As the film critic for this newspaper, I’m occasionally asked whether I eat while I’m watching movies.
Not as a rule, though I make exceptions for unusual concessions (the spring rolls at the Harkins in Southlake, the cajeta at the Cinema Latino de Fort Worth). Some moviegoers, however, want the time-saving convenience of being able to eat a full meal while taking in the week’s box-office champ, and now they have a choice — between Arlington’s Studio Movie Grill and the recently opened Hulen Movie Tavern.
A restaurant in a movie theater is bound to be not your average café. What other eateries, for example, offer office-type reclining upholstered chairs? And what other theaters seat you at tables, not in cramped rows? Hours, on the other hand, are more rigid than the seating. Dinnertimes affect movie times, so evening showings typically start between 6 and 7 p.m. instead of 7 and 8. And service, which you have to deal with while the movie rolls, tends to be spotty. Both establishments cook for hundreds of viewers/diners at a time, so even though they’re manned by a small army of waiters, busboys, and cleaners, expect a long wait for orders to come in and drinks to be refilled. (No fools, the people behind these places. They know you’ll be too distracted by the movie to complain.) Not sure why anyone would go to a theater to not watch the film, but for those who find the food more appetizing than the cinematic fare, there’s faster service at the bar. As for atmosphere, it’s mostly dictated by which movie is playing: If you’re trying to eat barbecue ribs while watching Saw IV, you’ve no one to blame but yourself.
Having opened just last month, the Hulen Movie Tavern is located where the old UA Hulen movie theater used to be, adjacent to Hulen Mall. The meal started off with fresh tortilla chips (good) and queso that tasted like Velveeta (could have been better). A more innovative appetizer was the pickle chips, thin slices dipped in batter and deep-fried. Fans of the dill pickle’s salty tang will covet these, though the batter is peppery enough that you’ll need the ranch dressing dip that comes with it.
A selection of 10-inch thin-crust personal pizzas offered both the usual suspects as well as pesto and barbecue chicken options. My eating partner and I opted for the “Godfather,” topped with sausage, pepperoni, green peppers, and black olives. These toppings weren’t slathered on but rather applied judiciously enough to make their tasty presence felt. However, the crust was a bit too pillowy — I like thin-crust pizzas to be crunchy. Happier results came with the cheesesteak. Made with shredded rather than sliced beef, the sandwich boasted just enough cheese to hold it together without smothering it. Though it was too big to pick up, it was easily sliced into pieces that could be handled without falling apart. For dessert, we chose the apple crisp, like a cobbler but with the density of bread pudding.
The Studio Movie Grill has been operating since January on Merchants Row, the bustling shopping center north of I-20 on Matlock Road. Their skillet queso appetizer featured a fair-sized dish of too-thin melted cheese topped with diced tomatoes and a dollop of sour cream, with ground beef lurking beneath the surface. This was all right, though the basket of tortilla chips that came with it was simply enormous — no joke, there was at least a half a pound there. The burger bites proved a more manageable starter: four miniature cheeseburgers on Hawaiian rolls. The thin patties meant that the dish was more bread than meat, but for an appetizer, this was just fine.
For the main dish we ordered the coconut tenders: four fair-sized strips of chicken coated in panko breadcrumbs and shredded coconut, fried, and served with honey-dijon mustard and a huge basket of undistinguished seasoned fries. For a featured dish on the menu, it was pretty humdrum. Not so for the mushroom and sausage pizza. The Grill’s personal-sized pies have a distinctively sweet fragrance and taste, owing to the honey butter brushed onto the crispy crusts. They could do with a little less cheese, but their pizzas are worthy of a sit-down restaurant rather than the stuff that comes to your house in a box — they’re a smashing success. For dessert we had a frozen hot chocolate, a spectacular melty-but-frigid ice cream concoction covered in chocolate whipped cream and served in a frosted 20-oz. glass schooner.
These places are both part of chains; Studio Movie Grills are sprinkled in the far-flung reaches of Lewisville, Plano, and Addison, while other Movie Taverns are located in Bedford, Arlington, and Denton, as well as the dinky one by Ridgmar Mall that serves only a fraction of the regular menu. As is the case with most chains, the basic dishes are mostly safe bets, and the winners are memorable. That’s a pretty good complement to the Hollywood fare being served up in front.
You can reach Kristian Lin at email@example.com.
Hulen Movie Tavern
Pickle chips $5.99
Godfather pizza $9.49
Studio Movie Grill
Burger bites $7.99
Mushroom and sausage pizza $10.99
Frozen hot chocolate $5.99