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Mike bliss covered one wall of his Runway Cafe with an oversized mural of an airplane’s cockpit instrument panel. Young patrons love to stand next to the mural, where they can pretend they are pilots operating the controls.
Photo by Milton Morris
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Photo by Milton Morris
Airports bring out the kid in people who love the simple joy of watching planes take off and land.
At Greenville Downtown Airport, plane lovers of all ages have found an observation point at the Runway Cafe, where the runway views are clear, the menu has an international flavor and a brand-new, aviation-themed playground entertains the kids.
Slap in the middle of four main Greenville arteries—South Pleasantburg Drive, Laurens Road, Haywood Road and I-385—the restaurant attracts a steady crowd: local businesspeople on lunch breaks, fly-in pilots and parents with young children. They come to sit near the floor-to-ceiling windows or out on the patio and watch the planes while they eat.
“The windows are the attraction,” says owner Mike Bliss, who opened Runway Cafe with partner Lem Winesett in 2010. “There’s not a bad seat in the house.”
Bliss’ previous restaurant was a cafe in a local independent bookstore. When he and Winesett, a caterer, heard that the downtown airport needed a restaurant, they converted an old flight school building into an aviation-themed eatery, complete with a menu of sandwiches, salads and specials to suit.
“I’ve been working in restaurants since I was 14 and that has always been my dream—to have a really cool restaurant in a neat location, and this fits the bill,” Bliss says.
Perfect for his location is the cafe’s $100 Hamburger—two half-pound Angus beef patties topped with three cheese slices. The actual price is $10.99. But the name comes from an inside joke among private pilots who log training hours by flying in to meet fellow pilots for lunch at airport cafes, spending well over the cost of a burger just in fuel costs.
While the burgers are popular (there’s a black-bean version for vegetarians), it’s the weekly specials that intrigue regulars. Bliss rotates about 80 different dishes, featuring tastes from around the globe, and emails customers who want to know when their favorites are available.
His mulligatawny soup is a creamy, low-sodium, curry-rich dish with apples, chicken and rice. Other international specialties include Moroccan chickpea chili, Ethiopian peanut soup and Russian borscht.
For the kids, the “Little Flyers” menu features must-haves such as corn dogs, chicken nuggets and grilled cheese, with aviation-themed names like the “Puddle Jumper” and the “Zeppelin.” Most appealing to the younger diners, however, are the fly-ins who park their planes on the apron beside the restaurant and the airport playground.
“The kids all run to the fence” to see the planes and pilots, says Lara Kaufman, the airport’s public relations director. “These guys are like superheroes to them.”
1 cup chopped onion
4 stalks celery, chopped
3 carrots, diced
½ cup butter
1½ tablespoons curry powder
12 cups chicken broth
2 Granny Smith apples, cored and chopped
1½ cups dry white or brown rice
2 skinless, boneless, cooked chicken breasts, chopped*
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 cup heavy cream, heated
Saute onions, celery, carrots and butter in a large soup pot. Add curry and cook 5 more minutes. Add chicken broth; mix well and bring to a boil. Simmer about 30 minutes. Add apples, rice, chicken, salt and pepper. Simmer 15 to 20 minutes if using white rice, 40 to 45 minutes if using brown rice. Remove from heat. Stir in cream.
* To make a vegetarian version of this soup, substitute a mix of 3 cans of black beans and garbanzo beans for the chicken.
21 Airport Road Extension
Greenville, SC 29607
Hours: Sunday through Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 8:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Upcoming Events at the Park and Cafe:
Nov. 2, 11 a.m.: RadioControlled Aircraft Show—Free aerobatic display, performed by three RC clubs in South Carolina.
Dec. 15, 9 a.m.: S.C. Breakfast Club—Meet, eat and chat with pilots and aviation enthusiasts