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Posted August 3rd 2004, 10:11pm
At the recent skeet n eat event there was some loose talk that an LTH militia ought to be formed, possibly under the the Supreme Command of G(is for General)wiv. The militia would use its newfound shooting skills to impose discipline upon those who violate the the public trust by serving bland, soulless, or otherwise crappy, food. The idea went nowhere -- concerns about the legality of armed violence and the difficulty of finding uniforms that would be both fashionable and flattering carried the day. However -- had the militia been formed, I believe that I have found the man who would have made an ideal debut target.

My wife and I found ourselves at O'Hare about 11/2 weeks ago with some time to kill (We were going on vacation and missed our flight because I am an idiot who thinks -- sure, I can have lunch at Spring World (stir fried tripe, bok choy $3.95, excellent) at 12:30, drop a colleague off at work, return home, and take the train from the southside to the airport in time for a 4:55 pm flight. I was wrong. We couldn't get on the next flight either.) We were both a little hungry and realized the "name brand" sandwich which United had promised us the opportunity to buy probably was not going to satisfy (assuming we even got on a plane that evening). We wandered the terminal. My wife proposed McDonald's. I resisted. she called me an elitist. Then we saw Wolfgang Puck's Airport Xpress (or whatever).

Now, I didn't think I had any illusions about Mr. Puck. I know that he is a full of crap shill and that his restaurants are probably overpriced tourist traps. But the popular culture does see him as one who has taught us to eat "fancy" food and we did eat at one his restaurants in Las Vegas a long time ago and we thought it was pretty good then and they must use OK ingredients in their pizza and how bad can it be. So we went in, we ordered a pizza, and we found out how bad. Bad. Really bad. We got the pepperoni (the smoked salmon is for breakfast only -- in retrospect thank goodness). Thick doughy undercooked crust. At least a quart of rubber oily cheesefood. Bright orange leathery pepperoni with a sharp chemical tang. It was as if they broke into Pizza Hut headquarters, stole their secret formula and figured out a way to make it worse. My wife took one bite, scowled and threw her piece down. I ate the almost the whole damn thing (as penance more than anything else). I am not prone to heartburn but within fifteen minutes my esophagus was on fire. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. Mass produced crap is mass produced crap even if it bears the name of a chef with a funny accent who was trained in Paris, who writes a column about what "good" food is, and runs some expensive restaurants formerly frequented by silly celebrities. What is so offensive is the underlying assumption that we -- the poor mopes stuck in the airport -- won't know the difference. We see the name. We pay a little extra hoping to get something wholesome even tasty and we get crap -- the same crap we would get if we ate at one of the megacorp chains. I'm sure he doesn't care, but Wolfgang Puck should be ashamed. And thankful that we couldn't get the militia together.

We finally got on a flight -- apparently because some other folks missed theirs. If they had a long wait, I hope they had the good sense to eat at McDonald's or the even better sense not to eat at all. Sometimes its better to just go hungry.
Posted August 3rd 2004, 11:21pm
Since you are impressed with Mr. Puck's products, you can find a wide variety of his canned soups at any of the Deals (Supervalu) stored in the suburbs for $1 a can!!!
Posted August 4th 2004, 7:17am
I had a four cheese pizza last February at the Puck's in O'Hare near the terminals for American Airlines.

I'd say it was pretty much the same as they offer frozen.

Frankly I wasn't too upset, I still remember the OLD days of airport food, and Wolfgang Puck frozen is much better than that scary stuff.

I guess we're still a bit captive at the airport. But I think you can expect the same quality of stuff from the Puck airport place as you get in their frozen. To me still better than McDonald's. Maybe it was just the sun-dried tomatoes on the 4-cheese pizza that saved my day...

But for the flight back I stopped at a nice deli and brought that sandwich on the plane. Airport food probably will never be as good as outside the airport.

Posted August 4th 2004, 7:34am
O'Hare continues to maintain its reputation as an excellent location for chowhounds who are fasting. Between flights I continue to subsist on dried fruits, nuts and frozen yoghurt.
Posted August 4th 2004, 7:56am
Hey, at least the hotdogs have the neon green relish.

