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  • Tara Crutchfield

WACO Kitchen

Diners at WACO Kitchen overlook the Lakeland Linder International Airport runway as planes taxi in and take off. A comfortable space to enjoy an exceptional meal, the restaurant offers plush low-back booths and light spilling in through sprawling second-story panoramic windows. What it provides in views, the restaurant matches, if not surpasses, with its menu.


WACO Kitchen was started in Battle Creek, Michigan, in January 2021, by aviation enthusiast Dieter Morszeck as a restaurant extension of WACO Aircraft. The aircraft company is the world’s only FAA & EASA-Certified manufacturer of sport biplanes produced today based on the original type certificates from the 1920s and ‘30s.



“WACO is an aircraft company that’s grown into a restaurant because they wanted to feed the ladies and gentlemen that build the planes,” said WACO Kitchen Restaurant Manager Todd Kercher, a 30-year hospitality industry veteran who has been with WACO for a little over two years. The biplane bistro did so well that Morszeck decided to open it to the public. Less than a year after opening the Battle Creek eatery, Morszeck extended WACO’s offerings to Lakeland in the terminal building on the second floor of the Lakeland Linder International Airport. 


“We began as American-European fare, and it’s blending now,” Kercher said. “We’re making it local to Lakeland, whereas Battle Creek is doing the same. It gives our chef the freedom to create dishes and go with what the desires in Lakeland are.” 


Kercher bragged on Chef Bret Pelaggi for his ability to craft visually and appetizingly sumptuous dishes. Pelaggi is from Boston, where he worked for Sibling Rivalry and the English Hospitality Group. In 2012, he and his wife moved to Miami, where he was cast to be on season 11 of Food Network’s “Top Chef.” He went on to open Uvaggio in Miami, which won best wine bar and was nominated for best new restaurant. In 2017, Pelaggi left the restaurant business for four years to work in food service manufacturing and recipe development. 


When he was recruited for WACO, “It was a good fit,” he said. The chef started in February, just before the annual SUN ‘n FUN event. “I’m still learning what Lakeland likes and doesn’t like,” he said. “The whole thing is starting to come together.” 


Their menu – in a realm between fast-casual and fine dining – boasts fresh and decadent lunch and dinner offerings unlike anything in Lakeland. The Bavarian pretzel with gruyere fondue and pickled veggies is a must-order for the table. For a lighter bite, opt for the watermelon salad. If summertime had a signature dish, this would be it. The salad has sweet, crisp watermelon, feta, kalamata olives, Suman, mint, cucumber, arugula, and almonds. The duck leg confit will call your name for dinner. Tender duck is served over white grits with ricotta, pecan Swiss chard, plum, and port syrup. Locally sourced grouper is used in one of their most popular dishes, the fried grouper sandwich topped with smoked paprika aioli, tomato jam, pickled shallots, lettuce, and tomato. 



“We just want a menu of really good food. You can categorize it how you want,” said Pelaggi. He described their offerings as “good food with different cultural influences.” 


A handful of menu items, including the WACO tacos and the Biplane Burger, can be found at both locations. Their beverage options boast local craft beer and Lakeland-brewed Ethos Coffee. All their bread, flatbreads, and desserts are made in-house from scratch by WACO’s pastry chef, Patty M. 


Along with a full cocktail menu soaring with spirits with fun aviation-themed names like the Paper Plane Martini and the Rumway Mule, WACO’s wine menu features nine varietals of owner Dieter Morszeck’s Portuguese wine. The olive oil used in-house also hails from his own brand in Portugal.


Fly (or drive) over to WACO Kitchen to check out their new menu, revamped in July. We previewed the three-grain power bowl with organic raw apple cider vinaigrette, farrow, buckwheat, barley, Portuguese olive oil, ube, hemp seeds, sunflower seeds, spinach, apple, and blueberry. It was a refreshing and filling glimpse into their seasonal menu. 




Photography by Amy Sexson

 

WACO Kitchen (WACO rhymes with taco)

3900 Don Emerson Dr, Lakeland

(863) 583-4004

Facebook @Waco Kitchen Lakeland

Instagram @wacokitchenfl




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