That's the ticket: dining, ballet at PHL's Terminal F

TERM21 -- From left Raghu Tadavarthy (CQ) , Paul McGinn, Mark Gale, Mayor Michael Nutter, Tony Luke and UA Airway COO Robert Isom are applauding after May Nutter cut large Cheese Stake Sandwich in front of the Tony Luke Store. 11-20-2013( AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer ) The official grand opening of the restaurants and shops in Terminal F at Philadelphia Intl. Airport.
TERM21 -- From left Raghu Tadavarthy (CQ) , Paul McGinn, Mark Gale, Mayor Michael Nutter, Tony Luke and UA Airway COO Robert Isom are applauding after May Nutter cut large Cheese Stake Sandwich in front of the Tony Luke Store. 11-20-2013( AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer ) The official grand opening of the restaurants and shops in Terminal F at Philadelphia Intl. Airport.
Posted: November 22, 2013

Mayor Nutter dined on smoked chicken wings, viewed a photo exhibit celebrating the Pennsylvania Ballet's 50th anniversary, and met staff at the posh XpresSpa Wednesday, all in Philadelphia International Airport's newly renovated Terminal F.

US Airways chief operating officer Robert Isom came in for the grand opening of the terminal expansion.

Travelers mingled with airline and airport employees and the workers in 20 new shops and restaurants in Terminal F served up tasty, free food - including pulled pork sandwiches, roast Brussels sprouts, homemade pretzels, and pastries.

Tony Luke, of Tony Luke's cheesesteaks, cut a six-foot Philly cheese steak with Mayor Nutter to celebrate the grand opening.

At the Local tavern, where celebrity chef Jose Garces consulted on the menu and helped train the staff, Garces greeted passersby Wednesday and autographed free copies of his latest book, The Latin Road Home, featuring the cuisines of five Spanish-speaking countries.

"What a great concept. I'm really excited to have been able to contribute here," said Garces, who modeled the airport eatery after his Village Whiskey restaurant at 20th and Sansom Streets. "It's really handsome, very attractive. Using an iPad for service is really genius. It's the way things are going."

Karen Daroff, whose firm provided interior design services, said, "What we've done here is make this into a destination. People arrive at the airport earlier because of security. We want them to be able to plug in, power up, enjoy entertainment, good food and have a variety of seating options."

One in six of the airport's 31 million annual passengers start or end his or her trip at one of Terminal F's 38 gates. Since 2002, passenger traffic has doubled to 5.3 million a year.

Roy Kaiser, artistic director of the Pennsylvania Ballet, came to the terminal festivities to see the new photo exhibit commemorating the ballet's 50th anniversary.

"We're in the beginning of our 50th anniversary season," Kaiser said. The photos reflect the company's diverse repertoire, he said.

"The great thing about this, as people come into the city, this puts the ballet on the radar. It makes them aware, 'Hey, maybe this is something I should check out while I'm in Philadelphia,' " Kaiser said. "It's really wonderful for us, and it's great for the city."

The next phase of the $127 million redesign of Terminal F - slated for completion in 2016 - will be a new baggage-claim building on the arrivals road, a taxi stand on the arrivals road at Terminal F, additional security screening lanes, and an after-security corridor linking Terminal F to the rest of the airport.

Terminal F caters to commuter jets and 275 US Airways Express flights a day.

"I'm very pleased to have Terminal F open in time for Thanksgiving, and our holiday travel rush," Isom, US Airways chief operating officer, told the crowd. "This is a big deal for us."

The terminal provides passengers "space to spread out and new venues to enjoy," Isom said, and new break rooms and lounges for airline flight crews and employees on the mezzanine level.

The improvements include a food court with seating for 300 and a shuttle bus stop with a covered vestibule so passengers don't have to step into inclement weather.

"I fly pretty regularly, and this is a huge improvement," said Larry Frackman, traveling home from Columbus, Ohio, to New York City with his wife, Barb. "The design is wonderful. The seats are comfortable. And it's new, which is a refreshing change."

Philadelphia's OTG Management developed the idea of pairing celebrity chefs, such as Jose Garces, with food and drink in airports.

"Philly is our hometown; it's where we started," said Rick Blatstein, who is CEO of OTG Management. "In January it will be 18 years. We came in to Philadelphia airport with the Blizzard of 1996."

The first airport eatery that OTG opened was Jet Rock Bar & Grill, with 48 beers on tap and an inexpensive menu, Blatstein said.

Since then, OTG has paired big-name chefs in passenger terminals at New York's JFK and La Guardia airports, and airports in Toronto, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Orlando, Chicago, Boston, and Tucson, Ariz.

At the Local tavern, diners order food and drinks from an iPad at every seat.

Passenger Deborah Buechner, flying home Wednesday to Corning, N.Y., said using the iPad was "really easy."

"I put my order in. I slid my credit card, and it was paid for," she said. "The food came in five minutes. I had pickled cabbage on a veggie burger with spicy avocado. It was really good."

lloyd@phillynews.com

215-854-2831

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