For some reason, I kept missing the radio piece that aired yesterday on National Public Radio's All Things Considered: a news story created by ATC correspondent and KCUR 89.3 reporter Laura Ziegler about the new AMC movie chain's dine-in concept. Some of the Kansas City-based company's theaters -- including the AMC Mainstreet in the Power & Light District -- have "Cinema Suites" with comfortable recliner chairs, bar service and a full dine-in menu. It's like eating at home on those cute TV dinner tray sets from the 1960s, but more luxurious. And expensive.
I wanted to hear the story because I'm quoted in it; I went to see a film a couple of weeks ago in one of the Cinema Suites at the AMC Mainstreet with Laura Ziegler and another friend; Laura was doing research, and I wanted to taste a few dishes. The menu was designed by a former Applebee's corporate chef. You can hear the All Things Considered story yourself by clicking here.
Laura reports, in the NPR piece, that I gave the food a "thumbs up," which is just a slight exaggeration of my actual reaction.
The appetizers and dinners served in the Cinema Suites are very Applebee's-ish, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. But in all honesty, I would have been just as happy to have picked up a plastic to-go box containing a cheese tray -- an assortment of cubed cheddar and God only knows what other kinds of fromage -- or a crudite tray from the well-appointed concession stand on the street level.
That concession area offered a variety of good things, ranging from imported dark-chocolate bars to hot popcorn that can be tarted up with a wide array of popcorn seasonings. The Cinema Suites menu upstairs was handed to us once we had gotten settled in our recliners. A willowy young male server with artfully tousled hair greeted us with little cups -- slightly larger than the plastic containers used to collect urine samples in medical offices -- filled with room-temperature "bacon-flavored popcorn." It's a treat that I can live without ever tasting again.
Laura was busy talking, sotto voce, into her microphone, so I shared the "Wings and Things Sampler" with my friend Bob: fried onion rings (they're called "onion loops" here, a nod to the film industry where "loops" used to refer to short strips of porno films, among other things), fried cheese sticks, fried house-made potato chips, and vinegary chicken wings.
We liked the appetizer selection enough to order a couple of finger-food-style meals: a Tuscan pepperoni flatbread "pizzetta" (whatever the hell that is) for me and smoked beef-brisket quesadillas for Bob. After we ordered these dishes, we didn't see our waiter again for nearly an hour. Well, Laura and I didn't see him. Bob saw him primping in the men's room with a complete set of beauty products at his disposal. "He had hair mousse and all kinds of other products," Bob told us. "When he saw me, he whisked them all into a bag and dashed out."
I finally pressed the red button on the side of the light fixture near my recliner, and the server -- his coiffure looking absolutely outstanding -- showed up to explain that he had forgotten to turn in our dinner order but would remedy that mistake right away!
Twenty minutes later, he returned with a mediocre side salad, a tasty flatbread pizza and the quesadilla slices. No apology, of course, but we were too famished to care. And his hair really did look marvelous. And isn't that what really counts in a theater setting?
I think AMC needs to think about adding a different kind of concession counter at the AMC Mainstreet: a lavishly laden counter filled with quality beauty products. And I know exactly which employee should be on hand for demonstrations and makeovers.
In the meantime, I'm sticking with popcorn and Milk Duds and the cheap seats at the movies. It's easier that way.