By NINA GODLEWSKI, Special To The Courant
The Hartford Courant
July 18, 2013
When you brag about a great meal, most people won't expect you to say you enjoyed it at an airport. They'll think of the lukewarm food served on long commercial flights. But at 121 Restaurant, located on the property of the Waterbury-Oxford airport in Oxford, the food is as much an attraction as the air show you can see on the runway — everything from single-prop planes, to helicopters and the sleek jets of hedge-fund kings and CEOs.
The Vibe: After winding down wooded roads and then through a brief maze of streets behind the airport's massive private-jet hangars, the outside of 121 Restaurant is not much to look at, but when you walk inside, you'll see you have arrived some place special. Large black-and-white airplane photos cover the walls in the dimly lit restaurant, and immediately to the right is the cozy bar, screened from the dining room. The restaurant has two tiers, with a lower level featuring a row of tables facing a wall of windows looking out at the busy runway. More seating is available outside on the deck when there's nice weather — perfect for those who enjoy the sounds, as well as the sights, of planes taking off and landing — featuring stylish metallic tables and chairs and a wing-like canopy for sunnier days.
The Food: The lunch menu features appetizers (listed under "smalls" on the menu), salads, pizzas and sandwiches. Entrees include pasta, meat or fish. There was something for even the pickiest person in our group of four during a recent trip. We started with the chicken quesadilla, which had black beans and chicken seasoned with red onion and pepper and perfectly balanced with the right amount of subtle cheese, along with an avocado spread and sour cream on the side. The quesadillas, which we enjoyed with a well-balanced slightly oaky California Chardonnay, raised our expectations for the entrees. I ordered the chicken breast with mushroom risotto and asparagus. The moist chicken was light and had a delicate honey-based taste. The creamy risotto was delicious with substantial slices of mushrooms, and the asparagus tasted fresh with a bit of a snap. The traditional pizza featured a rich but not heavy marinara, mozzarella and basil on a thin crust. Our group ordered two sandwiches. The Grilled Chicken BLT was served with a spicy mayonnaise on fresh ciabatta bread with sweet potato fries. The order was large enough to provide tasty leftovers for the next day's lunch. The salmon sandwich with bacon and avocado was tasty but was definitely outshined by the 121 fries with truffle oil, Parmesan cheese, and parsley. For dessert we ordered the apple cider donuts, which were served warm and covered in sugar and cinnamon with a side of warm cream. The plate of five golf-ball size apple cider are not to be missed.
The Bill: The food is priced a little higher than a restaurant-chain, depending on your order, but our dishes were worth the additional cost. Alcoholic beverages also add to the bill heavily, with a glass of wine averaging $8. The salmon sandwich cost $18, while the Chicken BLT was $11, the pizza was also $11, while the chicken breast with risotto was $21. The prices of most of the smalls hover between $8.50 and $12. The priciest meals include seafood, as expected.
The Particulars: 121 Restaurant is closed on Mondays, open Tuesday through Sunday for lunch and dinner. Popular with those who frequent the airport, as well as the locals. Outside diners should expect and enjoy the sights and sounds of air traffic. 121 Restaurant can accommodate reservations for small to very large parties.
The Verdict: For a fun and entertaining lunch or dinner with a fairly unique side show, 121 Restaurant is an interesting and delicious alternative.
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