ST. PETERSBURG — If anything is going to go wrong on your flight, it's probably going to go wrong in the first few minutes or the last few minutes. • If that translates to a restaurant at an airport, expect a pretty good flight at the Hangar Restaurant & Flight Lounge, Steve Westphal's new venture on the second floor of downtown's Albert Whitted Airport, where the appetizers and desserts steal the show.
You'll want to direct your attention to the middle of the appetizer menu, where mussels, wings and flatbreads are each offered three ways. It is a reasonable plan to put together a collection of these to nosh on while looking out at the tarmac at the planes coming and going. We tried the mussels in the sweet chili, ginger and soy sauce ($10). An assertive sauce like that could easily take over, but played well with the mussels, and when we were done with them, we asked for spoons to go after the sauce. Other options included a more traditional sauce of beer and leek ($12) and the trendier bacon, ale and blue cheese ($11).
Among the wing options — what's an airport restaurant without wings, I guess? — we tried the garlic butter and herb variety ($8), and each of those flavors is pronounced, with a dish of the garlic butter on the side in case you need that extra kick. Our shrimp and Brie flatbread ($9) wasn't as interesting as the olive and feta version ($7) looked as I saw it going to virtually every other table in the room.
The other appetizer we tried, the shrimp stack ($11), was a molded tower of chunky guacamole topped with shrimp and crowned with bacon. Our waiter confided that they had recently made it bigger to justify the price tag. It was plenty big to share.
Okay, takeoff was smooth. Next up, the flight.
Highlights among the entrees included the "hangar" steak ($17), misspelled with a wink, no doubt. It is a particularly beefy cut that's sometimes hard to find, presumably because butchers keep it. The pork tenderloin ($15) could be cut with the side of a fork and was topped with nicely braised apples. With the chicken and waffles ($16), a fried breast and thigh come atop a plate-sized waffle covered in sausage gravy. The menu suggested a spicy maple sauce, but I didn't detect any maple until a bite of waffle without any of the other toppings. Similarly, we had trouble detecting the truffle in the Parmesan truffle cream sauce on the mushroom ravioli ($13). The dishes didn't suffer as a result, but you notice.
Couple of minor bumps, but that went well. Now, all that's left is the landing.
The wafflemaker gets another workout in a DIY dessert where you get a waffle, a scoop of ice cream and pick your toppings ($7.50). The wild apple tart ($6) is nice, though it sort of requires the "optional" ice cream (add $1.50 fee, and suddenly the airline allusion starts getting a little too real). My favorite, though, was the chocolate mousse torte ($6). Way too tall for a fork, it requires small bites.
Most of the California-heavy wine list is available by the glass.
The dining room decor is minimal to the degree of being a bit sterile, not unlike an airport gate. At certain times of year, it would likely be lovely to sit out on the patio for a closer look at the planes and a view of the bay.
The Hangar — the newest of Westphal's portfolio, which also includes downtown's 400 Beach Seafood & Tap House and Parkshore Grill, both on Beach Drive NE, and the Pub in Indian Shores — is also open for breakfast and lunch, with a menu full of air travel-related wordplay.
So my biggest gripe is, why is the best airport food at an airport from which you can't actually go anywhere? Unless that's your plane parked down there.
Jim Webster can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8746. Webster dines anonymously and unannounced. The Times pays all expenses. Advertising has nothing to do with selection for review or the assessment.