D.C. will get its first location of the Alamo Drafthouse chain come May 3, when the dine-in movie theater opens in Ashburn. Eater checked in with the cinema's chef, Johnny Dooher, an Arlington native who has spent the past few months learning about Alamo's food program and brainstorming ways to make the D.C. area selections unique to Washington.
"It is crazy cool," said Dooher of the concept, which has plans to expand throughout the region. "I had never seen one, so I didn't know what to expect, and I went down to training in Austin and was just blown away by the operation."
The Alamo makes an effort to provide a selection of dining options for moviegoers, while making sure the waiters don't interfere with the flow of the movie. Servers are on a lower level than the stadium seating so that they don't block the screen, and there's an emphasis on properly timing the orders so that the movement isn't a distraction. Moviegoers are encouraged to arrive early and peruse the menu, and no one is seated 10 minutes or later after the film begins (and make sure not to text).
"We do 90 percent of our items from scratch," said Dooher. Other items are outsourced from local purveyors. Gifford's, for example, will provide the ice cream at the first Drafthouse, while Chesapeake Bay Roasting is handling the coffee. The movie house makes its own pizza dough and sauce, and cooks every item to order (there's a twenty minute or less turn-around after ordering).
The chain makes some Tex-Mex food, due to its Texas home base. Dooher is a fan of the green chili queso. The movie theater also constructs theme "feasts" with beverage and food theme pairings, around particular films. A recent Hobbit-feast had 11 different courses, he said. Those are specially priced and require a specific ticket.
So what to order? Dooher recommends first timers try one of the house-made cookies, in flavors like double fudge brownie, or one of the pizzas (he says the mushroom and caramelized onion one is a standout). A goat cheese prosciutto burger is a popular choice, and the Alamo gets praise for condiments like queso and charred tomato salsa. There are also milkshakes in flavors like ancho chocolate cake, and plenty of craft beers.
The Alamo will open with a menu similar to other locations, and after that Dooher will get the chance to introduce some more regional fare. "That's where I get to have fun," he said. He's still developing ideas, though a crabcake is likely to show up on the menu. The chef spent time in catering, hotels and "mom and pop" restaurants before ending up in this job. There's potential for growth for the chef — Alamo is hoping to open up to five locations in the D.C. area, he said.
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Alamo Drafthouse, Under Construction [Photo: Facebook]