You can find them at the international terminal at Gold Coast Dogs, and in the United "B" terminal at the west end at the newsstand of all places. A quick chi-dog beats just about everything else there. Sure, it's not optimal (bun a little over-steamed, no fries), but I'll take it over McD's every day of the year.
Posted August 4th 2004, 8:11am
After getting stuck with five RT tickets on United in 2002 due to a medical emergency, my wife and I took all of our airline business to Southwest. Of course, this necessitated a switch to Midway Airport. At first, we were less than excited as it is further drive from Woodstock.

All I have to say is this. Much cheaper, more convenient parking.

MUCH better food at any time of the day. Much better selection of heart healthy foods than you will find at O'Hare. Also, the food court is located in a location that is available to all gates.

GNR Czar Emeritus
Posted August 4th 2004, 8:46am
Food at O'hare: Last month I discovered what can best be described as a genuine Greek grill at the end of a concourse (F, I believe) in terminal 2. It is an overflow location for United.

The place offers all the grill standards, fried eggs, omelettes, fried egg sandwiches, sausage, gyros, hot dogs, burgers, and even italian beef. The counter girl gave me crap (her T shirt said something about everyone being idiots, which prompted a discussion of exactly who this was directed to), just like the counter person at a grill is supposed to. It was real, and it was refreshing.

I had a fried egg sandwich, enhanced with the sweet peppers for the I-Beef (at no charge). My daughter had a respectable grilled cheese sandwich. This was a long way from gourmet food, but it was prepared to order, and it tasted just fine. Prices were a bit high, but not as high as most places in O'Hare. I recommend it highly.

On another Board (OA, not CH) a while back, someone recommended Spago in Beverly Hills as one of the best high end places in LA. I went and very much enjoyed my meal. In the review I posted, I mentioned that I was quite pleasantly surprised at the quality in a quasi-chain. I was asked to explain what I meant by a quasi-chain, and I pointed out that from Chicago, Puck's looks like a mid to high end chain of places.

The Puck empire, like LEYE, is a complex thing with competely different offerings at different price points, and Spago is quite good. Has nothing in common with their low end offerings, of course.

Sorry to hear of your experience, Ed. On the other hand, I do not think serving lousy food in an airport is a violation of the public trust deserving of execution. In fact, it is pretty much what is expected, if not required. The error, sadly, was yours - you expected something different. Midway is breaking that rule, and even the one about employees who look permanently sedated. But next time check out Terminal 2,concourse F. It is a walk, though, and you may end up missing the next flight.

Feeling (south) loopy
Posted August 4th 2004, 9:54am
The T2 (I think it may be E concourse, actually) Greek grill is indeed a good choice. Decent Greek chicken, with potato wedges and rice (for that extra starch sleepiness), passable sandwiches. The butternut squash soup at Puck's in T3 Main is nice and consistent, and the Chinois chicken salad has its fans (I think it's a little too heavy on the vinegar and looks unappetizing). Gold Coast Dogs is now in the Rotunda (between T2 & T3) in addition to T5 and the Gyros et al are just as they are in a stand alone store.

O'Briens at the H/K apex has (had?) ostrich burgers, but they weren't anything to write home about if my last experience was any indication. Their salads are also not bad. There are some things that no airport restaurant could make after 9/11, because of a knife restriction, which meant that the menus had to be altered quite a bit. Perhaps that has relaxed a bit.

You're not going to get food as good as you would on the "outside", but compare it to what you could get just five years ago. It's a far cry from Host/Marriott's ubiquitos peppered turkey on a soggy kaiser roll (which I believe you can still get at Starbucks there, run by H/M) that was once your only option outside of McDonald's. Keep in mind the severe space, employee convenience, and security restrictions of these kitchens.

Lead Moderator
Posted August 4th 2004, 10:08am

It sounds like you work at the airport with all your insider references to T1 and such. Maybe you could do a rundown on what is suitable to eat at the airport. Like you have already stated, but in layman's terms where in the airport, with specific places and foods you would or would not choose again. Occasionally update it when something changes for the better or worse.

Also, you referred to changes in the menu due to 9/11, that would be an interesting topic because we know there have been changes but some are subtle, which we are not always aware. Do they allow people on the roof to watch planes go by?

Pre the events in September, 2001, especially when my nieces were small, we would make a good afternoon excursion just visiting O'hare. We'd ride the train, walk the concourses, eat lunch, go to church and maybe tour an airplane. I wonder when everything is resolved someday, will those opportunities return.


