American Flagship Dining – an aviation first

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American Airlines Flagship Lounge – JFK Airport

Is it just me who finds it rather bizarre that even though the Wright brothers pioneered flight on these very shores, or that the world’s first commercial airline began operations in this country, why then are US carriers so embarrassingly dominated and overshadowed by their international counterparts? Whether it’s the aircraft livery design, crew uniforms, cabin interiors and comfort, or service in the air and on the ground, United/Delta/American seem stuck in a decade-long taxiway before finally pulling up to match that ever-rising standard. There’s hardly a passenger who would disagree that the worst part of air travel starts and ends at the airport: You can miss at least one birthday standing in the bounty of lines. There’s nowhere to sit. None of the phone chargers work. Vintage dust abounds. There’s never anything to do when your flight is delayed. And who can tolerate those dysentery-inducing food-chain options?

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American Airlines Flagship Lounge – JFK airport

Well, there certainly is a better way to get through it all. For those flying first class on American Airlines transcontinental or international routes out of JFK, the airline unveiled their new Flagship Lounge today, which will elevate the nations’ largest carrier to share similar airspace with the popular British Airways Concorde Lounge at Heathrow, or Cathay Pacific’s The Wing at Hong Kong International.

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Semi-private pods – American Airlines Flagship Lounge

The Flagship Lounge is replete with the expected comforts and conveniences, like a separate check-in facility, charging stations never more than an elbow away, the latest in electronic barista stations, a self-service bar, a perpetually refreshed buffet with 5 hot and more than a dozen cold dishes, a quiet room, a fancy cocktail station and a wide variety of seating from loungers to diners to booths and even a row of adorable, semi-private beehive pods. But unlike some international lounges, you’re not going to find a private cabana, a shoe-shine, a haircut, a massage (or any other indulgent services of a personal nature).

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Showers – American Airlines Flagship Lounge

Despite the fact that the décor is almost entirely color and warmth deprived (would it have killed someone to shlepp in a palm or a vessel of succulents, or anything green other than that bottle of Chartreuse between the Campari and the Bourbon?), it certainly makes up for in space and light. The generous, but highly considered variety of textures and finishes from leather to mosaics, bright woods to shiny pressed metals are all offset by the pervasive plethora of durable fabrics (in what seem to be limitless shades of gray, fawn and brown), built to withstand the impending avalanche of traveler abuse. And while the 8 bookable showers are spotlessly modern, I challenge the design team to find somewhere to spread their belongings out, while washing away a virtual thrombosis after 13+ hours of mid-Atlantic turbulence.

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Flagship First Dining – JFK airport

But none of that should overshadow the real moment of truth in what is without doubt another aviation first: American Airlines has dared to install the first ever, fully functioning restaurant kitchen inside an airport terminal. In a nutshell, there is no better meal to be had in any of the 8 terminals surrounding JFK airport than Flagship First Dining. With (mostly) locally sourced ingredients and a menu that extolls the virtues of regional flavors with some international destination-inspired dishes, chef Scott Keats has created the first gourmet airline dining experience before you even leave the ground.
There has been endless dialogue about the state of our taste buds at 35,000 feet, prompting airline catering programs to introduce highly sophisticated flavor profiles that continue to push the envelope within the limitations of what can be re-heated in the galley of a 777. But let’s say your flight is delayed until the storm passes and you are stuck at the airport for another 3 hours. You snag one of the 10 single seat window-facing tables or a 4-person booth and sit down to real cotton linens and regular sized flatware as you peruse the menu of a dozen options – all complimentary, of course!

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Smoked Duck Breast – Flagship First Dining

It only takes one bite of the perfectly tender Smoked Duck Breast with a deep, rich, woodsy flavor, wonderfully accented by the fruity-jammy au jus and punctuated by the chef’s take on a colorful succotash to realize that this dish wasn’t cooked last month, flash-frozen and trucked in from Minneapolis. The roasted tomato coulis anchoring three Arancini is delectable, but the “rice balls” (as the waiter referred to them) could do with a sprinkle of seasoning.

