review by Bret Shulte, special to The City Wire
On a recent Tuesday, we decided to treat our four-year-old daughter. Rather than taking her to the usual kid fare of Chuck E. Cheese or McDonald’s, we headed to one of Springdale’s most unique dining experiences: the café at the Springdale Municipal Airport.
I’m sure she would have rather gone to Chuck E. Cheese or McDonald’s. But we’re trying to instill in her an important family value: not getting what you want. Plus, I thought it’d be cool to see an airplane lift off from behind my pile of pancakes. In the end, it was cool, but I can’t say it lived up to expectations. (Perhaps one shouldn’t have expectations for airport cafes.) And my daughter seems to have already forgotten all about the place. But, as is true with so much in the world of aviation, it all depends on the weather.
The Springdale Airport is worth visiting, if for no other reason than the experience of pulling right up to the front door and parking. You won’t be arrested. And it’s free. It’s a great way to start any journey, even if it’s a proverbial one.
The café is on the second floor of the airport. Our daughter got a kick out of a large model airplane that hangs from the ceiling of an atrium-like space in the middle. From the second floor, you can look down on it from above, and our daughter was delighted to see that Mickey Mouse (or his kin) was its pilot.
The café is a downhome place with country-style furnishings and a mom-and-pop ownership. Its two walls facing the tarmac are almost completely glass and lined with booths, perfect for watching the small private planes climb and descend around you.
The café is charming in its simplicity, and its offerings are unpretentious. The café, which is open for breakfast and lunch, keeps it simple. Breakfast options include a variety of omelets – all very reasonably priced between $5 and $7 – biscuits and gravy, and pancakes. Lunch offers more familiar fare: hamburgers, hot sandwiches, salads, and the like.
The café was mostly empty, and our waitress was prompt, if not conveying the same warmth as the café itself. My wife praised the coffee. We quickly ordered: I asked for the steak and eggs for $8.25. I chose the hashbrowns over the toast on the side. My wife ordered the breakfast special. That’s two eggs, two strips of bacon or sausage patties, with a choice of toast or baby cakes. And all that comes to $4.99. Our little one chose the baby cakes, which we assumed were small pancakes.
We turned our eyes back to the tarmac, desperate for an show. Our four year old began playing with jelly packets. The waitress broke in. The café was out of steak for the steak and eggs. As a substitute, she could offer a hamburger steak. I wasn’t sure what a “hamburger steak” was, but I like each of those things just fine on their own, so why not have them together? Sure, I said. And I got a side of biscuits and gravy, which I believe is the litmus test for any breakfast joint.
The “hamburger steak,” as it turned out, was pretty much just a hamburger. But the waitress offered it with steak sauce. I took it, with a sense of resignation. My daughter was thrilled with her baby cakes, which were the size of an adult’s head. And my wife was happy with her enormous array of offerings as well. She opined that her scrambled eggs were soaked in butter. The food was good, not spectacular. I noted that the cook deserved credit for nailing the over-easy request on my eggs. The waitress, expressionless for the duration of our visit, murmured that those eggs were free-range. So I made a note of it.
The biscuits were OK. No sausage, which was disappointing. And part of the biscuit was a bit hard and chewy. The pancakes may have been the highlight of the day, eclipsing our view of an airplane taking off. Our daughter was so inspired by her baby cakes she exclaimed, “They’re so squishy I couldn’t get my fork out!” The cakes moved her to give both her parents a hug. Then, we were all soaring.
We lingered a bit afterward. We saw no more planes. Back down on the first floor, in the receptionist’s area, we learned that best time for plane viewing is 1 to 2 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. The friendly staff allowed me behind the operations desk to view the software on a computer that tracks the planes in and out of this modest hub. “The mornings,” conceded one employee, “are pretty boring.” And this morning was worse than usual because of the heavy clouds. Still, my spirits lifted as I walked from the airport doors ten short feet to my car. I suspect we’ll be back again lunch, next time for lunch – and under fair skies.