Food for Flight Is the Way to Go

I love to eat. I also love to fly. So I absolutely love where mozzarella meets magnetos.

I love to eat. I also love to fly. An opportunity to combine the two makes me feel like Dom DeLuise in the 1981 movie History of the World, Part I when he realizes he’s going to bathe in treasure from the orient. “Treasure…Bathtub…Treasure bath…I’m going to have a treasure bath! Treasure bath!!!”

I’ve written in these pages about combining my love of racing motorcycles with aviation, flying to distant racetracks and sometimes even landing on the track itself. Aviation sweetens the pot for any adventure. It’s a simple equation: Anything you like to do + Aviation = A Win.


Food pairs exceptionally well with aviation. In fact, one of the oldest cliches in aviation is the $100 hamburger (now pushing $300 in many modern airplanes) whereby you fly to a semi-distant location and have a burger before flying home. Sometimes the burger is just an excuse for the flight. There is something about a flight being mission-oriented that checks another box for me. I understand why pilots take part in humanitarian relief, angel flights, or dog rescue missions. I would fly just for the sake of flying, but having a reason makes me feel like an airline transport pilot.

Food is one of the last remaining things in this ultra-homogenized country that still has some regional specificity. Take a road trip this summer and stay on the interstates if you want to see hat I mean. It all looks the same. Chain after chain punctuated with superstores visible from the freeway. It’s numbing and offensive. Cracker Barrel does its best trying to masquerade as local fare, but it’s not authentic Southern cuisine by any measure. Waffle House is the only one I find irresistible, but I’m not starting up the big-bore Conti to go there either.

No, you have to exit those thruways and get on some two-lane blacktop, where you can still find the mom-and-pop restaurants that don’t have an HR department or a social media presence. This dovetails nicely with general aviation in that the bulk of our 5,000 some-odd airfields are well off the beaten path. Throw in a free crew car and a little bit of research, and you’ve got the makings of a nice lunch. Sometimes I skip the research, roll into a small town and just ask who makes the best fried chicken. If you were to only fly into commercial-service airports in the hope of finding a similar experience, you would miss a whole lot.

I am writing this column from the patio of La Mama in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It’s a new restaurant housed in what was previously a craftsman home right in the middle of town. Landed in Moriarty (0E0) this morning and dropped the Bo off with Fernie, who is addressing a few leftover squawks, post-annual. Jumped in his truck and drove straight here for a sublime bowl of soup and a sandwich on house-made focaccia. Double mission, double joy.

I have flown to Catalina Island (KAVX) in California numerous times for what is a decent breakfast (nothing I’d spend time driving to) just to justify the gorgeous trip across the water and the carrier landing on top of a mountain. Camarillo (KCMA) is a close second, where the landing is not as exciting but walking up to the outdoor restaurant on the field a mere 50 feet from your parked airplane is an experience worth burning some 100LL.

I seem to make a cross-country trip in my Bo every few years, and I keep a digital folder of restaurants I want to visit. While a restaurant on the field is the gold standard, there is also something great about borrowing a mid-’90s vintage Crown Vic crew car with the driver’s side spotlight still intact from its previous life as an unmarked police car. I love how people still get out of your way in that thing.

Sometimes, the culinary destination outshines the flight. Rare, but it happens. My buddy Carlo and I flew up from Los Angeles to Los Gatos, California, a few years ago to experience one of the best-ever meals at Manresa. Sadly, the restaurant is now closed (a victim of COVID-19), but I will always remember that flight/meal.

I enjoy the cheap meals as much as I do the high-end cuisine. Aside from an appreciation of all foods, the people are much friendlier in the eateries that don’t come with Michelin stars. I tumbled into PJ’s Rainbow Cafe in Mountain View, Arkansas, a few years back on a cross-country flight. With an actual rainbow on the front glass, this place would absolutely be a gay hangout if it was located in the West Village in NYC. I walked in and immediately noticed the tiles of the dropped ceiling were individual advertisements for local businesses. I’d only seen this done on menus and the occasional tabletop until I entered this establishment. Dining next to me was a woman with an incomplete beard who told me to get the chicken-fried steak. She was with her husband (full beard), whom she met online and who “drove down to Florida to pick her up.” I overheard another woman discussing the eye makeup in the Netflix drama series The Queen’s Gambit and finally had a conversation with a elderly man in full military dress blues who owned a local health food store. He somehow confused me with someone else in the small town (population: 1,700) who apparently I looked like, and we struck up a conversation. He works in the honor guard and buries deceased servicemen and women. These are encounters and meals you simply aren’t going to have anywhere near JFK.

Gonna pick up the airplane in Moriarty tomorrow then head back east for the summer. I haven’t been home in more than a year because of my work. Staring at a VFR map of the country, I am planning my route back. People assume this is a regimented, regulation-fueled exercise. Nope. Taste buds and curiosity are the drivers here. BBQ in Kansas with Sean or a little sandwich shop on the South Side of Chicago with Chris? Not sure yet. Will get airborne and figure it out at 11.5K.

This column first appeared in the July 2023/Issue 939 print edition of FLYING.


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