Milltowne at the airport
Tasty food for hungry travelers
By Linda A. Thompson-Odum firstname.lastname@example.org
Airports are not often associated with fine cuisine. Most only offer fast food, chain restaurants, and fare that’s less than inspirational. However, travelers at the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport should add a stop at the Milltowne Grille to their itineraries. The food at this locally owned restaurant is way above the norm.
The restaurant is located across from Southwest Airline’s gates and is within easy walking distance of the other airlines. It’s owned by Ed Aloise and Claudia Rippee, who previously owned Café Pavone in Manchester (now Cotton).
“Our biggest challenge here is that people think airport food is going to taste bad and be expensive. Southwest customers average three trips a year, so they come through the airport often. We want them to come in here each time,” Aloise said.
“There is a real misconception about airport dining. When customers eat here, they can’t believe they’re in an airport. We’re a good restaurant that just happens to be in an airport, General Manager Jennifer Dionne said. Each day, Dionne checks with Southwest’s airport manager to ascertain the day’s flight load — the number of passengers expected — and the time of the last departure. She will base her staff and menu needs on that information.
“If the last flight is at 6:30 p.m., passengers are generally finished eating by 5:30 and ready to board their flight. So I won’t need my staff for much longer afterwards,” Dionne said.The Milltowne Grille has been an airport fixture for 16 years. In the early years, the entrance was outside the security check-in area, but it became apparent a change was needed.
“There are more people who prefer to get through security first before they have a meal. They are nervous about delays and come through two hours early. So we changed the entrance so passengers can come once they get through security,” Dionne said.
An airport restaurant has a unique set of challenges. One is the fact that every bit of food and supplies has to go through a security screening. Another is time. Passengers often mistakenly believe a full-service restaurant can’t get them in and out in 30 minutes or less. To combat this perception, a list of dishes guaranteed to be ready in 15 minutes is displayed at the restaurant’s entrance, next to the complete menu. Also, the wait staff is encouraged to ask customers about their flight times. Should someone order a dish that takes a bit longer to prepare than they would have time for, the server can steer them to a more time-friendly selection.
Dionne’s staff begins prep work at 7 a.m. each day for a 10 a.m. opening. Every dish is made fresh in-house except for the french fries and the chicken tenders. Most dishes are listed at under $10, with the most expensive menu item being the fried haddock platter at just $12.50.
Both Aloise and Rippee have extensive travel experience, which shows in the menu selections such as classic French crepes, panini, Mediterranean selections, and seafood dishes. There are also all-American selections like grass-fed beef burgers, New England clam chowder, Caesar salad, buffalo chicken tenders, grilled pizzas and nachos. Both Dionne and Aloise credit Rippee for the numerous vegetarian dishes included, such as a flavorful falafel platter, spicy hummus with seasoned pita chips and veggies, a Southwest rollup with Spanish rice, black beans and roasted corn, and grilled vegetable sliders with pesto mayo.
The menu also includes a complete page of snacks for passengers who want a little something to go with their beer, cocktail, wine or soft drink. The selection includes a fresh vegetable summer roll with a sesame dipping sauce, a falafel slider, Morroccan stuffed grape leaves, classic deviled eggs, and spicy bread and butter pickled veggies. An Around the World platter has two deviled eggs, two stuffed grape leaves, one falafel and one summer roll, or customers can select a slider plate with one each of a seafood, chipotle chicken salad and falafel sliders.
Aloise and Rippee also own the Smuttynose Public House and Creperie just down the concourse from the Milltowne. This spot opens at 5 a.m. and features a variety of crepes made on European cast iron griddles, with menu items that are ready to go for travelers in a hurry. And in November, the pair plans to open a new restaurant, The Republic, in the former Korean Place location in Manchester.
At the Milltowne Grille, “We give people a little sense of comfort in a cold airport,” Dionne said. “A friendly bartender or wait staff can make a difference to a stressed traveler.”