People very rarely associate airports with good food but walk into the small Vero Beach Regional Airport terminal on a Sunday morning and you will probably find people waiting for a table at C. J. Cannon’s Restaurant. Knowing that no commercial flights have taken off from the airport in years, you might wonder why the restaurant has a waiting list for a table.
This popular restaurant describes its decor as “vintage”. If you are an aviation enthusiast, take time to look at the kitschy lobby decorated with large model airplanes hanging from the ceiling, retro aircraft memorabilia and photos of famous people hung on the walls of the restaurant.
While lots of airports have vendors selling fast food, C. J. Cannon’s has been serving its customers reasonably priced, homestyle southern cooking for breakfast, lunch and dinner for just over 30 years. Regulars are called by name and come in often for the good food as well as the restaurant’s views. Large windows in the main dining room look out at well manicured, palm laden grounds and the runways of the airport. As you watch the takeoffs and landings of airplanes at this small airport, you can appreciate the short wait it might take for a booth next to the windows.
For our early morning breakfast this weekend, my husband enjoyed sunny side up fried eggs, crispy corned beef hash, grits and rye toast, one of his favorite morning meals.
I had a delicious Florentine Eggs Benedict…perfectly poached eggs on top of toasted English muffins with grilled tomatoes, sautéed spinach and topped with a light Hollandaise sauce. Our coffee cups were frequently refilled by our pleasant waitress. It was a perfect breakfast as far as we were concerned. For lunch, my husband can’t resist ordering the Ruben sandwich with sweet potato fries while I have ordered the chili topped with shredded cheese, some of the homemade soups and their Cobb salad on previous visits. We’ve not had dinner at the restaurant but I’ve heard people like their fish fry and prime rib dinners.
Many pilots fly their own airplanes here for breakfast or lunch, especially over the weekend. While my husband and I were having breakfast, several small private planes and jets were parked just outside the restaurant windows. One couple came in wearing flight suits and helmets, had breakfast and then walked back out to the tarmac, climbed into their ultralight aircraft and flew off towards a beautiful view of Vero Beach.
During the winter months, the airport runways can be very busy and when looking out the windows of the restaurant you’ll see Gulfstream, Bombardier, Citation, Challenger and Falcon Jets, ranging in size from 6 seater to 16 seater, taking off and landing. Vero Beach is reported to have the fourth largest concentration of wealthy residents in the U.S. Many of the passengers arriving and departing from the airport are the wealthy seasonal residents that live in the private communities on the barrier island that is divided from mainland Vero Beach by the Indian River Lagoon.
The airport has certainly changed over the years. In the 1930’s, the small municipal airport was used by Eastern Airlines and then it became the Vero Beach Naval Air Station in 1942 where it trained both men and women from the Navy, Marines, and WAVES. It was also used as a Marine Air Squadron Base and training facility for pilots.
After your meal at the restaurant, walk out into the well manicured gardens and you will find a historical marker dedicated to the memory of the men and women who trained at the airport to help keep our country safe. There is also a memorial courtyard detailing history of the airport, including a plaque listing people who died during training at the former World War II Naval Air Station.
The last commercial flights from the airport were in 1990’s when American Eagle flew for less than one year. Besides being used for private and charter flights, today the airport is also home to Piper Aircraft and the Flight Safety Academy, one of the world’s leading flight training schools. We have seen lots of young pilots at the restaurant having lunch, many of them speaking languages from around the world.
It has been almost 20 years since regular commercial passenger service was offered at Vero Beach Airport. Now Elite Airways is going to start regularly scheduled passenger service this month between Vero Beach, Fl and Newark, NJ a couple of times a week. One of their planes has been sitting near the restaurant while the terminal is being altered slightly for passenger check in and security. One thing that won’t change in the terminal building is the 1935 Piper Cub airplane suspended from the ceiling in the facility. If the new passenger service proves successful, perhaps my husband and I will use the airline next year to fly from Vero Beach to Newark and then on to Europe.
Wealthy or not, whether living on the barrier island or the mainland, we all get to enjoy the mild climate and small town charm of Vero Beach. Part of that charm is having a nice meal at the casual C. J. Cannon’s Restaurant while watching airplanes take off and land. With its large and reasonably priced menu and friendly service by a wait staff that welcomes you back each time you return, you realize you can indeed have a good meal at an airport, at least at the Vero Beach Regional Airport.
This is the first article in a series that I will be writing about my town of Vero Beach. As a new resident, I’ll be discovering all there is to love about this small city located on what is called the Treasure Coast of Florida. I hope you will follow along.