Thursday, June 13, 2013

Moviehouse & Eatery Review

Moviehouse & Eatery
8300 N FM 620 Bldg B, Austin, TX 78726
(FYI: Don't go to .net, that's another unrelated theater in NY.)

First of all, I have to get this out of the way... the name is -terrible-. Normally, something as trivial as a name wouldn't come into discussion when doing a review, but "Moviehouse & Eatery" is just really stupid. It's like naming a pizza joint that serves beer, "Pizzeria & Bar." It makes googling it hard to do and talking about it really awkward. It's not even "THE Moviehouse & Eatery." It's just "Moviehouse & Eatery." With an ampersand. It's owned by Galaxy, the same people that own Flix Brewhouse, which has an equally stupid, but at least less terrible name. Yes, "Flix Brewhouse" is an obvious play on "Alamo Drafthouse Cinema," but at least you can talk about without your conversation deteriorating into an Abbott and Costello sketch. *SEE BELOW*

So, yeah, the people at Galaxy can't be accused of being original with their naming. In fact, nothing about this theater is original. They've basically ripped off things from here and there and threw them in a blender and hoped for the best. The took the La-Z-Boy recliner seats and waiter-call buttons from iPic, the in-movie dining and bar from the Drafthouse, the giant screen from IMAX, and the stadium seating and concession stand from (insert any generic theater here.) They also threw in some D-Box motion seats for good measure.

The result? Well, not to sound obvious, but... mixed.

The theater is broken down into different sections: Dine-In, The Big House, and General Admission. If you go on their site, you'll also see a "D-BOX" section, but that's really just two rows of seats in the General Admission theater. I have experienced the Dine-In section twice and the D-BOX/General Admission section once. To be fair, I've never seen a movie in The Big House, but as far as I can tell, it's pretty much an IMAX type of thing: BIG.

The movie experience begins with acquiring tickets. Most theaters offer online ticket purchasing nowadays, and M&E is no different. Well, no different until you actually go through the process of buying the tickets. If you're buying a General Admission ticket. No problem. It's pretty straightforward. You buy your ticket online, show up at the theater, they give you a paper one at the box office and then you wait in line to get into your theater.

However, if you're buying tickets for Dine-In or D-BOX, it can be a wee bit confusing. The Dine-In reservation screen layout isn't quite set up like the real theater. In order to encourage patrons to buy tickets in certain areas, they put spaces between seats that do not exist. Also, the front row seats were much closer to the screen than I was lead to believe by the seating chart. And with D-BOX seats, it was even more confusing. Remember that D-BOX and GA seats are for the same showing in the same theater. But since the D-BOX seats are reserved and General Admission seats are not, if there are still any seats available for GA, the system will still allow you to get to the seat selection screen for D-BOX even when they are sold out. I went through this very thing trying to get Iron Man 3 3D D-BOX tickets. It was quite confusing, and it didn't help that when I got to the D-BOX seat selection screen that it didn't tell me which were setas were D-BOX and which weren't (because they were sold out of D-BOX.) So, the online ticketing could use some work.

Once you arrive at the theater, you won't exactly be blown away. It's a big plain building with little charm or character. The interior is nice and safe. They have a two-seat D-BOX demo area in the lobby to the left, a traditional concession stand in the back center, and a bar area off to the right. The theater is in a newer, nicer part of town, so everything is crisp, clean and new, but really, they could have done something to spruce it up a bit. It lacks something... like some soul (Paramount), elegance (iPic) or grittiness (Drafthouse Ritz.)

If you're going to a Dine-In theater, you'll pass through the bar to the right. It's a nice enough bar. Nothing too special. They had some TVs playing ESPN and some comfy couches. Not bad. Not great. If you're going to the GA/D-BOX (and presumably The Big House) theaters, you'll pass by the concession stand. It's your typical AMC/Cinemark style concession stand with hot dogs, popcorn, candies, sodas, nachos, etc.

Which leads me to the topic of food. If you have "Eatery" in your name, you better damn well have some good food.

The concession stand food is typical. If you've been to a megaplex cinema of any kind in the last decade or so, you'll know exactly what to expect. The menu might be a bit on the smaller side since about half of the theater offers Dine-In (i.e. "real") food, but everything you've come to expect is there. I had some popcorn, a Coke Icee, and a hot dog. They were all perfectly fine. The prices were in line with other theaters (i.e. way too high for what you're getting.)

