The next time you fly Alaska Airlines, you might want to browse the menu.
No, seriously. I’ve tried the latest highlights – at least some of the main menu items that will be flying around in the next few months – and I can vouch it’s all on a spectrum from pretty good to very good.
According to Alaska Airlines’ senior product manager of food and beverage, Jessica Johnston, there are usually around 30 entrée choices for first class in any iteration of Alaska’s menus, but that number will bump up to closer to 45 when the spring/summer menu rolls out in May.
Tell us your story:Mobility device lost or damaged by an airline? USA TODAY wants to hear about it
A new way to skip the line:Electronic bag tags are now available on Alaska Airlines
Taking a step back: I get a lot of pitches about airlines tweaking their inflight catering. Johnston told me herself that the carrier switches up its menu roughly every three months to track seasonal food trends. So, when Alaska reached out to let me know it had new food items to share, I dutifully told my editor and figured he’d tell me to skip.
Instead, he told me to go eat. My mother would be thrilled.
And so, I reached out to Alaska and asked if the airline have me out to John F. Kennedy International Airport to try some of its locally sourced cheeses and fresh-produce-based salads and sides.
The airline set a plan for me to visit its lounge at Terminal 7 for a multi-meal tasting menu. It was a good thing I went to the gym that morning, because I had a lot to eat (though not quite the full menu).
The first courses were first-class breakfasts: a winter squash and apple frittata with roasted butternut squash and bacon for sides, and a shakshuka of stewed tomatoes and peppers with a poached egg and crostini over black lentils. In first class, meal service is available on most flights that cover 550 miles or more.
First, a disclaimer: I don’t really like squash.
The rest was good, though! The egg on the shakshuka was satisfyingly runny, and both dishes were flavorful and filling.
Ultra long-haul luxury:Qantas unveils new first and business class seats for the soon-to-be longest flight
Johnston said the shakshuka, especially, has long been a customer favorite and is something people have been asking the airline to bring back since it was swapped out during the pandemic.
“If people like it, let’s give the people what they want,” she said during the tasting.
Other new breakfast options include a ranchero egg bowl with chicken chorizo sausage and a turkey sausage breakfast sandwich with a Tillamook cheddar and apple spread.
Main cabin lunch/dinner
Unheated main cabin meals are available for preorder on most Alaska flights of 775 miles or longer. They typically cost $7.50 to $10.50, Johnston said.
Keep in mind: Supplies are limited in the main cabin, and food must be preordered. The menu is also a little less varied. While first-class options change based on the direction of travel, many main cabin standbys are typically available on every flight. Alaska will introduce directional variability in the main cabin menu this spring.
For this course, Alaska gave me a fruit and cheese platter with crackers, grapes, apples, three kinds of cheese and a piece of chocolate.
“We show care through our food program by giving people quality brands and quality food items versus something that’s just generic,” Johnston said.
Know your rights:More airline passengers are getting bumped. Here’s what you need to know.
Alaska also served me a refrigerated ginger beef wrap, which Johnston said was another item back by popular customer demand, and a “healthy resolutions salad” with fresh produce.
How can you go wrong with cheese and sous vide beef? This was all very tasty.
Alaska offers other dishes for preorder in the main cabin as well, including a candied orange Greek yogurt protein platter as a breakfast option on morning flights.
For the dinner course, I was served jerk chicken with cilantro lime rice, marinated kale, roasted peppers and a jerk sauce on the side.
“This, right now, is getting amazing feedback,” Johnston said. “The flavor on that is really powerful, and I think translates really well in the air,” where peoples’ sense of taste is typically reduced.
Safety first:Even if the seatbelt sign is off, you should stay buckled up while flying
Here’s some behind-the-scenes gossip from USA TODAY: Our Travel team is sharply divided over chicken breasts, so when I saw the jerk chicken breast come out, I knew we’d all have something to say. I am firmly Team Dark Meat in our group chat – yes, this is a thing, yes, you should be jealous – and was skeptical about what was on my plate. But, as Johnston said, the dish is popular, and although I question the chicken breast’s ability to stay moist at altitude, there are other good alternatives, if you share my concerns.
I also had a vegan, gluten-free Southwest Vegetarian Bowl with a grain mix, marinated pinto beans, roasted sweet potatoes and sautéed arugula and spinach. This was very flavorful, and I’d consider ordering it myself, even though I’m neither vegan nor gluten-free.
Depending on the flight length, the first-class dinner entrees may come with side salads, bread, mixed nuts and desserts. Braised beef with fennel is another option for the main meal on Alaska’s new menu.
For dessert, I had Salt & Straw vanilla ice cream. Johnston said the company is a regular partner for Alaska, but the flavors served onboard rotate.
In addition to an all-new food menu, Alaska introduced new beverage options. The seasonal wine offerings are chardonnay and a red blend from the Black-women-owned McBride Sisters Wine Co., along with canned margaritas and old fashioneds from Straightaway Cocktails.
I wasn’t trying to get too messy during a work event, so I can’t vouch for all the options for adult beverages, but I can say the red blend was pleasant to drink.
The wine offerings and cocktail flavors also rotate seasonally. Alcoholic beverages are available free in first and premium class and can be purchased in main cabin. Alaska charges $8 for beer, $9 for wine and spirits and $12 for canned cocktails.
Zach Wichter is a travel reporter based in New York. You can reach him at [email protected]