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Future of Alamo Drafthouse menu: Q & A with chefs as they respond to criticism

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 Brussels Sprouts, Smoked Bacon & Goat Cheese pizza Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter
Brussels Sprouts, Smoked Bacon & Goat Cheese is just one of the potential pizza options on the new Alamo Drafthouse menu. Courtesy of Alamo Drafthouse/drathouse.com
Austin Photo Set: News_Mike_Alamo Drafthouse_Slaughter Lane_feb 2012_box office
Photo by Jessica Pages
 Brussels Sprouts, Smoked Bacon & Goat Cheese pizza Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter
Austin Photo Set: News_Mike_Alamo Drafthouse_Slaughter Lane_feb 2012_box office

Unlike its competitors constructing massive stadium theaters and raising movie ticket prices year after year, the Alamo Drafthouse has built its reputation on delivering a quality viewing experience. But one area of the Alamo Drafthouse model that has always garnered criticism and critique, however, is the food. Despite having an extensive beer selection, Alamo has always struggled to piece together a well-executed food menu.

In an effort to develop something better, the Alamo Drafthouse Slaughter Lane location is soliciting customer feedback about their new menu items directly through the Alamo Drafthouse blog. The reaction has been swift and the blog has racked up more 400 comments in just three days.

Jason Donoho, Alamo Drafthouse's national research and development chef, and Trish Eichelberger, Alamo Drafthouse's Austin market chef spoke with CultureMap about what they plan to do with readers' critiques and the future of the Alamo Drafthouse menu.

CultureMap: What inspired you to reach out to Alamo customers for feedback on the menu?

Donoho: We've always tried to keep our guests in the loop on changes we are making, not just with food, but everything that might impact their experience. We have been testing several items at our Slaughter Lane test kitchen over the last couple of months. Before we put those items onto menus everywhere, we really need to hear from our guests to find out what they like and what they don't like.

 The ultimate experience [we] strive for is having a food item hit the table at the exact moment it is mentioned in a movie. That can be a magic moment.

CM: What do you plan to do with the suggestions?

Donoho: We are looking at every single comment along with all the feedback we have been getting since the menu first changed. The plan is to incorporate those ideas and suggestions into the next menu change that will happen in the fall. Some items will be subtracted, some will be added or returned, some will be tweaked.

CM: Are these changes specifically for the Slaughter Lane location, or will you use it to revamp your other Drafthouse menus as well?

Donoho: This change will go out to all Alamo Drafthouse theaters. We currently test all new items and ideas at Slaughter Lane, gather feedback, make some tweaks and then roll the menu out to all our locations. When this next change is done, we will start on the next one.

CM: How do you go about creating movie-appropriate food?

Donoho: We let food sit to make sure it holds up, and then we eat it in the dark theater. It has to be well put together and easy to get to your mouth in the dark. That's one of the many fun parts of my job: I get to play with food and have fun with it. 

CM: How often are you hoping to revamp and redo the menu?

Donoho: We will add and change things on the main menus a few times a year.  We are always trying to improve. In addition to the overall menu changes, we will also regularly swap out movie-specific specials and local items that are unique to each market. The first page of all Alamo Drafthouse menus across the country features local- and regional-driven menu items.

CM: What is the creative process that goes into creating menu-movie pairings? 

Eichelberger: First and foremost, any obvious tie-ins must be addressed. For example, Fried Green Tomatoes deserves just that. When a movie is lacking an obvious culinary theme, the setting and time period of the movie are next to be addressed. If something can't be drawn from that, I usually start researching the actors or the characters they play. Sometimes a play on words can be the answer to matching a menu to a movie. The ultimate experience you strive for is having a food item hit the table at the exact moment it is mentioned in a movie. That can be a magic moment if it is executed perfectly.

CM: Where does Alamo recruit its chefs from? 

Donoho: Some chefs have risen through the ranks at the Alamo, some have come over from other restaurants and others we have recruited from the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. I cannot say enough how incredibly talented and hard working our team is. I am lucky I get to work with them every day.  

CM: How has the Alamo menu evolved through the years? Where do you see it going in the years to come?

Donoho: I love the fact that you can come and get a good burger and a beer. Then come back on date night and get a cheese plate and a nice bottle of wine. Or come for a triple feature of the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy and have pub food and English beers. I want to continue to push the boundaries of what can be served in a movie theater while offering plenty of classic menu items as well. 

CM: What do you believe are Alamo's best menu items, and where do you see the potential for growth? 

Donoho: I really love our pizzas. The pizzas, like most everything on our menu, are made from scratch. I am really proud of our Hatch Green Chile Queso Blanco. I cannot walk by without a having a taste. I am currently working on adding to and refining the salad, appetizer and dessert categories as well. Those are going to be great areas to really grow and develop. Look for delicious things to come!

How do you feel about Alamo Drafthouse's food? Share your thoughts and commentary on the Alamo Drafthouse blog

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