Story and photos by Marc Zorn
Was that a trick question? Luckily, it wasn’t. I was at the airport within the hour.
The latest winter storm from the west had passed us to the east. That made our ride a little bumpy, but not uncomfortable. The terrain in this part of the country becomes less mountainous as you fly east. Yet, the influence of the Rockies can still be felt as you pass by the southern end of them through northern New Mexico. That big range can stir up pockets of air for quite a long way, even if it hasn’t been snowing or raining in a day or two.
We flew northeast toward the Texas Panhandle. Our destination was Dalhart, Texas. Dalhart Municipal Airport (KDHT) appears near the edge of the Wichita, Dallas - Ft. Worth, and Albuquerque sectionals, which helps one choose it as a natural location to stop and visit.
In a previous life, Dalhart Municipal was a training base for the military, which is quite obvious as you approach. The runways are long and wide, the ramps are spacious, and many of the hangars are large enough to house big transport aircraft. Luckily, the field became a municipal airport when the military no longer needed it. That was a few decades ago, and the airport has been a great resource for Dalhart since that time.
The main ramp is near the middle of the intersecting runways. It has an FBO, a fuel pit, and tucked in the corner near the trees, is The Airport Café.
The Airport Café is one of those semi-hidden gems that has been around for decades, but is loved enough that it looks like it was recently built. The small, square building is white, has a bright red roof, and a big sign on the side that simply reads “CAFÉ”. Despite the somewhat understated external appearance, this little place is full of life.
When we showed up after lunch there were only a few planes on the ramp, yet only a few seats left in the cafe. As soon as we stepped in, we felt at home. We were greeted by smiling faces and friendly conversation. The smells from the kitchen were inviting. There was no doubt that this was much more than just a stop for pilots. We must have had surprised looks on our faces, because we were told by one of the customers that the cafe is packed during the lunch hour most days. To me, that says quite a lot for any restaurant that isn’t in the middle of town.
The menu was a bit better than standard café / diner fare with lots of local flavor. They serve breakfast all day. They have daily specials. They have enough to split the menu into sections. They also have dessert. For a small café at an airport, the menu is fairly extensive.
When asked her favorite, the waitress immediately recommended the “cheeseburger steak”. It’s a large cheeseburger served open-faced like a steak, with Texas toast, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, and a side salad. I had to have it. My friend heard “breakfast all day” and his eyes lit up. He ordered the breakfast sausage sandwich with pancakes.
My meal was excellent. The burger patty was seasoned and cooked just right. The toast was browned on the grill. The green beans were nice and tangy. The mashed potatoes were obviously made from scratch with really good potatoes. But, it was the gravy that brought the whole meal together. It was balanced and rich without being too thick. It was peppery and had just a slight bite to it. It complimented everything else. I’m salivating just thinking about it again.
My friend’s meal was just as good, even though he ordered less than I did. The pancakes were light and fluffy. The sandwich was made with good breakfast sausage, and also had scrambled eggs and cheese placed in between grilled Texas toast. Yum.
The Airport Café seems to do most everything right. The folks are friendly, the place is clean, the food is excellent, and the prices are reasonable. It’s not hard to see why the folks drive from the town a few miles away.
The operator, Martha Crabtree, obviously takes great care with the café. It is clear that her cooking is a great part of the appeal both to airport and towns folk, and now to me. I definitely plan to come back next time I fly near this part of the country.
The owner of the café is Cecil Ingram. He has become synonymous with Dalhart Municipal Airport. He arrived in the late 1940’s as a flight instructor and mechanic. He later flew crop dusters for many years, and eventually opened up Ingram Flying Service and the Airport Café.
Cecil’s constant support for many years has been a big part of what has kept Dalhart Municipal Airport going. Everyone we spoke with referred to Cecil with great affection. When we met him, we could see why. He is someone who obviously cares and has the experience and wisdom to have become indispensable. As he told us about the history of the airport, I found myself looking around and imagining a fleet of B-29s.
Dalhart Municipal Airport and The Airport Café is a great place to visit. This is a special little place, which I highly recommend. I’ll be back to sample more of Martha’s food, and to hear more stories from Cecil Ingram.
The Airport Café is open daily from 7am to 4pm. The Airport Café / Ingram Flying Service: 806-244-5521.