Feeling Home Away From Home

Experiencing comfort — and cheese fries — at the Presque Isle Bar & Grill at Erie International Airport.

If you walk past the TSA checkpoint, round the corner to the left, and down the hall, to the right is the Presque Isle Bar & Grill, a small town diner tucked away in Erie International Airport. The first time I walked into the Bar & Grill, it was a Saturday and I had just flown back into town for college after going home to New Jersey for Diwali weekend.

It was almost 6 p.m.

Dinner time.

I already knew that the Bar & Grill existed because of Googling the airport prior to my first flight out, but I hadn’t had a chance to eat there ’til this occasion. I decided to check it out before I called my Uber.

I walked in, set my backpack down on one of the wooden chairs at a table near the door, and looked around. Across the entrance was a smooth counter with a register. To the right was a wall filled with magazines and souvenirs and much Penn State paraphernalia. To the left of the register, was a bar counter with stools and a TV mounted on the wall tuned into a sports channel.

The waitress, who had been back in the kitchen until then, came out with her white apron and her red hair in a bun and asked what she could do for me. I ordered fries with cheese — comfort food so I could stop missing my mother’s homemade undrallu that I had finished off in the flight.

“Just cheese?” she asked.

“Just cheese,” I affirmed.

She nodded and left to get the order ready, and I fully expected a paper cup or a plastic box filled with fries and some cheese sauce drizzled on top. I was in the middle of reading Annabeth Albert's "Arctic Sun" when she came up to me and set down a steel plate with a paper plate on top and a large serving of thin, crisp fries and melted cheese. Real cheddar cheese. It wasn’t some mass-produced sauce squeezed out of a bottle. She laid down a steel fork, as well, and I still remember the gentle mother-like tone with which she told me, “Careful, now. It’s hot.”

They were hot. And delicious.

And the aura was serene. Yes, I could hear the football game on the TV, the airport announcements through the loudspeaker every few minutes, and occasionally a patron and the waitress talking. But I could also hear myself think.

I soon learned that there were only three people who worked there. The general manager and two waitresses. At any given time, it was usually only one of them who was working, preparing and serving the food and drinks with care, making conversation with the patrons, welcoming them home or wishing them safe travels.

Today, during every trip I make out of Erie, I go to the Bar & Grill for breakfast or lunch. And provided that it isn’t too late at night, since the place only stays open until the last scheduled flight of the day flies out, I go there for dinner.

In anticipation of — or in recovery after — all the hustle and bustle of the larger East Coast airports with crowds and noise, visiting the Presque Isle Bar & Grill is an opportunity to unwind and feel at home away from home.

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