There were two rules about dinner at the DuVall household when I was growing up: It started at 5:30 sharp and the TV was always turned off before we all sat down.
The second rule has continued for my family now, so you can understand why I had reservations about trying Northwood Cinema Grill.
Located in Northwood Plaza along Stellhorn Road, Cinema Grill is exactly what you think it is – a movie theater with tables that operate as a full-service restaurant. Adding to my hesitation was the fact that whenever I go to a movie, I always have popcorn (extra butter, please). It doesn’t matter whether I had lunch a half-hour ago; if I am in a theater, I am having popcorn. But a meal at the movies? I wasn’t so sure.
It didn’t take long for Cinema Grill to ease my concerns, because the first thing I tried was a blockbuster. The Buffalo wings were huge, crispy and extra saucy, just the way I like them. The sauce was the standard variety, but it appeared to have been mounted with butter – a key – and had just the right amount of heat.
However, after the wings, there wasn’t anything else I would stand in line for in terms of food. And there were a few frustrating things that made me want to hurl stuff at the screen.
Like any price-gouging movie house, Cinema Grill does not offer refills on soft drinks despite their hefty $1.95 price. Only iced tea, coffee and water are refillable. But unlike the movie houses, there are no giant sizes to choose from to make refills unnecessary, so it was iced tea for me.
The layout was roomy enough with large tiered sections that had chairs lined behind long counters in the front. The only tables available were tiny round cocktail lounge-style ones that were barely big enough for two people. So, dining with your family is a pain unless you get there early and grab some counter seats, because pushing round tables together just doesn’t work. Given that the place caters to and almost always shows films for families, one would think a few larger family-sized tables would be in order.
The second appetizer I tried from the preview section of the menu, the spinach-artichoke dip, was also above par. Served in a mini-crock and based with sour cream, it was topped with bicolored cheese. The sour cream was still a little cold, but the spinach and artichokes in it had been cooked through and the cheese was just starting to melt. The tortilla chips were cold but OK.
The house sub also won marks for its combination of ham, salami and pepperoni being cooked and having mozzarella melted over it before being sandwiched between a soft, fresh sub roll. The garnishes of green leaf lettuce, tomato and deli-style pickle chip were fresh, with the tomato being sweet and ripe and the lettuce and pickles adding some real crunch. I also appreciated having the Italian dressing served on the side so I could add to my liking.
Those same fresh condiments helped lift the chicken grill sandwich and bacon cheeseburger, both listed as Feature Presentations and both of which were enjoyable. The bacon was a bit scant on both – one strip cut in half – but both had visible grill marks and absorbed some of the nice char flavor from the grill. The burger was heftier than the rather thin chicken breast, but its texture was a little too mealy, making me think it was made from rather low-grade beef.
The onion rings were worth the extra $1.50 instead of the French fries, which were cold and soggy during one visit. The batter-coated rings were perfectly crisp, not oily, and the onions had a little sweetness.
The credits section of the menu provided a little sweetness in the form of the usual premade restaurant-service pies and cheesecakes. The only thing that actually was assembled on site was the brownie sundae, which had one of the worst brownies I have ever had. And finding a brownie I don’t like is hard to do.
Adding to my dismay was that I ordered coffee with dessert and was never offered a refill even though it is one of the only refillable beverages.
But even that didn’t disappoint as much as the one thing I savor at the movies did. Like I said, I have to have popcorn at the movies. But Northwood Cinema Grill’s arrived cold and a little burnt.
So, I guess it will be Buffalo wings if I return, but that is unlikely. Given its lack of vibrant food, inconvenient seating options and poor popcorn, a trip to a regular theater and a big bucket of buttery, freshly popped kernels is a better choice.
Restaurant: Northwood Cinema Grill
Address: 6069 Stellhorn Road
Hours: Ticket office open 6 to 7:15 p.m. Monday through Thursday; Friday, Saturday and Sunday vary starting as early as noon
Handicapped accessible: Yes
Alcohol: Beer and wine
Credit cards: Yes
Menu: Spinach dip ($7.25), wings ($6.75 for 6), popcorn ($3.75), chicken grill ($8.85), bacon cheeseburger ($8.75), sub ($8.25), brownie sundae ($3.95)
Rating breakdown: Food: * (3-star maximum); atmosphere: 1/2 (1 max.), service: * (1 max.)
Note: Restaurants are categorized by price range: $ (less than $20 for three-course meal), $$ ($20-$29); $$$ ($30-$39), $$$$ ($40-$49), $$$$$ ($50 and up).