Gaze and Graze
Central Cinema Ushers Chow into the Movie House
1411 21st Ave, 686-MOVIE, www.central-cinema.com
Wed–Fri 6 pm–11 pm; Sat–Sun noon–11 pm; closed Mon–Tue.
I don't much like Raisinets. In fact, I'm generally disappointed by most movie concessions. I used to sneak food into theaters, but stopped after accidentally stinking up a screening of Spartacus with a garlicky grilled fish sandwich. And so I gave in to the pick-a-mix candy dispensers, but kept dreaming of a better way to eat at the movies. Lucky for me, the new revival house Central Cinema does it all—kids' matinees, nouveau noir, even Ghostbusters, for Christ's sake—and serves you dinner too.
Diners can eat in the theater itself or in its lobby bistro, which, when the husband and I showed up early for a screening of All About Eve, we found a little hushed. The tall brick space could easily be chilly, but is warmed up with all sorts of pettable textural elements: linoleum tile–tabletops, flannel-clad banquettes, and a panel of pewter foiled wallpaper. I'm not sure if there are soundproofing issues, but the room is calling out for music to round out the cozy scene set by the décor. I think it would be swell to amp up for the movies with soundtracks by Ennio Morricone, Bernard Herrmann, the RZA, and the like—this cool lobby deserves some such anticipatory underscoring.
Food at the Central Cinema is clearly not an afterthought but part of the gestalt, along with the Dwell-worthy décor, the neighborhood location, and the cool movies. Of course there is popcorn, buttered if you like, with gourmet sprinklings like mustard and dill, or brewers yeast, which gives the corn a meaty, malty taste. The rest of the succinct menu revolves around an axis of pizza, with a few cute detours like a salad-like radish sandwich ($5.50) and custom-made pigs-in-a-blanket ($2.50) supposedly for kids, but sure to please any carnivore with a heartbeat. My spinach salad ($6.50) comes punctuated with real bacon bits and sweet, uncooked corn kernels, and a mustardy vinaigrette dressing strong enough to contend with the metallic bite of uncooked spinach. It's the kind of basic salad that's hard to find done so well at a restaurant, let alone a movie theater.
The individually sized pizzas still need a little polish—but they're on the right path, and the kitchen has the hard part down. Cooked in a stone oven, the pies all have respectably crisp crusts, but call out for more swagger—a little more olive oil, a feistier cheese combo, maybe a marinade for the dryish anchovies (found on the Pescara pizza, $7.50). Most of all, I wish my potato pizza ($7) had the courage to go bianca: getting rid of the tomato layer would clear the way for its really nice olive, rosemary, and potato flavors.
The best thing about Central Cinema is that you can also get full service in the theater itself, including, thank heavens, pints of yummy microbrews like Hale's Cream Ale and Mac and Jack's Amber ($4). If you can, sit in the back. Although the up-front bench seating with built-in counters looks totally fab (throughout the cinema, the upholstery is gorgeous), sitting there gave me a jolt of airline claustrophobia. Better to sprawl, as we did, in the mezzanine seating upstairs, and order dessert before the movie rolls. Then by the time Bette Davis appears, face gleaming with cold cream and flinging bitchy bon mots, you might receive a tall slice of chocolate cake, gleaming with ganache and caramel ($5); or you might get an embarrassment of peaches ($4.50), delicious and barely corralled into a buttery crust. You might also crowd your table, rather dangerously, with a cup and a French press coffee pot ($2), and teeter a bit as you pour the hot liquid in the dark.
This eating in the dark, with forks and real plates, is a little trickier than munching popcorn—I felt a little like a customer in that pitch-black Zurich restaurant run by blind people. But as a movie lover and beer lover and food lover, I was elated to have all three in one room together.