“Is it playing at Nitehawk?” is always the first question we ask in my house when we’re thinking about going to see a movie. For good reason: At Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg, you can combine dinner and a movie (or brunch, or lunch)—and the food delivers. From queso with tater tots to seasonal popcorns to tasty cocktails and more, they’ve upped the ante for what you expect out of a night at the cinema.
The person currently responsible? Chef Kurt Applegate, whose fall menu includes buffalo cauliflower, fried cheese curds and cinnamon bread pudding. He’s been cooking professionally since he was 14 years old, and has bounced between New York and his home state of South Carolina—cooking at places such as the Crosby Street Hotel and Soho Grand Hotel (as well as playing in a metal band called Beast Modulus). Applegate came on at Nitehawk in January of 2015, taking the executive chef role in April. He seems to have found his niche, excitedly describing the way he’ll come up with a menu for the theater’s Film Feasts series where moviegoers are brought dishes that reflect exactly what they’re seeing on screen. (The next one on the docket is Scrooged.)
“The first focus is to make a unique experience for moviegoers,” Applegate says. “This is not your typical movie fare, like nachos. We do have popcorn, but it’s not just, you know, coming from a pump—we actually use real butter.” Everything also has to move quickly, as they do up to 100 covers per movie seating between the three theaters (you can also eat at the downstairs bar Lo-Res, sans entertainment).
There’s a special focus in the kitchen on small plates—things that are as shareable as a bucket of popcorn, but a bit more sophisticated. A lot of research goes into each dish to make sure they both pass muster flavor-wise and aren’t too sloppy for eating in the dark, especially that new buffalo cauliflower. He soaks the cauliflower florets in buffalo sauce first, then dips them in the tempura batter for frying. “They have that Buffalo flavor but without being soggy,” he explains. “I tried many different approaches to it, and every time you toss the tempura florets in the sauce, it immediately got soggy.” The shaved carrot and celery are also doused in the sauce, for a nice dose of additional spice.
That attention to detail will hopefully pay off when the menu gets a whole new audience: A second location of Nitehawk Cinema will be opening in Park Slope’s old Pavilion Theatre in 2017. Regardless of the demographic or the seasonal menu updates, Applegate knows one thing won’t change: “Everybody still just loves the tater tots. You wouldn’t believe how many tater tots we sell.”