On a late August day in 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in the United States bringing with her 125 mph winds. Katrina’s storm surge submerged eighty percent of the city of New Orleans including significantly damaging a number of hangars and buildings at Lakefront Airport. At the time, everyone wondered if this vital piece of Louisiana history was doomed.
The Lakefront Airport was inaugurated in 1934 and at the time was considered to be "the Air Hub of the Americas". It was the first combined land and seaplane air terminal in the world. Amelia Earhart stayed in one of the VIP suites on her way to launch her final flight. Spectators regularly watched air races from the terminal's rooftop observation deck. During its heyday, the main lobby’s Walnut Room was a premier entertainment venue. Unfortunately over its eighty-year history, the original Art Deco Shushan Airport Terminal Complex suffered its share of hardships.
First, the airport became too small to accommodate increasing traffic and larger planes, so in 1945 Moisant Field (now Louis Armstrong International) was built. Within a year of the opening, KMSY took a majority of the commercial airline traffic away and become a key international hub. In the 1960s, a misguided renovation encased the terminal building's exterior in cement panels. Additionally, architects enclosed a second-floor interior balcony and covered the murals by the late Spanish American artist Xavier Gonzalez that spanned the central atrium and overlooked the grand lobby. Then the final blow. The building sustained comprehensive damage when Hurricane Katrina pushed Lake Pontchartrain inland inundating the terminal with over 4 feet of water. The devastation was sounding the death knell for KNEW.
Luck and hard work from Architect Alton Ochsner Davis and his colleagues from Richard C. Lambert Consultants have saved Lakefront. Three years after Katrina, flights into and out of the airport rebounded to more than 60 percent of the pre-Katrina levels. More recently, the airport terminal and buildings have been going through rebuilding, refurbishing and restoration with help from the Non-Flood Protection Asset Management Authority and a special pool of FEMA money earmarked for historic restorations. Today, the terminal’s bomb shelter façade has been stripped away, the windows reopened, the second-floor concrete removed and aviation themed WPA styled plaster and decorative elements restored. Additionally, the exterior has been reconstructed and retrofitted with reproductions of original ornamental panels.
You know an area is coming back to life when food and hospitality reappear. George Messina and his wife Stacey oversee the Messina’s Catering and Event empire that includes Messina’s at the Terminal at New Orleans Lakefront Airport. In the spring of 2014, just shy of 9 years from that fateful day, Messina’s Runway Café had its Grand Opening in front of the massive inlaid compass in the polished terrazzo floor. Executive Chef Leon West oversees the entire food operation for Messina’s Catering including all the operations at the airport.
For the Runway Café, Chef West has crafted a New Orleans themed modern American diner menu. His food is an interpretation of standard southern fare with Cajon and Creole specialties. Get there early and sample the fairly extensive breakfast menu. Several favorites from the First Class Specials section are twists on the traditional Eggs Benedict. Eggs Hussard adds a rich Marchand de Vin sauce, a sauce made by enhancing veal stock with red wine. The Signature Crab Cakes replaces the bread with two Louisiana Blue Crab cakes and serves it with Brabant potatoes, a French fry cut into large cubes instead of batonnets. While Eggs Boudin features two creamy sausage patties topped with fried eggs and hollandaise sauce. I’m a purist but I’ll take any or all three over the classic.
Shrimp is a must when in the Crescent City. The BBQ shrimp over biscuits and creamy cheese grits will more than satisfy the requirement. At lunch, those sweet and mild crustacians make an appearance on fried green tomatoes with a Cajon remoulade and are also paired with crabmeat and crawfish in angel hair pasta.
The omelets are a fluffy, three-egg concoctions named after famous aviators. Each is more decadent than the next. The Wright Brothers tops a three-cheese omelet with a rich crawfish etouffee. The Lindbergh is filled with Brie cheese and smothered with crabmeat and hollandaise sauce. If those didn’t stop your heart from beating, the Doolittle will put you over the top. It’s an open-faced omelet with potatoes, smoked ham, chorizo, apple wood smoked bacon and cheddar cheese.
The Runway Café is good on a number of levels. It’s good for the Big Easy. Chef West promotes and captures the taste of local foods, products and culture. It’s good for the Lakefront Airport by helping fuel the continuing revitalization. And it’s good for general aviation. The café is and will continue to be a destination all on it’s own. Hopefully this will bring awareness to general aviation in the New Orleans area. Maybe watching planes slip the surly bonds of Earth and dance in the skies will get the next generation to make the dream of flight a reality and touch the face of God. (1)
(1) Excepted from High Flight by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
Lakefront Airport (KNEW)
Elevation: 7 ft.
Sectional chart: New Orleans
ARTCC: Houston Center
FSS: De Ridder Flight Service Station
Runways: 18/36L - 6,879 x 150 ft.
18/36R – 3,697 x 75 ft.
9/27 – 3,114 x 75 ft.
ATIS: 124.9 (ASOS Phone (504-245-4366)
Lakefront Ground: 121.7
Lakefront Tower: 119.9
Messina's Runway Café at the Terminal
6001 Stars and Stripes Blvd
New Orleans, LA 70126
Phone: (504) 241-5300
Hours: Daily 8:00am-3:00pm
Chef Stuart Stein is a graduate of the University of Illinois Business School and the culinary arts program at Chicago’s Kendall College. He has worked in France and the all over the US as a cook, executive chef, culinary instructor and restaurateur. Chef Stein is the writer of the book, The Sustainable Kitchen: Passionate Cooking Inspired by Farms, Forests, and Oceans (New Society Publishers), and has written in countless culinary and aviation publications. Stuart is also a private pilot flying in southern California.