Order this... Tuna steak and Ma’s Chowder at Bethany’s
First things first: This article won’t be long enough to tell you all the interesting history I learned about Bethany’s during my visit. An island institution now in its 25th year, Bethany’s Airport Diner is the only breakfast spot open year-round on the island. Not only does this allow the Roundtable — a group of men who meet every day at 6:30 a.m. for two to three hours — to eat, socialize, and catch up on what’s happening on the island — but it provides a destination for local pilots who read the weather, land at Bethany’s and go home with some of Ma’s Chowder for their wives.
Robyn, a server who’s been at the diner for 17 years, starts her morning at 4:15 a.m. and sometimes makes an entry in the journals that have been kept since Bethany opened her doors on Feb. 20, 1993. Each entry reflects what’s happened that day — the specials, the weather, and whatever the writer wants to add. It’s a lovely record, where entries often end with “Bethany was awesome!” Everyone I talked to who works in the diner said the same thing: “I love it here because it’s good food and good people.”
“Good people” means that when Black Hawk military pilots or the Coast Guard fly in and a group of eight have a full breakfast, often someone sitting at a nearby table picks up the check to thank them for serving our country.
“Good food” is the Crab Cake Benny with poached eggs and hollandaise, satisfying diner food that tastes fresh and homemade. You can taste the crab in the cakes, while the eggs are perfectly poached so the yolk spills onto the cake and grilled English muffin, blending in with the lemony hollandaise. I also tried another diner staple with a twist — the pan-fried Ahi Tuna Steak Melt with lettuce, tomato and a wonderful sauce called “cusabi” that I could have eaten by itself with a spoon. I finished my tasting with Bethany’s famous Ma’s Chowder.
Pat “Ma” Cambell’s chowder recipe has been in their family “as long as I can remember” says Bethany, and I can see why the recipe hasn’t changed. Loaded with clams, tender potatoes and a creamy broth that tastes of the sea and sweet cream. The secret ingredient is apparent in Bethany’s description of her mom’s chowder and chili: “Soups From The Heart.”
Here’s a little more about Bethany herself:
What made you want to be a cook?
I didn’t plan on being a cook at all. When I first started the business, I was going to work at the counter. On the second day I was open, my cook’s wife went into labor. I went into the kitchen and I’ve been here ever since.
What do you love to cook most for your customers?
Omelets, because they’re big, satisfying and full of great ingredients like broccoli, spinach, or all meat, and Breakfast Burritos because I add a spicy sausage to them that gives a kick to the meal.
What do you like about having a diner at an airport?
I love the pilots; we rely on them because not everyone wants to climb the hill for breakfast. I love that families can come here anytime for breakfast (served until 3 p.m.); the kids can run around outside, write on our blackboard and watch the planes take off and land. The whole area is fenced in so their parents can enjoy some of our new Jet Fuel selections (beer, wine, mimosas and a Dark and Sparkly Coffee Stout and Prosecco) while the kids play tic-tac-toe.
Who was your most memorable customer?
One time a pilot landed in a snazzy helicopter right outside. He came in and I had just finished making a cake using Rolos candy on top. He said, “I haven’t had a Rolo in years.” So we gave him the half pack we had left. Then we realized the pilot was Harrison Ford — yes, we gave Rolos to Han Solo!
What’s the best thing about being a chef?
What I love most is when I am in the kitchen cooking, I look out my window and I see people pushing up their sleeves and just digging into their food. It makes me so happy to know they had a great meal.