Wine takes flight 

Even if you’re grounded, First Flight wine bar may be the best stop on the itinerary.

It seems there’s now a locavore trend in airport concessions focusing on giving travelers a sense of place.

Visitors now arriving at Tampa International have interesting new choices if they find that the in-flight peanuts failed to stave off their hunger — because most of the restaurant expansion is on the airside (post-security).

So, if you wish to explore all the new dining options, you’ve got to plan your air travel by terminal. Fly Southwest and it’s Shula’s Bar and Grill versus Cigar City Brewing. JetBlue gives you the Green Iguana option, and if you have a hankering for a 1905 salad, the Columbia Restaurant Café goes with Delta. But that’s only if you have a ticket and ID in hand.

Luckily there’s a tasty new gem available to all on the landside. Dead center — at the hub of the third floor transfer level — is a handsome space, dotted with eye-catching electric blue pendant lights, that’s your passport to adventure in the world of food and wine.

First Flight is a wine bar created by Mise en Place, one of Tampa Bay’s culinary giants. The sleek granite-topped 360° wine oasis encircles a state-of-the-art climate-controlled wine preservation system. It’s there, with the touch of a button, that the concise but quintessential wine list flows into gleaming stemware in 1-, 2.5- and 5-ounce pours.

Chef Marty Blitz and the Mise en Place team offer appropriate high-end touches like crisp white cloth napkins and heavy stainless cutlery, plus a delicious cornucopia of munchies to go with your libations. Choose from a series of flavor-packed snacks — herb and citrus cured olives, salty Marcona almonds, sun-dried tomato tapenade, and piquillo pepper hummus or crisp crostini with two tasty flavor combos. One features figs, Serrano ham, blue cheese fondue and toasted hazelnuts, or there’s a vegetarian mushroom, goat cheese, arugula and sea salt alternative.

Although the Best of the Bay-winning charcuterie plate is only available at the Mise en Place mothership on Kennedy, First Flight offers several dry-cured meat options culminating in a full flight of jamon Serrano, duck rillettes, coppa, soppressata, and salami with briny cornishons, grainy mustard, and tangy rhubarb chutney; it’s enough for a meal. They also offer smoked salmon and shrimp cocktail as appetizing seafood alternatives.

On the cheesy side of the ledger, there are three-slice and five-slice domestic cheese flights that are balanced, but also adaptable to your personal preference; the chef de cuisine on site is happy to discuss the cheeses and make changes to fit your palate. The flight of five as listed on the passport-style menu is made up of delicious, perfectly ripe artisanal cheeses that take you on a tour of styles and cow-goat-sheep milks, from Vermont to Oregon.

There’s the bright buttermilk tang of Jasper Hill Landaff; sweet Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue; the earthy goat’s milk Truffle Tremor; soft, buttery Camembert Hudson Valley; and the espresso & lavender rubbed Beehive Dairy’s Barely Buzzed from the foodie capital of … northern Utah. Which just goes to show you that great food can come from passionate people in unlikely places. In addition to terrific crisp crostini, the cheese flight includes Marcona almonds, olives, and honeycomb.

If you opt for a flight of wine (which I recommend), ask to taste the Barely Buzzed with a bit of the Calma Rioja for a lesson in food and wine alchemy. The same is true with the affinity between the honeycomb and the Smoky Blue; even though First Flight doesn’t offer a Sauternes on the wine menu, pairing the sweetness of the honey with a blue cheese is a classic match.

First Flight also offers a delicious mix of craft cocktails developed by Nate DeWitt, the bar manager at Mise en Place. There’s something for every taste with witty aviation names ranging from Leg Room (Crown Royal, cherry liqueur, vermouth, & orange bitters) to Vector, Victor, Roger, Roger (Jim Beam, apricot liqueur and lemon).

The clever aviation-themed passport style menu describes the food and wine flavors at great length. The wine selections include both new world and old world options, with a range of choices by the glass or bottle. I love the chance to “tour the world without ever getting on a plane” by choosing a wine flight of 2.5-ounce pours. The chance to play with the flavor combos by tasting a cheese flight with a quartet of wines is always a learning experience filled with surprise and a chance to get to know your palate.

Taking a cue from its customers, First Flight replaced the desserts on the menu with a series of delicious pressed sandwiches and salads that display the Mise en Place touch. And if your taste runs more toward hops than grapes, fear not. First Flight has multiple beer options, not to mention friendly and knowledgeable, attentive service. Even if you hang out past the first hour (as I did) and have to pay for parking, this is a journey worth taking.

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