Friday, August 3, 2007

Review: Dinner and a Show

People that know me know that I have a passion for movies. Since I was a kid, I loved everything about movies. My parents would take me in the car to one of the local drive-ins, and I'd be hooked from the very start, from the dancing food beckoning me to purchase some popcorn, to the animated shorts and previews, all the way through to the end of the movie. It's one of my fondest memories of childhood.

Here in Southern New Hampsha, we have a interesting "dinner theater" experience called "Chunky's Cinema Pub" which combines watching a movie in huge, comfortable seats with dinner with wait service. The idea is that you show up about an hour before your movie starts, order dinner or snacks, and then relax while you wait for the movie to start. It's not a drive-in, but you don't really have to worry about inclement weather or driving off with those cast iron speakers still attached to your window.

I've been a long time fan of the Chunky's movie experience, ever since the first one opened in Plaistow, NH. That venue was fun; it had tables of four and six that could be grouped together for larger parties, and little "pagers" on the table to tell your waitress that you needed attention during the show.

The Plaistow location is long gone, but I'm happy to report that after it closed, they opened two locations close by: one in Haverhill, MA, and the other in Pelham, NH. Recently, another Chunky's opened nearby in Nashua (although my daughter has been there, I've never gone to the one in Nashua). There used to be a location in central NH (now apparently called "Smitty's Cinema Pub") and one or two in Maine near Portland, which I've never visited. My review will be on the Pelham restaurant, since it's closest to my house, and the one I frequent the most.

The food at Chunky's can be best described as Classic American. There are appetizers ("pub grub"), salads, burgers, sandwiches, wraps, and a small selection of entreés. All the menu items have names related to the movie theme of the place. For instance, "Love Me Tenders" is the name given to the chicken tenders entreé, and there is a "Kevin Bacon Burger" (bacon cheeseburger) and "Robert DeNiro Burger" ("Cheeseburger with an attitude") as well. Side dish selections include potato chips, pub fries, cole slaw, pasta salad, baked beans. For an additional charge, you can order waffle fries, onion rings, or a side salad instead. Desserts aren't forgotten, and most have a "Harry Potter" theme ("Gryffindor House Special" is a brownie sundae, for instance). For those over twenty-one, there is a limited cocktail menu as well.

The food is very good, and although it would never be considered gourmet fair, it's quite a bit better than the food I remember from the concession stands at the old drive-ins. The prices are quite reasonable as well. Service is usually pretty good, but when the place is crowded, the wait staff can get overwhelmed. A recent "re-innovation" is that the restaurant now offers a "coaster" that works as a reverse-pager; turn it on and it will let your wait-person know that you need something, which can be very useful in the darkened room when the movie is playing. This is similar to the "pagers" that the original venue had, and is a welcome return.

Although there is a full menu, you are not obligated to have a complete meal. You could just order munchies and drinks, have a bag or two of popcorn, or even pass on the food and/or drinks altogether (although that would miss a lot of the fun of the place to my mind).

The seating is very comfortable, unlike a lot of movie theaters. The seats are converted bucket seats from Lincoln Town Cars and are very roomy, and some of them have arm rests (it seems to depend on the model year of the car from which a particular seat was taken). Unlike the original Chunky's in Plaistow, the theaters in Pelham have long tables mounted together, meaning that your party might be sitting immediately next to another party if the movie you are watching is popular, like the first day of a new Harry Potter release.

Admission to the theater is reasonable, considering the prices at other "normal" theaters, at $7.00 (with a matineés being $5.50), but they have ladies' nights (discounted admission for members of the fairer sex) and other weekly promotions.

My rating: Recommended!

Bon Appetit!

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