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Arancini – Flagship First Dining

Chef Keats makes a passionate argument about environmental impacts and sustainable farming, but then the other shoe drops when the magnificent Loch Duarte Salmon gets flown in daily from Scotland! He presents it medium-rare with a splash of broth along a soft pudding he calls “cauliflower risotto”, which is nice and rich and indulgently cheese-laden, but probably requires more of a spoon than a fork to reach the mouth with any dignity.

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Lentil Cake – Flagship First Dining

While there is only one vegetarian entree, it’s a damn good one. I used the last remnants of what was one of four bread roll options (that were offered without name or description) to mop up the delicious ginger sauce surrounding the Lentil cake covered with sautéed mushrooms and baby corns.

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Flagship Burger – Flagship First Dining

And probably the most traditional of all entrees – the one that’s impossible to serve at altitude – will become the signature dish on all future Flagship First Dining menus in Miami, Los Angeles, Dallas and London – the Flagship Burger. “I really wanted it to be…unctuous,” Keats proudly declares of his moist, 1.5” thick sirloin patty, cave aged cheddar melt and immaculately sweet-and-spicy maple bacon marmalade.

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Flagship First Dining – JFK airport

Despite the unavoidable first day service jitters with wait staff who have yet to find their hands, feet, eyes and ears: when to refill a glass (before it’s empty), when to serve the condiments (before the dish has been consumed), or when to remove the silverware (not moments before they are about to be needed), this first foray into gate-side dining is bound to catch on at supersonic speed. I also predict some edits to the menu based on popularity and demand. (Did I hear someone ask for a pasta…?)

http://www.aa.com

https://www.aa.com/i18n/travel-info/experience/dining/flagship-first-dining.jsp

 

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Does Philadelphia food ring a bell?

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Termini Bros. Bakery

You’re probably not alone thinking that Philadelphia and food have about as much in common as a rattlesnake and a baby. And if you asked anyone to name a famous dish that hails from the site of the declaration of Independence, you’ll probably hear about Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews – famously used as a World War I ration, or more likely the Philly Cheesesteak.

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Legend has it that South Philadelphia street food vendor Pat Olivieri got bored with selling hot dogs from his Italian market stall in the 1930’s, and started serving sliced beefsteak a and grilled onions with melted cheese in a soft roll instead. Instant success. And Pat’s is still around today, dolling out those ever-popular, clumsy, drippy, chewy, salty soberizers right around the clock, but more about them later.

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Pat’s Philly Cheesesteak

It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that the resident Irish made way for the influx of Italian immigrants clutching their culture, Catholicism and cooking skills. So, to really understand the largest chunk of Philadelphia’s longest surviving food influences, you really have to venture into the root neighborhood where it all began – Soufilly (South Philly). The local tribe has a uniquely extraordinary way of pronouncing things, like galamad (calamari), managad (manicotti) or prozhood (prosciutto), so I will throw in a few phonetics here and there for an extra helping of authenticity.

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Daily specials – Mr. Joe’s Cafe

Right in the midst of a sunny street of typical row houses – boasting highly competitive window decorations that include bent candles, ornate vases, faded plastic flowers, vintage tinsel, motionless cats, photographic dishware or gaudy crucifixes – is a lunch-only, mom and pop shop called Mr. Joe’s Cafe. The laminated menu might read like everyone else’s, but the daily special show-stoppers are worth swimming across the Delaware river for.

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Scripelle Soup – Mr. Joe’s Cafe

Hailing from the town of Teramo, Scrippelle soup is a clear and delicious hen’s broth with parmesan-filled, wafer-thin crepes rolled into short cigars, which release delightful little bubbles as you munch your way through them.

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Braciole with Gnocchi – Mr. Joe’s Cafe

While the house-made gnocchi are a mandatory staple, you are empowered and encouraged to swap and change pastas, sauces and meats to your heart’s content. I added them to a dish of Bra-zhôl (Baciole), which arrives with an ice-cream dish of fluffy, grated parmesan cheese – just begging to be scattered all over the world. The tender roulade of veal, flavored with garlic, basil and (more) parmesan is weighted down by a more-than-generous ladleful of what the locals call “gravy”. We medagones (non-Italians) would refer to it as “sauce”, but who gives a damn what anyone calls it, this masterpiece marinara is worth bottling, as are many of the other options including the crab and the meatballs.

