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Austin – Do This: Beer + DINNER + Movie!February 23, 2011



Snack time and shadow puppets: Monarchy, anarchy and the opposite extremes of dinner and a movie at Gold Class and the Alamo

By Mike Sutter

AMERICAN-STATESMAN RESTAURANT CRITIC

One had a king and “the woman I love.” One had a Queen and “Somebody to Love.”

At Gold Class Cinemas, the movie was a tiny English story (the duke stutters) told against an epic backdrop (abdication, the Nazis and all that). Sunday’s Academy Awards will have a few things to say about “The King’s Speech.”

At the Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz, the show was an ’80s rock ballad sing-along, a collection of hair-band videos we could have streamed on YouTube but chose instead to share with strangers waving cigarette lighters and inflatable guitars.

(Mike Sutter AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

The Alamo Drafthouse’s Godfather pizza holds its own – even in the dark – with pepperoni, olives, tomatoes, onions, green pepper and basil atop a crisp crust.

This was going to be a restaurant-style review of Gold Class and the Alamo, but I’ve come to see both in a different light: the light of darkness. Given the three main senses with which we engage food – taste, smell and sight – food loses a third of its allure when you can’t see it. And by the dusty light of royal interiors or the vampire noir of a Meat Loaf video, it’s just shadow puppets and finger food.

Take the Alamo’s Once Upon a Time in Mexico salad ($10.99), for example. In the dark, the cold beef, damp tangles of greens and clumps of avocado share an oily disposition and a low citrus flavor profile, leaving only strips of jicama and fried tortilla to lend some personality. It all tastes better in the light, when you can see the red, white and green.

Gold Class and the Alamo are dinner-and-a-movie experiences at opposite extremes, even if they work from the same concept. At the Alamo, you write orders on paper and put them on the thin rail in front of you. At Gold Class, you push the glowing button on the tabletop armrest and a waiter appears. The checks arrive three-quarters of the way through the show.

At Gold Class, tickets are $29. With a free membership at www.goldclasscinemas.com, the price is $22 Sundays through Thursdays. That price includes popcorn, a plush suede recliner, pillows to smother people who talk during the movie and blankets to hide your tears when you realize you’ve paid that much to see another Ashton Kutcher romantic comedy that is neither romantic nor a comedy.

(Mike Sutter AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Two slices of chicken-and-bacon pizza with one of a trio of Angus beef sliders with bacon from the Gold Class Cinemas.

This spring, the theater plans to add lower-priced seating in the space between the screen and the recliners, said Mark Mulcahy of the theater’s parent company, iPic. Those seats won’t lean back or offer waiter service, but they’ll cost less: $15 Sundays-Thursdays, $19 Fridays and Saturdays.

For a movie like “The King’s Speech,” the 40-seat auditorium is a civilized escape from the iPhone glow and never-ending chatter that have ruined going to the movies. In that living-room chair, you have Colin Firth all to yourself, whether he’s writ small against an expanse of weathered plaster or in your face choking his way through a radio address.

But where Gold Class was a cushy Cadillac Escalade, the Alamo Ritz was a rocking VW bus, with an F-bombing emcee in leopard-print pants rallying us to shriek along with Cinderella and Steven Tyler. The concussion-level volume pulsed with equal parts heartache and devil horns, but the videos themselves had all the visual clarity of passing out and waking up with your contacts in. And we never, ever again need to see the whole video for “Cold November Rain.” Montage, people. Montage.

(Mike Sutter AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

I learned that Michael Bay directed “I Would Do Anything for Love,” that Italian soda with vanilla and pomegranate tastes like Robitussin DM and that it’s impossible to look cool playing a blow-up guitar. And nothing, I mean nothing, brings out the lighters like Journey doing “Faithfully.”

What I learned, too, is that the food at both places was mostly along for the ride. Even so, let’s hand out a few awards. We’ll call them the Noshcars.

Best Burger goes to the Alamo. Gold Class put up three Angus sliders with bacon and little brioche tophats, but they were $15, flavorless and utterly alone on the plate. For $9.99, the Alamo’s full-size burger came with fries and the funky heat of blue cheese and buffalo sauce.

Best Pizza? No contest. The Alamo’s Godfather ($10.99) was recognizable as pizza, even in the dark: round and crisp and steaming with the mingled aromas of onion, basil, green bell peppers and pepperoni. At Gold Class, a pizza with chicken, bacon and barbecue sauce ($14) was an oblong Band-Aid of road rash with a uniform mushiness in the mouth and an unnatural yellow glow when the lights came up.

(Mike Sutter AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Gold Class Cinemas’ bar serves beer, wine and cocktails, which can be taken into the theater.