"You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
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Posted August 4th 2004, 10:15am
Cathy2 wrote:Pre the events in September, 2001, especially when my nieces were small, we would make a good afternoon excursion just visiting O'hare. We'd ride the train, walk the concourses, eat lunch, go to church and maybe tour an airplane. I wonder when everything is resolved someday, will those opportunities return.

Dream on! Even if, for some unlikely reason, the threat of terrorism eventually passes, the beaurocracy it created will never die.

Steve Z.

“Eating crappy food isn't a reward -- it's a punishment.”
― Drew Carey
Posted August 4th 2004, 10:54am
I did work at the airport from 97 until mid 2002. After 9/11, most menus were practically cut in half because knives weren't allowed inside security. Eventually, I believe they were allowed back in, but carefully tracked and affixed to a counter by a chain or something. Metal knives aren't provided to diners, so no food that would require more than a plastic knife can be served.

Kitchens in the airport are insanely small, as food was generally an afterthought, and up until recently, was rarely prepared on premises. Furthermore, the incredible hassle of working at the airport (security mostly) can discourage people who can find work in a kitchen elsewhere. Keep in mind when eating the same dish at the airport location of a local favorite that they have less space, less equipment, and generally more hassle just getting to work every day that they would if they were at a street location.

If you don't mind having to go outside security but want to stay on premises, there's always overpriced food at Andiamo's in the Hilton attached to O'Hare. They had a Chicken Boursin with shoestring potatoes that was really delicious.

I don't think anyone is allowed on the roof anymore without serious security clearance. Everything is so closely monitored these days. Some things may have softened in the last two years, but I'm not totally sure anymore.

Midway's food court is no exception, but it was designed as a food court, and it wasn't in place of some crappy Host/Marriott concession (or run by them). The whole idea behind it (yes, I was on the team that developed it) was to have a sampling of the foods we have in Chicago, mostly Disadvantaged/Minority/Women-owned businesses. Often chains, but locally-owned, small chains. That's not to say that the big, national chains didn't propose inclusion, they just weren't selected.

I'll try to put together a comprehensive list (with better location descriptions), but since I no longer work there, I can only make suggestions based on older recollection. For clarification on my last post, "T" is for terminal, i.e. T3 = Terminal 3 (1,2,3 - domestic, 5 - international), and the letters are the concourse - B, C, E, F, G, H, K, L. T3 Main is the terminal building on terminal 3, right past security and not on a concourse.
Posted August 4th 2004, 11:21am
I actually had a Puck pizza in the Denver airport and thought it wasn't too bad but as noted above it was at the level of a frozen pizza not your Italian clay oven standard. It certainly is a step above the old airport food.

Those sandwiches they serve on United cost $8 for a very basic roast beef sandwich according to a friend. Perhaps we have discovered where the old airport food has gone?
Posted August 4th 2004, 12:00pm
What is the OA board? All I could come up with was Oakland Athletics and Overeaters Anonymous.Thank you.

GNR Czar Emeritus
Posted August 4th 2004, 12:11pm
OA = Opinionated About. It is run by a guy in New York mostly for a small circle of his friends and acquantainces. You have to be screened and accepted to post.

In a previous spat with CH, there was an attempt made to create a Chicago forum on OA, but it sputtered out. As OA tends to focus very heavily on high end places, there was a bit of a disconnect. There is a pretty interesting dialogue on wine, but the total number of active posters is tiny, so the activity can be minimal at times.

I forget the address, but I am sure you can find that, if interested, and I am sure someone here can help you find a way to join if you want.

Now you know the story, Hattyn.

Feeling (south) loopy
Posted August 4th 2004, 12:32pm
There was a Wolfgang Puck's in River North (Dearborn and Grand) but they closed. Any idea why? I'd like to think it was natural selection based on the distinguishing culinary tastes of residents of River North, but based on the food at the other large restaurants nearby I'm not so sure that was the case. And I never got there...

there's food, and then there's food

Posted August 4th 2004, 3:43pm
dicksond wrote:On the other hand, I do not think serving lousy food in an airport is a violation of the public trust deserving of execution. In fact, it is pretty much what is expected, if not required. The error, sadly, was yours - you expected something different.

Yeah, I guess your right on both counts. After all, I don't even think murder is a violation of the public trust deserving execution (at least not legally (but maybe morally) but that is another discussion entirely). All I really had in mind was that we find Puck and scare him a little (I'm joking).

