Gluten Free Airports: Minnesota

Which came first: the airport food or the college food? The world may never know, but I'm okay with that as long as it means that some of the familiar food I'm used to from college is available at airports like Minneapolis-St. Paul. What an unexpected - and welcome! - surprise to find the same retail pizza place, frozen yogurt place, and grab-and-go favorite from college all at MSP. 

Minneapolis-St. Paul is one  of the few airports in the US I actually I enjoy being in, not only because flights are usually on time (something that shouldn't have to be a huge plus at an airport, one would think), but because it has a really nice main drag of shopping and restaurants/retail dining locations that allows you to pretend for a minute that you're at a high-end mall. That there's familiar fare where I know exactly what to order and how it will taste at Famous Famiglia Pizzeria, Freshens, and French Meadow Bakery takes each visit to the next level.

Yes, I did lean on a column creepily to get a good picture, how did you know?

Yes, I did lean on a column creepily to get a good picture, how did you know?

Now, on to the gluten free! At school, French Meadow was an addition about halfway through my college experience, first as a small stand in the campus center concourse, and eventually growing into a bigger store after I graduated. Their top-notch lattes, large variety of pastries, healthy but filling salads and and ready-to-toast sandwiches were on, as the kiddos say, fleek. 

So imagine my surprise when I find BOTH a ridiculously expansive grab and go section and a restaurant with a full bar. Sadly I didn't have time to hit the full restaurant up, but I did have enough time to say hello to an old friend, the salad with salmon.

Although there are a whole bunch of top-notch salads on offer, the French Meadow House Salad with Salmon was always my go-to.  In between classes I could grab this and feel like I was eating a super fancy lunch that I would never go to all the work of making at home. I'd walk away both contentedly full and feeling quite important since I managed to eat healthy while rushing around.

This bad boy is packed down with mixed greens, like really seriously packed. It was probably cheaper at the student price in college to buy one of these instead of going to a supermarket for salad mix for the week (airport prices not so much). Then we have a whole array of shredded carrots, shredded beets, plump cherry tomatoes, and toasted sunflower seeds. On top of all that is a big hunk of salmon, perfectly flaky and very thick, with a side container of their white balsamic vinaigrette. It's hard to explain the taste of the dressing - this small container really packs a lot of punch. I would probably try to explain it as sweet and tangy, with a consistency on the lighter end of a Creamy Italian dressing. The only difference between the MSP salad and college version was that at school, the beets were more finely shredded (same size as the carrots). Otherwise, this was exactly the same treat.

With everything above  - the fresh taste of the salmon with the warmth of the toasted sunflower seeds and sweetness of the beets and other veggies - this is truly a monster of a healthy meal, that hits every sweet, savory, tangy flavor component I can think of. My only qualm here is that I've never been able to finish it - which is remarkable when you think of how many delicious healthy foods in your life you haven't been able to finish (none, right?). It definitely took me a while to pick out what I needed (even now I can hear my mom in the back of my head telling me I don't "need" anything) with all of the hot soups, salads, made-to-order meals and desserts, so if you're anything like me, decide what kind of food mood you're in waaaay before you go near the storefront or else you'll never decide.

While the right side of the location is a full-service restaurant, the left side has plenty of well-lit and comfortable seating for you to hide away from the world and eat in peace. It felt like a much nicer - newer and brighter - version of Panera, and although the location I went to was right in the middle of the main drag after security in the North Terminal, not many people seemed to notice it was there. I really appreciated finding a place to hide in plain sight, where I could pretend to be relaxing after work instead of waiting for a flight. Definitely a big win over the people who bought McDonald's and sat eating it outside their gate.

I loved that a lot of the items - especially in the pasty section - were clearly labeled Gluten Free. I was there rather late at night so there weren't a lot of people working to ask, but I'm curious about the cross-contamination risks and any measures this location may take to make this food as safe as possible for any Celiacs or those with gluten allergies. I'll ask next time, but if you know already keep me in the loop please!

I'm headed back to Minnesota in a few weeks and I'm really looking forward to heading to French Meadow again! Unfortunately, I did discover the answer to my mystery at the beginning of this post: French Meadow Bakery started as a series of restaurants with different names in that area, and has since expanded in the Twin Cities area as well as in a few other airports (like Atlanta - although it's more of a tiny stand of refrigerated items in the walkways of the terminals in my experience). I'm sad that I answered my own chicken-or-the-egg conundrum, but excited to try out the original locations on my next trip! Until then, anyone nearby should definitely stop in and have some French Meadow for me!

Have you tried French Meadow before? Any other gluten free friendly locations in the Twin Cities area or airport I need to check out?