Landing For Lunch
Take in an "air show" with your breakfast or lunch at the cafe in the new terminal building of Stennis International Airport.
- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
There’s not much signage, so if it’s your first time visiting, drive past Hancock High School on your right and keep straight ahead. Park in the lot in front of the grey and glass building, then walk through doors into a lobby that could double as the ground floor of a big-city boutique hotel.
But, yes, you are still in Kiln, Mississippi. And the name Stennis International Airport is not a delusion of grandeur. Although there’s no commercial international flights traveling to and fro – yet – corporate, cargo, and military aircraft from all over the world frequent the airport. Built to handle emergency landings for the Space Shuttle, airport director Bill Cotter says that the runway is one of the longest in the Southeast, stretching for over a mile and a half. And it’s strong enough to handle super-sized aircraft like the Antonov, the largest cargo plane in the world.
Downstairs in the new air terminal, there are two chic lounges, a large corporate meeting room, a small, but posh, theatre and even small private rooms where travelers can nap in overstuffed recliners.
Upstairs the entire side of the building facing the runway is glass. In fact, it’s designed with the glass projecting outward at an angle, so observers watching the runway can lean forward in their excitement and not a nose will be broken.
While more offices and meeting spaces flank the central open staircase, the lively part of the building is the corner café.
The particular Friday lunchtime, the Jet Away Cafe was filled with every imaginable type of uniform from the armed services, as well as corporate types in business attire. Each of the ten or so tables has a great view of the runway. The types of aircraft landing and taking off on the runway varied as much as the uniforms in the dining area – supersonic jets for training NASA astronauts (in fact, two were departing as our group arrived) to sleek corporate jets, to lumbering cargo aircraft. It’s a mesmerizing sight for all ages.
The café is open from 8am to 3. The breakfast menu is served to 10:30am. The lunch menu kicks in from 10:30am - 3pm. It’s a limited menu (you can download it at the end of this article), but the food is so good, pilots with assignments allowing them to pick their destination are flying into the Stennis Airport at lunch time. They’re enjoying the fried or grilled shrimp (in a plate or as a po-boy), catfish, salads and gumbo. Yep. Authentic, made from scratch gumbo. There’s also homemade mac and cheese and crispy sweet potato fries as side options to regular fries.
But don’t expect to be looking at your food very much while you’re eating. The astonishing variety of jets and planes zipping in and out before you is guaranteed to arrest your attention, making the lunch hour fly in more ways than one.