I can’t remember how far back it was, but my initial experience with a movie theater that served dinner with the movies was not a good one. To paraphrase David Foster Wallace, it seemed like a supposedly fun thing I would never do again.
But I did do it again. And I’m glad I did. Because the three movie-with-dinner-theaters I had the pleasure of visiting recently have figured out how to make it, yes, fun.
STUDIO MOVIE GRILL
Locations in University Mall (Tampa) and Seminole City Center (we went to Seminole), studiomoviegrill.com.
What we saw: A Star Is Born (the night it opened)
What we ate: Southwest Quesadilla ($10) and Mac & Cheese w. chicken ($15)
Ambience: Surprisingly snazzy for a multiplex in a mall. The stadium seating is comfy and ample, and set up so that the rows below you never obscure the screen.
Service: We were worried that we wouldn’t make the 20-minute cutoff time for ordering, especially since this was the premiere of a mega-hit movie and we’d only been able to reserve seats in the very back row. Not to worry; servers were quick and unobtrusive, and to summon them you had only to push a button at your seat.
How was the food? A cut above — way above — usual movie food.
How was the movie? Gaga was great, the second half sagged.
MPAA (Movie Plus Alimentary Add-On) Rating: 4 popcorns
Locations in Hyde Park Village, Wesley Chapel and Sarasota (we went to Hyde Park), cinebistro.com.
What we saw: Colette
What we ate: Fettucine al Forno ($15.50) and Barnyard Chicken Sandwich w. Fried Egg ($16.45)
Ambience: The bar/lounge area feels like the lobby of a trendy boutique hotel. The movie theaters are smaller than Studio Movie Grill’s, but still with good sightlines and posh seating.
Service: Excellent — personal and well-timed.
How was the food? Really, really good — though the chicken sandwich was also really, really messy (that fried egg).
How was the movie? Keira Knightley’s a delight, movie not so much.
MPAA Rating: 4.5 Popcorns
737 Main St., Safety Harbor, gigglewaters.com
What we saw: Let the Right One In
What we ate: Plain Jane burger ($13), the Robert Ford chicken sandwich with pimento cheese and Carolina BBQ sauce ($12), and white truffle popcorn ($8), the most addictive goddamned popcorn we have ever tasted
Ambience: Unique. The restaurant, with its pressed tin ceilings and custom-built bar, feels like a’20s speakeasy. The theater, tucked away at the far end, feels like a private screening room. Movies are a mix of recent and vintage, preceded by a montage of retro PSAs and TV ads (“That’s a spicy meatball!”) that will put the giggles in your gigglewater (a synonym for booze during Prohibition).
Service: Remarkably efficient, given that there seemed to be only one affable guy doing most of the work. He had to duck below screen level once the movie started, but managed that well, and we loved the system of calling for service during the movie by flicking on a light beneath our tables.
How was the food? Fantastic — great cocktails, too. And that popcorn…
How was the movie? Haunting Swedish vampire movie/coming-of-age romance.
MPAA Rating: 5 popcorns
Christmas Bonus: The next four days at Gigglewaters (Nov. 30-Dec. 3) feature holiday programming with a twist, as in twisted: Edward Scissorhands (Friday); Trading Places (Saturday); Adam Sandler’s Eight Crazy Nights (Sunday, the first night of Hanukkah); and Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas (Monday). Yes, there’s a Christmas scene in Goodfellas! Whatsamatter wid you?