The error was mine -- one of many that day. But I still think serving lousy food in the airport and charging more for it under the false pretense that it is good food and using one's own name to support that false pretense is a violation of some standard of decency. It is also bad business. Not that I was exactly gorging myself on his products to begin with, but I expect I will actively avoid anything with Puck's name on it for the forseeable future. When one is in an airport one is essentially trapped. The Puck chain takes advantage of that to turn a quick (and inflated) buck by trading on the association that marks like me make between the Puck name and "good" food. Just because Puck and his company can do this doesn't mean they should.

Charter Member
Posted August 4th 2004, 3:48pm
Right, I think that's the issue-- I actually am glad to see McD's and Pizza Hut in airports because 1, it's exactly what I know it'll be, and 2, it's my guilt-free opportunity to wallow in said fast food, and then to go away knowing I'll be cured of any desire for it for a while. (I refuse to sink to ever trying Cinnabon, however.)

Where Puck's name promises a better experience, which hope it then cruelly dashes. And surely the fact that I never made it to his Chicago restaurant-- and apparently, neither did enough other people-- has something to do with having had his food under greatly inferior circumstances, followed by the reaction "So what?"
Posted August 4th 2004, 10:23pm
Restuarants - like all of us - have life cycles. I ate at Spago's in LA in the early 1980s, and it was superb. (Perhaps it still is). However, once the chef is out of the kitchen and is busy becoming a brand, anything goes. That level of quality is hard to maintain if the chef is off doing other things. Granted there are some restaurants that remain "Good," once they have been cloned, but not many. I personally am glad that Charlie T. has not opened another outlet, especially not one at O'Hare.
Posted August 5th 2004, 6:33am
You've hit the nail on the head, GAF. Puck is now a marketing machine rather than a chef. The same can be said for other celebrity chefs whose kitchens have suffered to varying degrees.

For instance, I recently had a wonderful meal at Delmonico in New Orleans. But have had meals that I wouldn't feed to my dog at Emeril's Fish House in Las Vegas.

Similarly, the quality of food has slipped precipitously at Mesa Grill oin New York over the last ten years though many would argue that Chef Flay was nothing more than the face (ala Rocco DesSpirito) in the grand marketing plan of some corporate restauarnt owners who actually ran that operation.

It gives one a greater appreciation for someone like Mario Battali, who despite having opened several great restaurants over the years, still maintains the high standrd of quality at Po, his first place as he does at Babbo.

Charter Member
Posted August 5th 2004, 8:04am
GAF wrote:Restuarants - like all of us - have life cycles. I ate at Spago's in LA in the early 1980s, and it was superb. (Perhaps it still is). However, once the chef is out of the kitchen and is busy becoming a brand, anything goes. That level of quality is hard to maintain if the chef is off doing other things. Granted there are some restaurants that remain "Good," once they have been cloned, but not many. I personally am glad that Charlie T. has not opened another outlet, especially not one at O'Hare.

I just do not agree with this. Surely, the "chef" barking orders in the kitchen has a great deal to do with the success of a meal, but it is one aspect of the chef's job and not something that has to be done by the name on the door. Rather, the pleasure of the meal comes from several chef skills: creation of interesting menu's and recipes; mastering a methodology for achieving these recipes; negotiating good supplies; finding and training the people to execute these techniques; and otherwise effecting a cuisine. These things just do not demand day to day chef attention and they allow for multiple outposts.

I have eaten several great meals at Puck's Chinois in Las Vegas, some of my all time favorite meals. I have had great meals and average meals at Emeril's places in New Orleans and in Las Vegas. When Vong first opened in Chicago, it was a very good, very special place. I was less happy with Vong's steakhouse in Vegas, Prime. In other words, it all depends on the restaurant and the execution, not on the notion that all outposts are bad.

I would add that nearly every chef at this point feels able to translate their fare to other restaurants. We can take an extreme cynical position and say this is just an action of cashing in, yet this argument falls apart on economic grounds. The famous chefs have to create successful restaurants to support their brand. Spago and Chinois in LA are still considered great restaurants and this shores up the whole Puck empire. Foodies adore Thomas Keller's NYC outpost, Per Se, and if they did not , it would dampen his image.

And Trotter has accepted that it can be done. For one thing, he tried it before in Vegas, giving up not on disgust with branching but in lack of business. He has a place now in Mexico and soon a place in NYC.

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