After visiting virtually every movie theater in Houston that serves food, several culinary themes emerge among these otherwise disparate establishments. There will inevitably be burgers and pizzas with more (or less) clever names to represent various topping combinations, popcorn and candy (sometimes gratis or bottomless), and booze by the glass and the bottle. Therefore, it’s always a lovely surprise to find some novel offerings that aren’t replicated at other theaters. For this reason, and the fact that said food is served at lightning speed, I have become a big fan of Studio Movie Grill.
It took some doing to undo my suspicions about its quality given its surface appearance. If this was high school, Alamo Drafthouse and iPic would be the popular kids in designer duds with SMG the slightly standoffish singleton in generic apparel. Take the time, however, to get to know the latter and you’ll uncover its small differences that render it just as cool and even at times superior.
First, the ordering system, which gives rise to the fastest service I have ever experienced in a theater. Unlike the Alamo Drafthouse where you write your food request on a piece of paper then stick it upright in the vague hope that an employee will see it, Studio Movie Grill utilizes a call button mechanism that alerts your waiter or waitress that you’re jonesing for another round of drinks or your second course. Further facilitating the process of securing refills and more food is the attendant-to-ticket-holder ratio, which, I swear to gawd, seemed to be 1:2 on the night I visited.
Second, while Studio Movie Grill definitely vends its share of mundane pizzas, sandwiches and appetizers, it's also branched out to include more exciting stuff like ceviche lettuce wraps stuffed with jumbo shrimp, mahi-mahi and jicama slaw or the sweet tender, coconut crusted chicken fingers. Heck, even the ostensibly plain steamed edamame with a pinch of sea salt was a welcome change from over-buttered popcorn.
I usually slide right on by the slider portion of any menu as I find this sandwich format too often suffers from an uneven bread/bun to filling ratio; however, I am glad I tried SMG’s fried chicken sliders, ample battered breasts smothered in jalapeño gravy and cheese on toasted buttery buns that barely could contain their contents.
Skip SMG’s warm chocolate chip cookies (though they are quite good and appropriately gooey) in favor of the Nutella beignets, a nutty cocoa twist on the traditional New Orleans baked good. Just like at Café du Monde, these beignets are treated to an avalanche of powdered sugar, so be prepared to emerge from the movie looking like Marion Barry following a particularly sloppy hotel party. The salient difference between you and DC’s former mayor is that your high at the end of this night is perfectly legal, though perhaps just as addictive, prompting you to plan a return visit to Studio Movie Grill ASAP.