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Termini Bros. Bakery

Conveniently located right across the street sits the Termini Bros. Bakery – still family-run and still baking Italian treats for 96 years. As you peruse the buffet of Biscotti’s, Canoli’s, Terroni’s, cakes and cookies, you are escorted by servers who compile your order on steel trays before packaging them up into little white boxes with string.

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Chocolate and Ricotta Cream Canoli’s – Termini Bros. Bakery

The Pignoli’s are legendarily soft with a marzipan-like Amaretto rush that underscores the thorny forest of toasted pine nuts on top. After taking a fascinating behind-the-scenes tour by one of the Termini granddaughters, I had to try a Canoli shell filled with rigûd (ricotta), and of course a bite of the rigûd-filled Sfoya-deel (Sfogliatelle), which is a ruffled pastry bundle of joy that crunches and crumbles into a million toasty flakes.

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Sfogliatelle – Termini Bros. Bakery

But the real heart of the immigrant neighborhood comprises a handful of blocks along 9th Street, designated as the Italian market. Here competing butchers, bakers, grocers, cheese & fishmongers offer local and imported produce from Sarasota to Sicily.

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Italian Market

And deep in the heart of all the action, the Rim Café, serves the most decadent cream-based Hot Chocolate ever poured. Using a litany of freshly shaved artisanal bars of varying cacao concentration and origin on a revolving platform, the process is as much a delight as the taste.

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Hot Chocolate – Rim Cafe

The neighborhood comes to a head-on collision at a cross-roads where the two competing Philly Cheesesteak vendors face one another: Pat’s and Gino’s Steaks. Both have equally impressive lines. Both have the identical menu. Both are open 24/7, and somehow both seem to survive. Regardless of which you choose, the most traditional cheesesteak to try is referred to as: “Whiz wit’-out”, which means you’ll have a cheesesteak with Cheez Whiz® (an artificial, yellow epoxy goo dispensed from a spray can), without the grilled onions. Grab a large handful of napkins as you dive headfirst into a speechlessly sloppy adventure of ridiculous yumminess.

You’ve probably never used the expression Water Ice in the same way most Philadelphians do. It refers to a very popular summertime treat, and a close second cousin to the Slushy. But many local vendor’s like Pop’s Ice go one step further by adding a dollop of soft-serve or hard-scooped ice-cream right into the middle of it, creating Gelati. The real adventure is the bombardment of combining different flavors of water-ice and ice-cream together. Ginger Ale & Butter Pecan, vs. Cherry & Mint-Chocolate Chip. (When the humidity rises above 80%, I doubt it really matters.)

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Cherry Water Ice with Vanilla Soft-serve – Pop’s Ice

And finally, one of the last remaining stalwarts of the city’s culinary history is Dante and Luigi’s. Founded in 1899, the multi-roomed converted townhouse originally welcomed immigrants who couldn’t speak English, and arrived with the restaurant’s name pinned to their clothing. They were offered lodging and employment until they were able to support themselves.

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Dante & Luigi’s

The menu is a lexicon of ultra-classic Italian fare starting with Antipastos, Pastas and traditional Flesh and Fowl. Standouts are the incredibly tender and flavorful Chicken Cacciatore deluged in “gravy”, the simple Pork Milanese topped with a crisp salad, and a special drum-roll for the signature Perciatelli Genovese – hollow pasta tubes you can whistle through, smothered in the most scrumptiously, creamy, white veal bolognaise – that will most certainly put a massive crack in anyone’s bell.

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Chicken Cacciatore – Dante & Luigi’s

http://www.termini.com/

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60795-d2365817-Reviews-Mr_Joe_s_Cafe-Philadelphia_Pennsylvania.html

http://rimcafe.com/

http://www.genosteaks.com/

http://patskingofsteaks.com/

www.popsice.com

http://danteandluigis.com/