The Dine-In food is were it's really at, though. I went to two Dine-In showings and both times the food and service was excellent. I fell in love with their pepperoni pizza. It's got huge, thick cut slices of pepperoni that are perfectly seasoned and, much to my delight, very crispy. The crust was thin, crispy and flavorful. The sauce and cheese was also great. I'm not a fan of fancy food, but to me, this seemed like a good take on a gourmet pepperoni pizza. I also had some of my wife's fried mozzarella, and wow. It might have been the best fried mozzarella I've ever had. Seriously, it was tasty. A good balance of breading and cheese, and it tasted fresh, not frozen. Their side salads were also great. Crisp veggies, crunchy croutons and a flavorful balsamic vinaigrette. My wife had chicken strips, and again, everything seemed fresh and flavorful. The white gravy was delicious and tasted home-made. In everything we tried, they used quality ingredients and didn't mess with the formula too much. I don't need weird cheeses or adventurous sauces. I like to be able to pronounce the ingredients without having to wiki them. So, kudos to them for that.

The prices for the Dine-In food was reasonable. It wasn't cheap, but again, it's in line with the Drafthouse or Flix Brewhouse. However, one of the strange things that I noticed is that a soda at the concession stand still costs the "movie concession stand price" of about $5-$6. However, if you order a soda at a Dine-In theater, it's restaurant-priced at around $3 and comes with free refills and a waiter to bring them. Nice.

Well, since the Dine-In food is so good, you might wonder if you can have it on the GA side of the theater, and the answer to that is, "Yes, technically you can." While the Dine-In theaters have comfy recliners and a fold out table for your food, the GA side is basically just a seat and a cup holder. No waiters and no tables. But if you must have some of that tasty pizza, and I do recommend it, then what you can do is go to the bar area and place a to-go order with the bartender. They will package your food all up as if you were literally taking it to go, but you'll just be walking to the other side of the building. The real bummer is that you'll have to balance all that tasty food on your lap or place it on the floor in front of you.

The staff. Overall, I found that the staff at M&E to be friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. The awesome bartender is the one that explained to me how I could get Dine-In food on the GA side. The box office personnel were very accommodating and helped me understand how the Living Social credits I had purchased were to be used. The concession stand folks were attentive and even gave me free cheese for my hot dog. And the wait staff in the Dine-In theaters were always prompt and accurate. Everyone smiled. It was a very good effort by all. Nice job!

So how was the movie experience itself? Very good. I mean, would you expect anything less these days... especially from a new theater in a nice part of town? The movies were all presented as they should be. Good clean sound. Not too loud, not too soft. The picture was clear. Much like the Drafthouse, the theater does ask its patrons several times to be quiet and respectful during the movies, and in my showings, they were. Unfortunately, unlike the Drafthouse, this theater does have annoying advertising play before each film. This is really a shame. I understand that they need to make money, and that theater is really just a part of the Galaxy chain of theaters, but still, I can't help but be disappointed when I'm being force fed Samsung commercials after I paid $10-$20+ for the privilege of being there.

So, in summation, the name is so awful that I had to mention it, the online ticketing system is less than stellar, the decor and atmosphere is uninspired, the concession stand food is on par with the rest of the industry, the dine-in food is delicious, the service and staff are wonderful and the movie experience is very good. It might be a little out of the way for a lot of folks, but I would definitely recommend this theater. It gets a solid B from me.

* Abbott and Costello sketch: "Lou Goes to the Movies"
by Rob Nava

[ Curtain rises. Bud Abbott is reading the daily paper leaning up on a lamp post in the park. ]

[ Lou Costello enters stage left.]

C: "Hey, Abbott!"

A: [Looks up at Lou. Puts paper away under arm.] "Oh, hey, Lou! Whatcha been up to?"

C: "Nothin' much. I just went to see the latest Iron Man last night at Moviehouse & Eatery."

A: "Oh, yeah? Which one?"

C: "3"

A: "3 what?"

C: [ Surprised ] "Why, Iron Man 3, of course."

A: "No, I mean which theater."

C: "I already told ya, The Moviehouse."

A: "Which moviehouse?"

C: "THE Moviehouse." [Getting flustered.] "The one with the eatery!"

A: "You mean the Drafthouse?"

C: "No. The Moviehouse and EATERY. Not the Drafthouse." [Now very flustered.]

A: "You mean Flix Brewhouse? Well, why didn't you just say so?"

C: [ Throws hat on floor. ] "No! Not the Brewhouse! Not the Drafthouse! The new one. The one with La-Z-Boy seats and the fancy food!"

A: "Ah, you mean iPic... the, uh, the old Gold Class Cinema."

C: "Oh. Forget it. I didn't much like it anyway." [ Picks up hat. ]

A: "You didn't? I heard iPic was very nice."

C: [Wrings hat with both hands in frustration, mumbles to himself, and walks off stage right.]

A: [Looks towards the audience and shrugs. Pulls out his paper and starts reading again.]

[ Curtain falls. ]