Think of a movie and the eats that come to mind are usually popcorn and a soda.
Think again if the movie is at the new four-screen Spotlight Theatres in Hartford's emerging Front Street entertainment district.
Conveniently located within the long-awaited movie house is the new Front Street Bistro, and it's already becoming a place to enjoy good food and some city vibe, whether you are taking in a movie or not.
Located across from the Connecticut Convention Center, the city's newest restaurant is sleek, sophisticated and diverse, offering upscale food at reasonable prices and a happy-hour scene that is already causing a buzz.
"It's unique, it's exciting and it's not just an extension of the theater but rather a restaurant that is standing on its own two feet," said restaurant manager Justin Morales. "You can make dining part of going to a movie or you can come here specifically to have lunch or dinner, or meet friends for happy hour."
Huge glass windows on two sides of the restaurant offer diners and those at the bar a close view of the Front Street area and the boulevard where city traffic and the science center, convention center and insurance buildings provide a cityscape that makes you feel as though your are right in the middle of the best the city offers. Décor is beige and black, simple, clean and modern, with the restaurant and bar separated from the movie theater operation by the main foyer. There is banquette, booth and table seating.
Former Burton's chef Chantal Roy, 28, is tearing it up in the kitchen in a good way, clearly enthused about her chance to create in her own kitchen.
"Previews" include fresh bruschetta, ginger shrimp cakes and a hummus platter. On a recent afternoon the lunch menu included homemade roasted butternut squash soup and her French roast bread boule, a roast beef and mushroom-laced onion soup in a bread bowl.
There are salads, burgers and flatbread, pasta dishes and a side dish called "waffle mash-up," fluffy mashed potatoes that are anything but ordinary after being cooked in a waffle iron and that become extraordinary when topped with two buttermilk fried chicken legs.
In the "show stoppers" category, menu choices included a pretzel coated salmon and a cider pork tenderloin.
"I use maple syrup as part of the salmon recipe, which might sound odd but it is a wonderful way to add flavor to so many dishes," said Roy, who hails from Vermont.
Desserts include the seasonal waffle a la mode, recently served with fresh pumpkin ice cream, as well as fruit cobbler and a brownie sundae.
The bar menu includes the traditional assortment of $5 and $6 bar bites offered at special reduced prices during happy hour that goes from 3 to 7 p.m. daily. A few of the appetizer and small-plate items are also available at the concession and can be taken into the theater, a nice alternative to the candy and popcorn choices.
"I think this is something new and fill a void," said general manager Steve Menschell.
"I think it is something Hartford can be proud of," said Menschell, "the way people used to be proud of Hartford. Plans are to add al fresco dining in good weather and in January, a Sunday brunch.
Entrée prices range from $14 to $18, with burgers from $10 to $12 and appetizers and salads from $6 to $8. Information: 860-422-7713.
>>Cavey's, 45 E. Center St., Manchester is serving its holiday lunches beginning at 11:30 a.m. through Dec. 21. The restaurant will also be open Christmas Eve and will be featuring a special "Feast of the Severn Fishes" fixed-price menu from 5 to 8 p.m. Information: 860-643-2751 or caveysrestaurant.com
>>The Litchfield Saltwater Grille, 26 Commons Drive, Litchfield, will also serve a Feast of the Seven Fishes menu on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, beginning at 5 p.m. The fixed-price menu is $70 a person plus tax and tip. Lunch will also be served from noon to 3 p.m. Information: 860-567-49000 or litchfieldslawatergrille.org.
>>Looking for somewhere to eat on Christmas Day besides the casinos and Asian restaurants? The Mill on the River, 989 Ellington Road, South Windsor, is offering a three-course fixed-price menu on Christmas Day beginning at noon. Cost is $36.95 for adults and $18.95 for children 12 and under. Dinner will also be served on Christmas Eve. Information: 860-289-7929 or themillontheriver.net. A second Mill River Group restaurant, Abigail's, 4 Hartford Road, Simsbury, is also serving Christmas dinner but is now only taking reservations on its waiting list. Information: 860-264-1580