pudding." It tastes like a cross between bread pudding and kugel. Brioche-almond French toast ($9) is also on the menu, along with pancakes ($8), eggs Benedict ($9), a breakfast club sandwich ($8) and a croissant sandwich ($8).
Breakfast is better here than at many pricey hotels and resorts. Lunch may be even better.
The menu is huge, but I'd recommend starting with Thai chicken flatbread ($10.50): thin-crusted bread topped with peanut sauce, carrots, mozzarella and cilantro. It really does taste like a burst of Thai flavors.
Soup ($5-$6) changes daily and features everything from Monday's roasted corn chowder to Wednesday's Sante Fe black bean. There are eight salads ($11-$14), to which a skewer of wonderful grilled shrimp ($3.50) can be added. Crab-cake salad ($14) combines green, Roma tomatoes, carrots, julienne peppers, cucumbers and citrus-honey vinaigrette. There's also a Crispy Asian chicken salad ($11.50) featuring fried chicken with sesame-ginger dressing.
We couldn't resist a side of mac-n-cheese ($3.50), which had a little kick from red pepper. Some of that red pepper is tossed with the toasted panko topping.
There are a dozen sandwiches ($10.50-$14), seven different burgers ($10.50), three Mexican-inspired dishes ($10.50-$13.50) plus five Jet Features ($10-$11). A favorite from that last category is a sandwich known as the Picnic Basket ($11) in which slices of country white bread hold barbecue-pulled pork, pepper jack cheese, macaroni and cheese, and crispy onion strings.
I went for classic steak chimichurri ($14.50), skirt steak with grilled onions, flavorful yellow rice, black beans and roasted vegetables. It was a generous lunch portion.
Among the desserts is incredible chocolate fudge cake ($6), which Jet Runway brings in from Two Fat Cookies bakery in Boca. I'm going to find this bakery.
The 5-year-old Jet Runway Cafe is owned by Mitch Amsterdam and Mike Linder. It grew out of their Silver Lining Inflight Catering, which has been servicing the private-aviation industry since 2001. They service flights out of every South Florida airport, from Stuart south to Kendall Tamiami Executive Airport.
Jet Runway is so good, I wondered why they don't open for dinner? Throw on some tablecloths, and I'm sure chef Anderson would create an exceptional dinner menu.
The place is open at night, but only for private functions. They can open up the restaurant to the tarmac and take over the next-door hangar. They've hosted weddings and bar mitzvahs, bridals showers and office parties. The catering menu looks as good as lunch.