Last updated: 08:33 PM ET, Wed October 26 2016

The Surprises of Airport Dining

Spend a lot of time in airports? That’s an unequivocal yes for those of us in the travel  industry, along with those lucky people who take vacations—lots of vacations.

What, then, are our options to wile away the time until—we hope—our undelayed flights take off: working on our laptops, reading, looking at our smartphones, shopping (of sorts anyway), just staring off into space . . . or eating?

Eating has always been an option—but not always a good one. Just as airline food has long been a favorite target of ridicule, airport food has been a great standby in that department.

Yet things change. That’s been my – surprising – experience away at Newark Liberty International Airport. And, more specifically, at United Airlines Terminal C.

Terminal C has undergone a food renaissance. Okay, I may be biting off more than I can chew here but eating has definitely taken a turn for the better.

Take “Proof,” billed as a gastro pub and whiskey bar. I wasn’t up for sampling one of Proof’s wide selection of whiskeys at 7 a.m., thank you very much, but I found the bagel and Nova lox to be a thing of beauty.

I’m a bit of a smoked fish aficionado, so imagine my delight when this combo arrived: a fresh everything bagel; a generous amount of superb Nova; creamy, uh, cream cheese, and, to top it off, red onion and tomato. There may have been capers too but I ignore them. I’m a purist.

The bottom line: This bagel and Nova stood up to several delis. In fact, it surpassed quite a few of them.

When I googled “Proof” to see if my fellow flyers were as enthusiastic as I was about the place, I found several nasty reviews. However, there were also several good ones, all of which featured the word “surprise.”

And then there was this one: “Shockingly tasty red lentil bacon soup and warm squash biscuits.” Shocking, indeed. And, when it comes to ordering at an airport restaurant, that’s one courageous customer. But it looks like it turned out well for him.

Other reviews cited the high prices but I think you have to expect that at an airport. And frankly, the $14.95 bagel and Nova was in line with—and often less than—deli prices.

“Proof” is one of 55 new eateries and bars to open as part of a $120 million redesign of Terminal C completed last year.

Instead of the usual McDonald’s, Sbarros and TCBYs, the Terminal C eateries feature a welcome and again, surprising, number of celebrity chefs responsible for a wide selection of fare from traditional American to classic French, authentic Mexican “street food” to sushi.

Just some of the chefs and their restaurants: Alain Ducasse for Saison, a classic French bistro; Mario Carbone for Happy Clam, Italian seafood and pasta; Dan Kluger for Vanguard Kitchen, seasonal American dishes; Dale Talde for Little Purse, specializing in wontons, and Jacques Torres for Melange Bakery Café, breads, pastries and light entrees.

Every seat at every restaurant also comes with an iPad for ordering and paying. That amounts to a staggering 6,000 tablets. Along with paying their bills, customers can use the iPads to monitor their flight information by scanning their boarding passes, and United Airlines Mileage Plus members can pay their checks using frequent flier miles.

Like the new restaurants, the iPads received mixed reviews. Some diners were crazy about the system, others—especially older customers—not so much. Not a good thing, to make your customers feel really, really stupid.

Still, that might be a small price to pay for not feeling bad about eating a meal at the airport.

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