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By Laine Doss
The whole media-watching, People magazine-reading world undoubtedly now knows the name of Essex County Airport, the modest airstrip in Fairfield, New Jersey, from where JFK Jr. took off on his final, fatal flight. And I don't mean to sensationalize or trivialize the death of Kennedy, his wife, and his sister-in-law -- Fox news has already claimed the right to those particular options. But the tragedy concerning the son of the former President just doesn't jibe with my recollections of this airport, which figures significantly in my memories of childhood.
See, the Essex County Airport is located just down the road from the Welsh Farms Creamery, which churned up the richest chocolate-marshmallow ice cream I've ever had. My dad would buy my siblings and me big, melting cones of it, and then we'd drive down the street to watch the planes take off. The treat was neither the dripping ice cream, which demonstrated plenty of the principles of physics on the seats of the old blue station wagon, nor the Newton-defying maneuvers of the small aircraft but the combination of the two.
As a grownup, my fascination with flying has been lost to my recognition of my own mortality, a fear which for obvious reasons has recently been reinforced. But I can easily reclaim the nostalgia of those halcyon days of airplane observation and nourishment at Joseph's Landing, located on W. Cypress Creek Road in Fort Lauderdale.
'Course, the sweets at this 300-seat, multiroom supper club, open since January, are more likely to be a sophisticated white chocolate mousse than chocolate-marshmallow ice cream. But the draw of airplane-watching remains the same. Formerly the 94th Aero Squadron (as well as a host of other failed restaurants), Joseph's borders the runways of the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, which is the fourth largest of its kind in the nation. If you sit in the red velvet chairs, which glide over the luxe carpets on rollers, and dine at the heavy wood tables in front of the windows instead of up near the dance floor or by the roomy bar, you can watch the planes land and then be valeted so the pilots can sup on escargots and veal piccata.
That's right -- valeted. The owners of Joseph's Landing, a corporation of the same name headed by president and operating partner Robert Ballard, have an agreement with the airport. The employees of Fort Lauderdale Executive, for a fee provided by the restaurant, will taxi the planes to a nearby hangar. The restaurant also has deals with several local helicopter companies, such as Pompano Helicopters, Inc., which will fly patrons in from surrounding cities; the clients, not the restaurant, pay for this privilege. In addition to the valet services, live entertainment is offered nightly and varies from a ten-piece house band to a DJ to a twelve-piece Latin orchestra.
The restaurant runs a different special almost every day of the week. There's Sunday brunch -- with six hot entrées, made-to-order omelets, and a carving station -- for $16.95 per person; happy hour Monday through Friday from 4 till 8 p.m. with half-price appetizers; the summer special, which is $5 off all entrées from 5 till 8 p.m; and my personal favorite, the Tuesday nights when unescorted ladies dine free. "Unescorted" means no gentleman companion, and while there is a two-drink minimum per person, groups of women can dine together to take advantage of the deal. Lesbians take note: This is a terrific cheap date.
For all the gimmicks, though, I'm not sure how many folks actually take advantage of these offers. Not only did we not see a single plane or helicopter deliver your average VIPs or bp to the supper club, a valet parking service for cars wasn't to be found the night we dined. Ladies -- dateless heterosexual, lesbian, or otherwise -- were hardly in attendance in numbers. The two-story restaurant, in which about $3 million was invested to refurbish it, was nearly empty.
And still the kitchen staff managed to be forgetful, substituting snapper for the walnut-crusted, apricot-glazed chicken main course we had ordered. Perhaps executive chef John Fish, formerly of the Plum Room, has so much affinity for his surname that he can't help but serve it. The fillet, however, was so light and flaky in its lightly browned crust that we decided to keep it.
Other entrées were just as finely tuned. We particularly enjoyed a grilled filet mignon, topped with a medley of sautéed wild mushrooms. Our only quibble here was the accompanying béarnaise sauce, which came on the side and was cold and slightly pasty. On the other hand, a dish of egg fettuccine Danielle was lovingly fixed with a garlic cream sauce, spiked with prosciutto, juicy portobello mushroom slices, fresh peas, and spinach, and served before the Alfredo sauce could congeal (a process that occurs within minutes of its preparation).
The portions of pasta are generous, and hefty meat and fish cuts are partnered with potatoes and vegetables of the day. All main courses are preceded by a huge pile of caesar salad, which could have used less Parmesan and more sharp, wet dressing. The anticipated quantity of food shouldn't discourage you from ordering a surplus of appetizers, though, many of which are sturdy enough to satisfy a small appetite. For instance, the prosciutto-wrapped sections of hearts of palm -- a terrific textural combination -- were placed on a mound of mixed greens, and a crock of French onion soup gratinée featured a plethora of Spanish onions in a delectable sherry broth hidden under a triple layer of Gruyère cheese. Coquille Joseph's, the priciest starter at nearly ten bucks, comprised fresh shrimp and scallops in a creamy lobster-scented sauce and was garnished with a filling scoop of bland Duchess potatoes.