I’ve always loved going to the movies. To be transported in to a different time or place or life, has a great feeling of escapism that is based on someone else’s imagination. As a kid, the concession options weren’t that plentiful – popcorn, candy and soda. The sizes were the expected small, medium and large and they were exactly that. None of it resembled a feed bag or a trough!
When I moved to London after college, I was amazed you could get ice cream and a cocktail at the movies. The popcorn wasn’t buttered, it came sweet or plain. My British friends found it odd you would put butter on popcorn and their version of sweet wasn’t exactly like caramel corn. I realize in writing the last few sentences I’ve aged myself!
A few years back, I went to Muvico in Rosemont and found it curious someone would attach a restaurant to a movie and you could have a couch and cocktails. It invoked a different feeling to me then that childhood wonder I grew up with. Then Showplace Icon opened in the South Loop just a few years ago. They have the normal concessions but also a full bar and food that can be brought to your seat. I’ve never done that because I didn’t want to leave the movie to get my food. I’m a fat, lazy American at heart. But, I do love the “VIP” seating both evokes in their theme park vibe. I appreciate many other places have entered the savory realm of snacks at movies – nachos, hot dogs, pizza, chicken fingers – but I’ve never eaten them or wanted to wait for them to be ready while I stand like a leper at the side of the line.
When I was invited out to the Studio Movie Grill in Wheaton, I had two immediate thoughts. First, WHEATON! Second, worst case I’ll get to see a movie. Wheaton for everyone in the city is about 10 minutes past Oakbrook – stay with me there’s a benefit coming.
When I walked in to the “Lobby” at the theatre, it was nothing like any other movie theatre I’d been in before. It felt more like a hotel check-in then a screaming assault on my senses with lights, children, begging for sugary snacks, video games and life size cardboard posters at every turn. The sedate feeling was weird at first. I thought, “I wait on a comfortable couch or sit at the bar while the theatre is cleaned and ready?” What is this madness you speak of? I don’t have to rush to my seat since it’s already reserved or juggle my snacks - after being belittled since I order a child popcorn and soda which still seems large. I know for a nickel and a high five I can double my order but I don’t want to.
A pleasant voice, kind of like a flight attendant but much more soothing, announces the theatre is ready to be sat. Upon being seated you get a menu and a friendly server asks if you’ve ever been and explains the process. You order anything from real food to snacks to drinks including alcohol and they bring it to you. At any time during the movie, you can order something more by pushing a button and they’ll come get your order. With about 45 minutes to go in the movie, they’ll drop the check so you can pay
You know I’m a suspicious person at heart and thought they’ll be blocking my view. I’ll hear everyone eating around me, this table attached to my seat will be weird after a while. While it was different, it didn’t take away from the movie experience. I heard no one eating with their mouth open, licking their fingers (this happened once for an entire movie at the theatre on Western, so gross), and the staff was very unobtrusive when I need anything but also those around me.
On to the food – I went that first time and another, thinking perhaps they were on their best behavior knowing I was coming in with their PR people. I ordered the crab cakes, street tacos, chicken fingers, bacon cheeseburger, popcorn and cookies. The crab cakes came with lemon and weren’t bad considering my location. I was expecting pre-made hockey pucks and I got fresh. The tacos were ok not something I would get again. The chicken fingers again weren’t of the frozen variety that you would expect. Plentiful and large, it’s real chicken and served with regular or sweet potato fries. The burger wasn’t bad and could have been hotter. It wasn’t the best I’d ever had but it wasn’t the worst and again something I wouldn’t be afraid to order again. The beauty in the popcorn is it comes in a nice bowl – ONE size. No denigrating names to worry about as you order. I got it buttered but it seemed weird – grainy butter not off putting but not what I expect. The popcorn was fresh and I think next time I would just get it plain. If you want a sweet finish, you can order the chocolate chip cookies that are served warm. The only thing you wish you had with the cookies is an ottoman and pause button so you can nap!
Soap Box moment: One last thing I loved, LOVED! Is that I asked for a glass of water. Not a bottle, not a cup - a glass of water. I got a large glass with ice and a straw. Best part – NO CHARGE! I got free tap water at a movie! In the day of $4-5 bottled water, it’s typically tepid at most theatres. This golden nugget alone is worth the trip for me next time I’m out this way. Note: I got this the second time, when no one knew me, so it isn’t like this came free because of the invite.
So what’s the payoff here and why should you go. If you live in the burbs and are out this way, I would think, if you had a babysitter, it would be nice to have this convenience. Most movies now are 2-3 hours and babysitters might not be easy to get. You can have a decent bite and not hate yourself while at the movie with your significant other. If you live in the city, make a day of it and go to Oakbrook to shop and then catch a movie in a quiet friendly place before heading back. I know I would definitely do it again. In the land of franchise restaurants, Studio Movie Grill isn’t as scary as some!
They offer a bunch of children’s and alternative programming with a nice approach to the community. They’re looking to expand further in to the Chicago market so plan to see more soon.
Studio Movie Grill – check out their show times and location here.
Joe Campagna is the Chicago Food Snob. A former restaurant General Manager, Server and Chef you can find him on twitter @chifoodsnob. You can reach him through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.