If Neighborhood Flix is an independent, high-end exemplar of the dinner-and-a-movie concept, then Movie Tavern — part of a multi-unit, food-and-movies chain out of Texas — is the McDonald's, Olive Garden and T.G.I. Friday's of the industry all rolled into one. While the basic idea of combining food and film is, in my opinion, a good one, the difference between these two enterprises is the difference between watching Independence Day and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Both are movies, both concern aliens landing on Earth, but while Roland Emmerich's ugly violation of the War of the Worlds mythos was all sound, fury and exploding national landmarks, Spielberg's Close Encounters was somewhat more thoughtful, certainly quieter, and ended with a ray of hope for the future.
Movie Tavern? It's definitely the Independence Day in this analogy. The place is big, the menu is frightening, the theaters are loud and the screens always seem full of things blowing up. Fortunately, the waitresses work the floor through the entire movie, taking orders and delivering food and cocktails inside the theater. Unfortunately, the food is a nightmare of Philly cheesesteak wraps, "Ultimate Nachos," fish and chips, cheeseburgers, hot fudge sundaes and Southwest egg rolls that are like something squeezed out the back of an industrial food extruder with the dial jammed between Chinese and Mexican.
Movie Tavern also offers mac-and-cheese, but unlike the decent, restrained version made at the Flix, this tasted like out-of-the-box Kraft heated in a microwave. And though I do like the theaters at Movie Tavern (which have comfortable seats set along a counter and plenty of space for the waitresses to move around, as though they're just at a bar with a really, really big-screen TV), the kitchen operation is harder to stomach. I poked my head in after a movie and was terrified by the number of fryers inside. While the cooks at Neighborhood Flix manage to execute James Mazzio's excellent menu with nothing more than a standard (and rather small) galley setup, the kitchen at Movie Tavern looks like something off an aircraft carrier: huge and gray and laid out with an eye toward nothing more than pumping out as much fried food as possible in the shortest amount of time.
18605 East Hampden Avenue, Aurora
18605 E. Hampden Ave.
Aurora, CO 80013
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