DINING: Harry & Izzy's, 96th Street Steakburgers offer mixed bag to flyers

December 15, 2008

Our month-long look at airport dining continues this week with a peek into the concourses, those post-security areas accessible only to travelers with boarding passes. We had special dispensation — and escorts with badges who were kind enough not to blow our cover.

First up: Concourse A, home base for Northwest, Continental and Delta airlines as well as international arrivals. We eschewed the well-known (T.G.I. Fridays) and more obscure (Green Leafs & Bananas, a salad-and-smoothie joint) national chains in favor of a couple homegrown hangouts.

We started with a sit-down meal at Harry & Izzy's, the upscale offspring of Indy's famed St. Elmo Steakhouse. Our server wore the signature grey cotton jacket, her airport ID the only clue that we weren't in Kansas anymore.

The menu is smaller than Harry & Izzy's downtown location, but it has the important stuff: St. Elmo's signature shrimp cocktail ($15) and an array of liquid courage from the bar. Since we were on the clock, we opted to eat our lunch, not drink it.

Service was solicitous and speedy, saving us from any worries had we been there to catch a flight. Our only nervous moment was when we realized we'd blown our $50 budget on our first stop.

The highlight of our meal was the starter — shrimp topped with the sinus-clearing cocktail sauce delivered the punch we expected and primed us for what was to come.

I tried the Prime Rib Sandwich ($15), which was served with tasty hand-cut fries and au jus for dipping. The thinly sliced beef had a nice flavor and the soft foccacia bun held together well even after a good soak. My only quibble: the creamy horseradish sauce seemed downright bland, especially after the appetizer.

My companion built her own entree, combining a salad and appetizer. Her Romaine Hearts salad ($10) was OK, if nothing special; apples and candied walnuts were a nice addition to the Romaine, but there was too much raspberry vinaigrette. The Toasted Ravioli ($8) was better, with a crispy shell that gave way to warm, comfort food-ish ricotta. Dragged through the tangy marinara ... mmm, bellissima.

Our second stop was 96th Street Steakburgers, located just past the moving sidewalk at Gate A10. It's an order-at-the-counter, get-a-bag-to-go joint, and after jockeying for position in line, we ordered a Steakburger with Cheese ($2.99) and Fries ($1.99). We also asked for a side of cheese sauce, which costs extra, but didn't get it. Then again, we didn't pay for it either.

We took a few bites of the meal to get a feel for the fresh-from-the-grill flavor, then bundled up our bag to see if the food would last through boarding and takeoff. It didn't stand the test of time. When it was hot, the burger was fine, if a bit dry. The fries were adequate. But 30 minutes later, neither was particularly appealing.

I made a follow-up visit to another location and noticed a sign on the drive-through window warning customers that the restaurant's fresh-cut fries are best eaten immediately. If there's a sign like that at the airport outlet, I missed it.

Nothing in Concourse A trip your trigger? No worries. Once you pass through security, you can take a left and take a shortcut to the other side. Handy.

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