You’re in an airport, but don’t expect “airport food.”
The airport’s flagship eatery, Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, offers grab-and-go sandwiches and other items in a cooler, a variety of made-to-order sandwiches (including — surprise! — grilled cheese), soups, cheese boards, grilled breakfast sandwiches and salads.
They also have entree items, such as mac and cheese ($13) and steak ($21), salmon ($23) and chicken ($17). Currently, Paine Field is the only Beecher’s location offering the three entree items.
The cafe has some fun with its reputation for cheesemaking, offering its famous grilled mac and cheese sandwich on both National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day and National Mac and Cheese Day, cafe manager Shaela Ward said.
Ward says the most popular menu items so far are the mac and cheese, two grilled sandwiches, turkey ($9.25 or $11 with soup and salad), grilled cheese ($8.25 or $12 with soup and salad), and a salad — mixed greens with steak, vegetables and cheese ($21).
Other salads include chicken caesar ($13), chicken florentine ($10) and mixed greens with cranberries, pistachios and vinaigrette ($11).
I chose the wild Alaskan king salmon ($23), in part to see if the restaurant really could deliver on serving up the royal fish in a “non-airport food” way.
I was pleasantly surprised that the salmon was properly cooked: through to the middle, while remaining moist. It was accompanied by a lemon-pepper-and-spiced-yogurt sauce and greens tossed in a light dressing.
On a visit Monday with Herald business reporter Janice Podsada, I shared a portion to get her opinion as well.
I didn’t have to wait long. “It was simply the best-tasting salmon I’ve eaten in years,” she said.
Janice said she didn’t expect to be faced with so many choices — including Mishima Reserve Butcher’s Steak Sandwich and the kale chicken caesar salad.
But she knew what she wanted.
“For a week ahead of time, my heart had been set on what Beecher’s calls the ‘World’s Best Macaroni and Cheese,’ arguably Beecher’s signature dish,” she said.
Besides, it was a gray day and a Monday. “Those two factors demand comfort food,” she said. “Beecher’s delivered.
“I stepped away from the table to take photos of the glass jet bridges and returned to find that my mac and cheese had arrived,” Janice said.
Its mac and cheese recipe is a combination of its signature Flagship and Just Jack cheeses with a “hint of spice,” and penne pasta instead of elbow noodles.
Janice’s take on the dish: Not too soft, not too chewy — the penne was cooked just right. Each piece of pasta was generously smothered in creamy cheese sauce. “The sauce had a rich nutty flavor,” she said. “It was cheesy to the last bite.”
We wanted coworker Evan Thompson to taste-test the food, too. He chose the Mishima reserve steak sandwich ($17) with Beecher’s Flagship Cheddar and Marco Polo cheeses, poblano relish and avocado.
“The (Marco Polo) cheese was my favorite part,” he said. “That’s the last thing you’d expect for a steak sandwich. The distinctive taste of the cheese really stood out to me. Of course, the steak and the rest of the ingredients were delicious, too. It had a melt-in-your-mouth quality.”
The Japanese-style beef has marbling that provides richness, fullness and the best cooking qualities, said Brian Gilbert, Beecher’s head cheesemonger. “The thing it is, it’s unique in flavor,” he said.
Currently, Paine Field is the only Beecher’s location that offers the sandwich.
If you go to Beecher’s, you can eat at the terminal seating or go to nearby tables near the bar. You can walk up to the bar to order any item on Beecher’s menu.
The atmosphere throughout the terminal is much calmer and quieter than at Sea-Tac Airport. A lot of that, of course, is because there are only two departure gates at Paine Field, while Sea-Tac has 80. But it’s also due to the attention to detail: a seating area near a fireplace, fresh flowers on tables, historic aviation momentos in display cases.
“I’ve eaten at airports many times,” Janice said. “This might have been one of the few times I’ve dined at an airport terminal.”
Back at her desk a few hours later, she said she began to crave another dish of Beecher’s mac and cheese.
“Lucky for me — lucky for us all, you can order anything from Beecher’s kitchen at Caffe Vita, which is located on the non-secure side of the terminal, and is accessible to anyone,” she said.
Janice, who lives in a nearby neighborhood, said she can imagine walking to the airport on a weekend and ordering food off the Beecher’s menu.
She said she plans to fly from Paine Field in September. “Given how good the food is, I can see the advantage of choosing a 3 p.m flight and arriving around noon so I can savor another Beecher’s meal,” she said.
Sharon Salyer 425-339-3486 or firstname.lastname@example.org and Janice Podsada: email@example.com; 425-339-3097.
If you go
You have to be a ticketed passenger to access Beecher’s or the nearby Upper Case bar, both inside the gate areas at Paine Field’s terminal, 3220 100th St. SW, Everett. Non-ticketed passengers can order off the Beecher’s menu by going to the Caffe Vita coffee stand near baggage claim. Caffe Vita is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The bar and cafe inside the terminal usually are open until the last plane departs, typically around 9 p.m. More information at: flypainefield.com/about/food-drink.