Atlanta airport restaurant makes a layover worth it

Kathleen Purvis McClatchy Newspapers

I did something I never thought I’d do when I made a plane reservation recently. I arranged a longer layover. In Atlanta.

While even I questioned my sanity for a minute, there was a method to this madness. Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport has gotten a little better for eaters in the last couple of years. Maybe even a lot better.

There was a time when all plane tickets came with a meal. Remember the plastic plate with the cunning little compartments? Remember looking at the clouds while gumming broccoli that had been steamed into whimpering submission?

OK, maybe it’s not such a good memory. But these days, you have little hope of a meal once the plane takes off unless you’re a clever packer. On the ground, you’re a captive of food courts, $6 bottles of soda and that Cinnabon smell.

Still, I am a determined food traveler. I’ve panted through airport barbecue explorations in Dallas and Memphis, Tenn. I’ve navigated ground transportation to get to Todd English’s Figs at LaGuardia and swapped tips on the superiority of Chicago’s Midway over O’Hare.

But one airport experience had so far slipped from my grasp: One Flew South at Hartsfield Jackson in Atlanta. An actual airport restaurant. With an actual chef, the wonderfully named Duane Nutter.

Usually, when passing through Atlanta — and we all do, eventually — I have only a short stop. There is just enough time to stop at Paschal’s, the airport-concession version of the storied Atlanta soul food restaurant.

But what I really wanted was a layover long enough to take the train all the way to Concourse E, for One Flew South.

When I saw the menu included a pulled duck-confit sandwich, Benton’s bacon BLT, Carolina trout and several manifestations of pork belly, I knew I had to bite the bullet train and find a way.

On a recent trip back from D.C., I had my chance. My plane got in at 11 a.m. and I had picked a connector that didn’t board until 12:50. Plenty of time.

At 11:15, I reached the door in the gleaming halls of the international concourse. Too bad the door didn’t open until noon. So much for my carefully laid plans. But pork-belly lust knows no obstacles.

I was cutting it close enough on time that I decided to get dessert to go. I went with the Pineapple “Not” Upside Down Cake — grilled pumpkin bread, bourbon-braised pineapple and a topping of vanilla-flavored fluffy cream.

It wasn’t free, but it beat the stuffing out of mushy broccoli.