Sometime next year you’re going to be able to order this as you sit in the airport, waiting for the crew to arrive for your delayed flight to Cleveland: fennel-cured whitefish from Lake Superior, drizzled with a black pepper dressing and served alongside a fresh, crunchy fennel slaw and a hearty brown bread panzanella. It might even take the sting out of going to Cleveland.
That dish was created by Lenny Russo of St. Paul’s Heartland restaurant, but it won’t be cooked by him. He and 10 other noted area chefs have lent their names and expertise to restaurants coming to Concourse G. Restaurant management company OTG Management won the contract to operate the concessions on the concourse in May, beating out the larger and more established HMSHost, which operates most of the other airport restaurants.
Some construction has already begun on Concourse G, as old tenants vacate. OTG takes over concessions at the gate January 1 and will gradually roll out amenities over 12–18 months, according to Rick Blatstein, OTG’s CEO. The first three restaurants are tentatively scheduled to open in July: Mimosa, a brasserie and raw bar created by Meritage’s Russell Klein; Shoyu, a modern Japanese restaurant by Tanpopo’s Koshiki Yonemura; and Minnibar, a sandwich cafe by Andrew Zimmern.
While there will be seating in the restaurants, there will also be “iPad bars” throughout the gate area, loaded with menus that allow customers to order from any of the eateries on the concourse.
Blatstein explained the concept this way: “Travelers have some gate anxiety” — you’ve been there: You want a sandwich, but are afraid to miss an announcement in the gate area — “So let’s bring everything to them at the gate. We’ve rethought everything. We’re not going to act like we’re inside an airport. Anywhere you sit you’ll be able to order food.”
Delta and OTG previewed some of the menu items at an event last night at Heartland.
Andrew Zimmern showed off the “Sven and Ole,” a mild meatball sandwich (akin to meatloaf) with pickled cabbage, which will be on the menu at Minnibar.
Koshiki Yonemura, chef and owner of Tanpopo, previewed the crunch roll that will be available at Shoyu. Light on the spice, it includes tuna, Dungeness crab, masago, and avocado, with a light touch of yuzu. Yonemura is consulting on Shoyu.
Erick Harcey’s Minnesota Beer Hall will serve crispy croquettes, filled with creamy potatoes, smoked chicken, and cheddar cheese, while his second concept, Custom Burger, will have lamb burgers with feta fondue on the menu. Harcey is chef at Victory 44.
Lenny Russo’s fennel-cured whitefish was the star of the evening. Russo was clearly not talking down to airport diners and he chose to make a wholly unique dish that is still rooted deeply in Scandinavian flavors and traditions. If Russo can teach OTG chefs to make dishes like this and OTG is committed to maintaining Russo-level quality, Mill City Tavern on Concourse G could become something of a dining destination.
Pizzeria Lola’s Ann Kim is consulting on Vero, which will serve individual pizzas and panini, including one filled with La Quercia prosciutto and fior di latte.
Scott Nelson’s Twin Burger will bring the beloved Matt’s Bar Jucy Lucy to the airport.
Meritage’s Russell Klein shows that he can do great steak frites anywhere, even at the airport, in his concept, Mimosa.
Doug Flicker of Piccolo created Volante, which will serve traditional Italian pasta and panini.
We’ll find out next year whether Twin Cities names will lure travelers and diners away from McDonald’s and Cinnabon. But, after taking over the hometown airline almost two years ago, Delta seems to have concluded that the way to Minnesotans’ hearts is through our stomachs — and that a good dose of local pride goes a long way here.
Bill Lentsch, Delta’s senior vice president for Minnesota operations, told the preview crowd, “This is one more way we want to demonstrate that Delta is here to stay.”