Melissa Grimes Guy
Eastern Shore. Florentine. Bombay. Parisian. Skimming the menu’s insert, I quickly count 17 varieties of eggs Benedict—including one featuring the diner’s headline, “Sugar Buns.” There are more twists to the classic brunch dish than there are tables in this petite, sun-dappled café.
Scanning the crowd, I notice sprays of daisies springing from tiny vases atop blue gingham cloths. A large china hutch painted a pale goldenrod displays antique tea caddies. A triple-tier dessert tray—piled high with baked goods—invites patrons to take a seat at one of a dozen tables.
Welcome to Sugar Buns Airport Café and Bakery, Susan Leonard’s culinary nest serving “upscale comfort food” in Talbot County. Opened on St. Patrick’s Day 2010, this delightful restaurant might well be found anywhere in America.
But Leonard’s café isn’t located on Easton’s main street, in a mall, or at any number of strip centers dotting the landscape.
It’s in the airport.
Fortunately, you don’t need to be a pilot or plane owner to experience Sugar Buns or to explore Maryland’s aviation heritage. So, recently, I decided to take to the Free State’s byways with my trusted wingman of 25 years to meet some of the pioneers, pilots, and proprietors who keep these airports humming.
Eggs in Easton
Mid-morning on a beautiful Saturday and Newnam Field (named for decorated WWII Marine aviator and Easton native William “Bill” Newnam Jr.) is humming. Literally vibrating with dozens of aircraft landing and leaving over the course of an hour.
“We’re Easton’s best-kept secret,” Leonard tells me as we settle in for brunch. The rising sun streams through a broad window running the length of her Sugar Buns Airport Café. Overlooking the tarmac, it provides the perfect plane-spotting lens for the three-dozen customers talking, eating, or lingering.
A favorite fly-in destination, this popular airport serves as a hub for local aviators, CEOs, celebrities, and Mid-Atlantic power brokers. The café shares space with a pilots’ shop and lounge, fixed base operator, and management offices.
Thirty minutes east of the Bay Bridge, it’s a great place to stop, stretch, and satisfy your hunger on the road to Ocean City.
Born and raised in Silver Spring, Leonard graduated from the University of Maryland intent on becoming an FBI agent. She put her dreams on hold to help raise her family following her mother’s death at 48.
Enrolling in TWA’s flight-attendant training program, Leonard spent 20 years globetrotting before touching down on the Eastern Shore in 2006.
She laughs recalling her early interest in cooking.
“I made my first apple pie for a Brownie badge when I was 7,” she says.
But it was flights to France that burnished her passion for classic dishes and professional techniques.
“I would talk my way into restaurant kitchens during layovers. I learned to make lemon roasted chicken, quiche Loraine, and ‘proper’ pastry dough.” Her specials today feature French-inspired favorites such as Croque Madame and crab and asparagus quiche.
She landed at the Easton airport after the management put the lease out for bid in 2009.
Leonard credits her extensive list of eggs Benedict to a bout of insomnia spent typing out the 17 varieties as homage to the many places she travelled.
“We make everything using fresh—never frozen—ingredients, including our hollandaise sauce made in small batches five times a day,” Leonard says.
“Each order is served with our crisp but tender home fries and a slice of orange to prevent scurvy.”
America’s Longest-Operating Airport
Leaving Easton, we head west on Route 50 for the 90-minute drive (a 20-minute flight) to College Park, the birthplace of aviation in Maryland. (But we won’t be eating, alas. The beloved 94th Aero Squadron, a popular nearby restaurant, is no more.)