By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Apr 14, 2013 at 9:03 AM

Things have changed at Mitchell International Airport. Especially when it comes to food. There was a time, not all that long ago, when a hungry traveler could choose from Burger King, a spinning hot dog and Famous Amos cookies. And that was about it.

But, kids, this ain't your daddy's Mitchell Field anymore.

SSP America, which arrived at Mitchell in 2009, has helped with its concept of drawing on locally known brands – like Alterra Coffee and Bartolotta Restaurant Group – for its airport units.

"Alterra is famous in Milwaukee, and it's part of the culture. We call it 'local famous'," says SSP assistant manager Yi Bing.

"Like Bartolotta. For sure everyone living in this area knows Bartolotta. We're trying to bring something a little bit different, a little bit fancier concept for travelers. Whatever we choose, it just says 'Milwaukee.' Our way is let us bring you a locally famous brand and maybe we'll catch people's eyes."

Meanwhile, long-time airport food service operator HMS Host offers a mix of options, from national chains like Starbucks, Quizno's and Chili's to local favorite Usinger's.

"We try to season the mix with what the property management wants to see us do," says HMS Host general manager Robert Kiepert.

"In the general public there's a fair amount that want that nationally recognized brand and then in this market you see the Alterras, Usingers, Northpoint. It's changed a little bit more. You can go back 10 years ago and everybody wanted that brand – it was all brand recognition – and now it's switched back a little bit to where it's seasoning the local flair, as well. We're starting to see it all around the country."

Here is a look at what's on offer for hungry travelers at Mitchell International Airport.

Remember that most eateries are open from about an hour before the first flight out until just after the last flight departs. And don't forget that unlike in most airports, ticketed passengers have access to all concourses at Mitchell. So if you have time and want to explore the dining options in a different concourse, go right ahead.

Main Terminal

There's still something of a food court here, but now it's home to just two eateries: Quizno's subs (open 24 hours) and Famous Famiglia pizza.

Things got more interesting with the 2010 arrival of Milwaukee's only year-round Northpoint Custard. While the Bradford Beach location is only open during the warmer months, you can grab a great burger, fries, shakes, custard and some other options 12 months out of the year, from the early morning until relatively late at night.

The big news is that the rather dark and dated Miller Brewhouse, which offers the only sit-down views of takeoffs and landings without passing through security, got a makeover a couple years ago. 

The place has a bar and grill feel but, while the name is likely to stay the same (or at least will be similar), the decor will get an update. The menu will still likely focus on breakfast, sandwiches, salads and dinner entrees.

For coffee, there's a Starbucks right outside Concourse D and a Colectivo kiosk near the entrance to Concourse E.

Concourse C

Concourses C and D see the most traffic these days so it's little surprise that they host the largest number of dining options.

C has gotten a boost in recent months with the arrival of Bartolotta's Pizzeria Piccola at the far end of the concourse. With a wood-oven, this Piccola is much like its elder sibling in Wauwatosa Village, offering thin crust pizza, pasta, salads and more.

Right next to it is an Auntie Anne's pretzels and opposite the pizzeria is a Chili's.

But to get to those you have to pass the largest Alterra location in the airport, which has a fairly large seating area, and French Meadow Bakery and Cafe.

French Meadow, the one of the first out-of-state locations for this business run by two Minnesota sisters, is a nice mix of sit-down counter service and grab-and-go. As the name suggests, it offers a wide range of baked goods like muffins and croissants, along with sandwiches, soups, breakfast and more.

The bakery and cafe – which makes its own croissants and cookies and gets the rest from Milwaukee's East Side Overs – offers a variety of vegan, organic and gluten-free options in all its areas. It was the first certified organic bakery in the U.S.

Concourse D

Entering D, you'll find another Colectivo kiosk.

Then, you'll come across Nonna Bartolotta's and the attached Nonna's To-Go, which is mostly on your right, but has additional seating on the left side of the concourse, too.

Nonna's was the first partnership between Bartolotta Restaurant Group and SSP America and was among the first signs that Mitchell was moving into the future in terms of food offerings. (Nonna's and Johnny Rockets were temporarily closed while airlines moved terminals, but have both reopened for business.)

With checkered tablecloths and bowls of pasta, Nonna's was the first example of a "real" restaurant added to the airport lineup. While it comes in at a price point that won't suit the penny pinching traveler, it offers the travel weary a respite from the typical airport vibe. And, the food is good, too.

A little further along, on the same side, is Usinger's, which used to have a food court location in the main terminal. Now, there's seating and a bar and a wide range of delicious sausages made right in Downtown Milwaukee.

Don't miss the reuben, which is addictively yummy, and the Usinger's brat on a Miller Bakery pretzel roll. Add a little kraut and brown mustard and you know you've arrived in Milwaukee.

Sort of connected, but just around the bend is Johnny Rockets, a retro-themed hamburger restaurant that is operated, like Usinger's, by HMS Host.

Like all of HMS Host's units, these are loaded with outlets for travelers hoping to charge their phones or use their laptops while they eat.

Concourse E

There's not a lot to choose from in Concourse E, but the lone option (besides a grab and go that is expected to close in March 2013 when Delta leaves for Terminal D) is a good one. Operated by HMS Host, Cooler by the Lake is a seafood-focused table-service restaurant and bar, offering appetizers, sandwiches, burgers, breakfast and more.

I recently tried the walleye fish fry and a honey glazed salmon that were both really good and clocked in at under $15.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.