Movies and popcorn have been inextricably linked since the late 1920s, when theater owners realized the simple snack was a cash cow. Until recently, the main gustatory dilemma moviegoers faced was whether to enjoy it with or without butter. As culinary options have become more sophisticated across all areas of entertainment (Parm sandwiches at Yankee Stadium, Vanderbilt’s handmade artisanal sausages at the Barclays Center), mindless munching in front of the big screen is becoming increasingly obsolete.
The arrival of Syndicated (40 Bogart St., Brooklyn; 718-386-3399) in Bushwick promises to be yet another nail in the proverbial coffin for fans of jumbo buttered tubs. The cinema/gastropub offers no less than eight flavor options for popcorn, including pink peppercorn, porcini, and gun powder (a spice mix containing chile de árbol peppers, asafoetida powder, and toasted rice, among other ingredients). Housed in an unassuming warehouse across the street from Roberta’s, the restaurant–movie theater hybrid takes the concept popularized in Brooklyn by Nitehawk Cinema to the next level, with separate theater and dining room menus.
“The idea was to make great food but still make it accessible in a dark theater,” executive chef Bret Macris explains. “Eventually, we settled on two menus. The one for the theater is a bit smaller and consists mainly of things you can eat with your hands. Eating steak frites in the dark and trying to use a knife while paying attention to a movie really sucks.”
Macris, who previously ran the kitchen at Rose Water in Park Slope, confesses that creating snacks for a theater menu can be just as challenging as the signature dishes on the main menu, such as hurricane popcorn tuna with horseradish beets and maitake mushrooms, and slow-cooked lamb ribs with a harissa glaze. Other offerings include duck confit nachos, a lobster quesadilla, and bacon-butter meatballs.
“I’ve never worked so hard for tater tots in my life,” Macris says.These particular tots come loaded with pulled pork, cheddar cheese, sour cream, and pickled jalapeños — a particularly hearty pairing with the drama Spotlight. Several other Oscar-nominated films (most are $3, double features $5) will also be screened the week prior to the awards ceremony, which will be televised in the cavernous main space.
Designed by Home Studios, with a blend of art deco and mid-century elements, both spaces aim to evoke the grand experience of old film palaces. Twin marquees welcome guests in the vestibule, and the molding on the walls seems to be ripped from the Cineplex Odeon of your childhood. Managing partner Tim Chung, who once clocked hours as a film location scout, grew up in Bergen County as the only child of parents who didn’t cook. “I spent a lot of time by myself getting lost in the magic of movies,” he notes. The theater’s fifty seats have leather headrests and are arranged in six rows set at a thirty-degree pitch to minimize interruptions from service — a huge plus, considering your neighbors will probably take advantage of the free popcorn refills.
Another draw is the drinks. Theater selections include a beer float with Keegan Mother’s Milk Stout, and a seasonal cocktail list containing items like the Shining-inspired “Redrum,” made with a potent blend of rum (Blackwell and Brugal Anejo), Aperol, and bitters (Angostura and Peychaud’s).
For Valentine’s Day, you can order a “My Bloody Valentine,” with jalapeño-infused tequila, to pair with a screening of the campy 1981 horror film of the same name. Bar manager Kenneth Vanhooser’s other film-inspired cocktails are served exclusively in the main dining/bar space. “Up in Smoke” takes its name from the Cheech and Chong stoner classic and features Lunazul Reposado, mescal, and egg white, while “Airplane III” pays homage to the Leslie Nielsen classic with a blend of pisco, Laphroaig 10, crème de violet, and falernum, a sweet syrup typically found in Caribbean cocktails. Vanhooser’s favorite, “It’s Good for You,” served martini style, has a base of green juice with an ever-changing list of ingredients: “Green apple, cucumber, kale, spinach, basil, peas of all varieties, nasturtium, mesclun, and the lists goes on. If it’s green get it in there,” he enthuses.
Housemade rum-raisin doughnuts and apple bread pudding with bourbon maple glaze are reasons to save room for dessert. And it makes sense to arrive early for happy hour pairings, served from 4 to 7 p.m. during the week. The half-dozen offerings include the Elvis-inspired, “The King and Rye” (peanut butter and banana sandwich with a shot of rye for $11) and a Richard Linklater nod, “Dazed and Confused,” which matches a pint of Flower Power IPA with what Macris dubs “mojo skewers” (chicken, lamb, and steak). The chef likens creating dishes to making movies. “You create this thing, you work with a team to perfect it, and then put it out there for the public to decide if it’s any good.”