MCCOY'S BAR & GRILL
9300 Jeff Fuqua Blvd. | 407-825-1234 | orlandoairport.hyatt.com | $$$
This time of year, a trip to the airport is about as likely as giving the finger to a driver in a mall parking lot. If you're like me and make it a point to get to the airport early prior to a flight, you'll find that nine times out of 10, you have a fair bit of time to kill. Instead of going through security and sitting at the gate, I often head upstairs to the lobby level of the Hyatt Regency Hotel and into the calming sanctuary of McCoy's Bar & Grill.
A little more than a year ago, in celebration of its 20th anniversary, the restaurant underwent a major renovation – bamboo flooring, soft earthy tones, sleek furnishings – in an effort to modernize, as did the menu. Under the direction of executive chef David Didzunas, the menu not only places an emphasis on local sourcing, but makes a concerted effort to take airport dining, long relegated to the realm of chains and food courts, to a healthier, more appetizing level.
It's a trend that's taking over many of the nation's, and indeed the world's, airports, and that can only be a good thing. If you're one of those angst-ridden travelers who can't seem to relax until you're TSA-inspected and seated, boarding pass in hand, you'll do well to break the habit. My wife reluctantly did, and now she happily makes McCoy's a regular pre-flight stop.
The free-standing sushi bar, manned by longtime itamae Hiro Masaki, is where a good many of our meals have originated. On our last visit, we sampled Masaki's selection of straight-off-the-runway-fresh hamachi, tuna and salmon sashimi ($17), though for roughly the same price, you might be better served with the traveler's trio ($17.95) – your choice of three small plates served on a tiered stand. Fish bites (lightly breaded, deep-fried mahi and grouper), pork carnitas tacos, calamari, and the cannellini bean-and-tomato bruschetta are clear winners. Most polarizing small plate: fragrant pickled lavender strawberries, served with whipped cream cheese and multigrain crackers. I took to it, but on two separate occasions, I've been the only one. The trio, by the way, can be a meal in itself.
With its robust and creamy character, it's easy to see why the crawfish chowder ($5, half; $8, full portion), McCoy's signature dish, has been a favorite of patrons for the past 20 years. A new fave – the Create Your Own Main Dish option – allows for flexibility in one's meal: Select a protein (chicken breast, sirloin steak, fresh catch or shellfish), a portion size, a sauce and two sides. While the side of asparagus was utterly parched, the sirloin steak ($16.75, 4-ounce; $24, 8-ounce), grilled potatoes and herb aioli comprised a perfectly serviceable meal, and beat anything you'd get in first class. Roasted poblano peppers gave the cornbread-crusted mac & cheese ($15.95), with its blend of Oaxaca smoked cheddar and Monterey Jack, a nice smoky essence. This stuff is worth smuggling through security. For that matter, so is the pricey signature burger ($16.95). The 6-ounce grass-fed patty comes layered with just the right amount of blue cheese, caramelized onions and some of the finest-looking bacon this side of Runway 17R. The fries are spot-on, too.
In the midst of savoring the orange cheesecake frozen soufflé ($7) and the chocolate brownie silk pie ($7), you might find yourself becoming increasingly unaware of your surroundings. You might even forget you're at the airport, which may not altogether be a good thing – especially if the lines at security are long.