Making dinner and a movie easy

It’s Oscars season. If you’re like me, that means you’ll have to play catch-up to make it through this year’s major contenders before the awards show this weekend. And, if you have children, working a movie into date night can be a spectacular challenge.

We’re faced with the age-old conundrum of how to accomplish dinner and a movie and still make it home before the babysitter’s bedtime. Today, dine-in theaters offer a solution to our timing troubles by offering complete dinner menus and full bars to accompany first-run features.

Let’s be honest, though. None of it is 3-star restaurant quality food. Yet you can make it work if you’re careful in your choice of location and meal. Whether you’re looking for upscale, date night-worthy fare, a place to snarf dessert with the girls when the lights go down, or a glowing blue cocktail creation to get you through the “Frozen Sing-Along,” there’s a spot for you.

CinéBistro

This is the Ritz-Carlton of Atlanta’s dine-in theaters. It’s by far the most polished and most adult. In fact, it has the stiffest age restrictions. Those under 21 are only permitted entry when accompanied by someone over that age, and only before 6 p.m.

CinéBistro boasts a from-scratch kitchen with all items prepared in-house. Here, you’ll find options beyond pizza and nachos, and the experience will most closely replicate the restaurant evening you sacrificed for the flick.

The full bar serves a variety of flavored martinis, mojitos and signature cocktails. You’ll also find a larger wine selection here than at other area theaters. You can splurge on a bottle of Silver Oak cab ($122) or sample a glass of the Chateau Bonnet Blanc ($10/6 ounces).

For dinner, try the sweet apple-glazed pork belly skewers with plantains ($9.50) to start and then follow with the simple but fresh-tasting sesame-encrusted seared tuna ($16). You may be tempted to order the coconut tres leches cake ($8.50) for dessert, but you won’t have room on the swivel tray accompanying your cushy seat.

All dinner service here ceases at showtime to minimize disruptions during the film. Multiple courses are made difficult by space limitations since all courses are delivered at once. For additional beverages or courses, you’ll have to leave the theater and make your way to the lobby to order and wait for the extras.

Pros: best fare and beverage program, reserved seating, comfortable seating, well-appointed space.

Cons: no service during the film, table trays too small to accommodate multiple courses.

1004 Town Blvd., Atlanta. 404-333-0740, www.cobbcinebistro.com

Movie Tavern

Movie Tavern has three locations in the metro area and two of those (Roswell and Suwanee) offer in-theater dining. The Northlake location has counter service in the lobby and food can be taken into the show.

Both you and the kids can get a decent meal here. Little moviegoers have their pick of kid standards, including mac and cheese, pizza, burgers and mini corn dogs ($5.99). Adults can go the same route with thin-crust pizzas ($9.39-$11.59), buffalo wings ($9.39) and spicy fried pickles ($7.29).

But what I like about Movie Tavern is that you can lighten it up with entrees like cranberry chicken pecan pita ($9.69) or the island skewers ($11.59) with Jamaican-spiced chicken, beef and shrimp kebabs over rice.

Margaritas and martinis dominate the beverage menu along with wines from Barefoot, Kendall-Jackson, Robert Mondavi and Beringer.

The dessert selection here is rather large and might make a good place to bring the gang to pass around plates of red velvet cake ($6.59), brownie bottom pie ($5.59) and gooey marshmallow-stuffed chocolate chip cookies ($3.79).

Pros: reserved seating available, lighter menu options mixed in with heavier fare, friendly and unobtrusive service during the show.

Cons: extra charge to be seated in the “X-treme” theaters with reclining chairs and a larger screen.

4651 Woodstock Road, Roswell. 770-407-6653, www.movietavern.com

2855 Lawrenceville Suwanee Road, Suwanee. 678-730-6900, www.movietavern.com

4043 LaVista Road, Tucker. 678-680-5782. www.movietavern.com

Studio Movie Grill

This is the most kid-friendly dine-in theater, with special showings and events for families. In addition to standard American grill fare, the children’s menu offers grilled chicken tenders and fruit-for-fries substitutions.

Parents can go with traditional pub grub like the BBQ chicken pizza ($11.50) and bacon-cheese fries ($8.95) or choose items like tenderloin Cobb salad ($12.95) or mahi-mahi ceviche lettuce wraps ($10.25) with jicama slaw and mango salsa. I applaud the creativity here, even if the flavors don’t always deliver as promised.

Parents will appreciate both the classic cocktails like the Buffalo Trace Manhattan ($10) and the playful ones like the salted caramel martini ($9). I’d be up for trying one of the adult milkshakes like the orange dreamsicle ($8) with whipped cream vodka and orange liqueur.

Pros: reserved seating available, some interesting menu items, kid-friendly.

Cons: Seating could be more comfy.

2880 Holcomb Bridge Road, Alpharetta. 770-992-8411, www.studiomoviegrill.com

3850 Venture Drive, Duluth. 770-299-7100, www.studiomoviegrill.com

AMC Fork & Screen Buckhead

This is the movie dining experience you most likely expect, with fried foods and breads dominating the menu. It’s where you go to get loaded potato skins ($8.49), mozzarella sticks ($8.99), chicken quesadillas ($10.49) and pizza. You also can order larger entrees like bistro chicken mac and cheese ($11.99) and tenderloin tips ($15.99). At least the dessert menu offers a few surprises, with toasted s’mores pizzetta ($6.49) and a maple-waffle sundae ($7.49) mixed in with the usual suspects.

This is also the place to get that blue Electric Lemonade ($8.99) or a desserty Oreo mudslide ($8.99). It’s that, or a glass of Woodbridge white zinfandel ($6.49). You can endure most any film with an adult beverage in hand.

Pros: free three-hour garage parking for theater guests

Cons: best bet food-wise is the popcorn, uncomfortable high-back chairs, no reserved seating, movie times are only published a couple of days out.

3340 Peachtree Road N.E., Atlanta. 404-467-9619, www.amctheatres.com

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