Thursday, September 15, 2016

Airport food and drink continue to move upmarket

Travelers of a certain age will remember the time when pretty much every concession stand at any given airport was run by the same company. Cartoonist Matt Groening drew a “Life in Hell” comic in 1987 titled “Akbar and Jeff’s Airport Snack Bar,” lampooning that reality with the tag line, “When you’re stuck at the airport, you’re stuck with us.” Happily, that is no longer the case.

For several years now, airports have been diversifying the offerings made available to their customers. Outposts of locally owned restaurants, regional chains and restaurants owned by corporate conglomerates often sit cheek-by-jowl, beckoning passengers who are headed for their gates.

Dishes at Chefs of the Caribbean, Miami International Airport MIA
Dishes at Chefs of the Caribbean
Photo provided by Miami-Dade Aviation Dept.
The latest entrant into that space is Chefs of the Caribbean, which recently opened at Miami International Airport (MIA). The concession offers a diverse menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes including Caribbean favorites such as Escovich red snapper, curry and jerk chicken, conch fritters (pronounced "conk"), Creole mashed plantains and oxtail.

Other dishes on offer include the popular Jamaican patty, available in beef, curry chicken or vegetable, as well as Caribbean-inspired soups, sandwiches, salads, desserts and beverages, including beers from Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas.

“With service to more than 150 destinations around the world, it’s important that we cater to the multi-cultural preferences of our customers," Emilio T. González, Miami-Dade Aviation Director, said in a statement heralding the opening. "Being a [champion of] small business ... is also one of our top priorities."

Located in MIA's South Florida-themed North Terminal Marketplace area between gates D-26 and D-29, Chefs of the Caribbean is also the latest airport concession disadvantaged business enterprise (ACDBE) to open. The Marketplace already features other local ACDBEs such as 305 Pizza, Cuban Crafters cigars, Fig and Fennel, Half Moon Empanadas and My Ceviche.

Not to be left out of the move upmarket, manufacturers of high-end beverages are also increasing the places they present their products to the traveling public. Those products include a “gluten-free, kosher tequila” that is being poured at many of the higher-end establishments at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and LaGuardia Airport (LGA).

Barón gluten-free, Kosher Tequila
Barón Tequila
Photo provided by Barón Spirits
OTG, an airport food and beverage operator with outlets at 10 major airports in the northeastern part of North America, now offers Barón Tequila on the cocktail menus of numerous bars and restaurants at those two New York City airports. The addition of Barón “[W]ill enhance the airport experience for both serious connoisseurs of tequila and anyone seeking that perfect margarita or cocktail before boarding a flight,” the marketing company said it an email announcing the addition of the tequila to its menus.

“Isn’t all tequila ‘gluten-free’?” and “Why kosher?” were two questions that immediately came to mind.

The answer to the first question is a qualified, “Yes.” Distillation is an extremely effective process in which all prolamines (the type of proteins of concern to those who are gluten-intolerant or suffer from Celiac’s disease) are removed. That means all pure vodkas, tequilas, rums, brandies, whiskeys and gins are gluten-free. The key word here is “pure”; flavorings or other substances containing glutens may have been added, and the beverage would then no longer be gluten-free.

With regard to the second question, whether the “kosher” designation is important will depend upon whether one keeps kosher.

Barón Tequila is certified “Jay-Kosher” and pareve by the Chabad Guadalajara. The certification “kosher” means a Rabbi has certified it was manufactured in accordance with kosher laws. “Pareve” means it is considered a “neutral” food and can be consumed with either meat or dairy under kosher food laws. But those who keep kosher already know that.

Gluten-free or not, kosher or otherwise, taste is the real test. Barón Tequila’s marketing firm provided me with a sample bottle of the platinum tequila so that I could try it and provide an assessment.

Barón is 100% pure agave tequila and has a rating of 80 proof, which is typical of distilled spirits. Apart from that, little is typical about it.

It is incredibly smooth with that distinctive tequila flavor, though the flavor is lighter and much more subtle than many other tequilas, making it a great tequila for sipping. While I believe it is practically a crime to mix a fine reposado or anejo tequila with anything, in the interest of providing a thorough review, I made a margarita using Barón Tequila, freshly squeezed lime juice, triple sec and a dash of simple syrup. Barón’s light flavor profile was, honestly, a bit overwhelmed by the other ingredients, so I strongly recommend sticking to sipping it, either neat or on the rocks, with the requisite salt and lime.

To avoid waxing too rhapsodic myself, I sought the opinion of the chef and a few others at a friend's restaurant where I occasionally tend bar. Everyone agreed that the Barón Tequila was, in the words of one colleague, “¡Muy suave!” Compared to other tequilas, I found Barón Tequila to be significantly smoother than Patron Silver and smoother, though lighter-bodied, than Milagro Silver. And that is very respectable company to keep.

Barón Tequila is currently available at approximately 15 select liquor stores in and around New York City as well as three locations in the Miami area. It is also available directly from manufacturer, BaronSpirits.com, for $41.99 plus shipping for a 750-ml bottle.

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.



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