Nobody wins Best Appetizer. In fact, Gold Class gets a special Noshcar for Loudest and Least Appetizing Appetizer for a collection of Romaine leaves and flatbread crackers standing in a bowl of Caesar dressing ($9) and a runner-up statue for greasy fried croquettes filled with a taste-free ooze of spinach, artichoke and Gruyère ($11). At the Alamo, a red pepper hummus dip ($6.99) tasted like it could have been made of anything, which is to say it tasted like nothing at all, just something to scoop with stiff pita bread or tired stalks of carrot and celery.

Both places are in the running for Best Dessert, Gold Class with a bowl of shortcake cubes, mascarpone cream and loads of chopped strawberries ($9) and the Alamo with a rich chocolate lava cake with ice cream and strawberries. At just $5.99, the Alamo wins for value.

(Mike Sutter AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz in Austin on Sixth Street

The Noshcar for Best Service goes to the Alamo for being friendly in spite of the anarchy, for making sure everything showed up and for timing the apps, main courses and dessert to come out in stages rather than crowding the tiny rail all at once.

At Gold Class, the waiters were polite and quiet, but we had to ask for popcorn three times before it showed up just once. The anticipation cut into my appreciation of Guy Pearce playing King Edward VIII as a narcissistic prat who put his gold-digging girlfriend before his country. The free popcorn was the best thing we ate, followed closely by a $6 cone of caramel corn drizzled with white and dark chocolate.

(Mike Sutter AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

From the Alamo Ritz, a pizza called the Godfather, with pepperoni, olives, tomatoes, onions, green pepper and basil, and a salad called Once Upon a Time in Mexico, with beef, avocado, tortilla strips, jicama, cotija cheese and onions with a jalapeno lime vinaigrette.

By no measure are these plain old cheap movie dates. But how do you put a price on honor, whether it’s a reluctant king overcoming adversity to lead his nation through war or Peter Cetera fighting hand-in-fist with the Karate Kid for the glory of love?

msutter@statesman.com; 912-5902

Alamo Drafthouse

• The Ritz. 320 E. Sixth St. 476-1320.

• Lake Creek. 13729 Research Blvd. 219-8135.

• South Lamar. 1120 S. Lamar Blvd. 476-1320.

• Village. 2700 W. Anderson Lane. 476-1320.

www.drafthouse.com

Movie ticket prices: Ticket prices swing with the frenetic abandon of the programming. $7 and $9.50 for first-run movies ($10.50 for 3D). Special screenings, such as a “Pulp Fiction” or “Big Lebowski” Quote-Alongs or holiday-themed singalongs run about $10-$13.50. The Ritz has shows that start as low as $1.

Food prices: Appetizers and snacks $3.99 (small popcorn) to $10.99 (nachos). Entree salads $7.99 (Caesar) to $10.99 (Asian chicken). Sandwiches and burgers $7.99-$10.99. Entrees $7.99 (green chile macaroni and cheese) to $11.49 (fish and chips). Pizzas $9.99-$11.49. Desserts $4.99 (ice cream) to $6.99 (Guinness milk shake).

Payment: All major cards

Alcohol: Full bar at the Ritz, with cocktails including margaritas, the Dude’s White Russian and an Alamojito. The Ritz has about 18 beers on draft and about 11 wines by the glass or bottle. Just beer and wine at South Lamar (more than 20 beers on draft), Lake Creek (36) and Village (10). Each of those three theaters has 25-plus wines by the glass (about $5-$8) or bottle (most in the $20-$30 range).

Wheelchair access: Call ahead.

Gold Class Cinemas

3225 Amy Donovan Plaza at the Domain. 568-3400, www.goldclasscinemas.com .

Movie ticket prices: $22-$29 ($15-$19 options coming this spring)

Food prices: Appetizers $9 (house salad) to $11 (nachos, bruschetta) to $15 (shrimp cocktail). Sandwiches and slider trios $11-$18. Pizzas $14-$15. Other main-course plates $13 (lemon chicken skewers) to $15 (fajita quesadilla). Desserts $8-$11. On “Members Get More” Tuesdays, many of the prices are 20 to 35 percent less. Candy and specialty popcorn $3.50-$6. Plain popcorn is included free with Gold Class tickets.

Payment: All major cards

Alcohol: Beer, wine and cocktails. Twelve beers on draft, including local (512), Live Oak and Real Ale varieties ($4-$5.50 a pint). Another 12 beers by the bottle. The geographically diverse wine list has more than 25 whites by the bottle ($30-$110), more than 35 reds ($35-$125) and eight sparklers ($30-$360), with more than 30 by the glass ($7-$16). Cocktails ranging from a lemondrop to a ginger Collins to a “pomegranate Vojito” run $9-$12. On Tuesdays, draft beers and house wines are $3, and cocktails start at $5.

Wheelchair access: Yes

Source: Austin360

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