[Hey, this is Adam The Amateur Gourmet. I’m on vacation in Barcelona, Spain and while I’m gone I’ve asked some awesome people to fill in for me. Today is talented female filmmaker day, with our first post from the incredibly accomplished, incredibly gifted writer/director Kim Spurlock. This post is an amazing guide to New York’s best movie theater butterflies and mushrooms. I’ll let Kim explain. Take it away, Kim!]
It occurs to me that the title of this entry might lead you to believe that I will be frying up some funky fungi. Nothing doing. For one thing, psilocybin is illegal. Besides, no amount of butter or salt or good intentions is going to make those magic mushrooms melt in your mouth. Or at least that’s what I hear. Luckily, the same can’t be said for popcorn!
Popcorn and movies. Movies and popcorn. In my mind these pleasures have always been inseparable, like Harold and Maude or Fanny and Alexander or Turner and Hooch.
I grew up in a family of popcorn munching, soda sipping, movie maniacs. In fact we loved movies so much that when I grew up, I devoted my life to making them. So when Adam asked me to write a guest entry for Amateur Gourmet, I asked myself what might be the kindest distraction from movie making, and the answer was crystal clear: movie popcorn!
I began my popcorn assignment with a little due diligence: I consulted Wikipedia. Did you know that the first real popcorn machine was patented over a hundred years ago? And that it used a combination of clarified butter and (my arteries perspire as I write this) lard?
Popped kernels of corn are known as a “flakes” and they come in two basic shapes: mushrooms and butterflies. “Butterfly” flakes, which are irregularly shaped and have a number of protruding “wings,” are considered to have better mouthfeel due to their greater tenderness and less noticeable hulls. “Mushroom” flakes are ball-shaped, with fewer wings. They are less fragile than butterfly flakes and are therefore often used for packaged popcorn. Unpopped kernels are called “Old Maids.”
Armed with my new popcorn jargon and my gregarious friend Ted, I was ready to hit the streets. But how to narrow down the venues? I decided to limit my comparison to three Houston Street theaters that comprise what I like to call Art House Row: Film Forum, Angelika and Landmark Sunshine. I chose these theaters not only because of the contrasts amongst their popcorn products, but also because of the awe-inspiring array of snack choices they offer should you not fancy popcorn.
We began with the Film Forum. I must admit I felt trepidation as I approached Dylan, the man behind the concessions counter.
But after a few uncomfortable minutes of explaining to him what we were up to, we were in like Flynn. Dylan enthusiastically explained to us that the Film Forum uses peanut oil in their popper and nothing else. Plain, unadulterated popcorn with a preponderance of butterfly flakes. No butter in sight. Perhaps a bit naked for my taste, but luckily Film Forum keeps a cylinder of sea salt on the counter.
Dylan also described to us the hazards of his profession: boiling oil splattering, scorching kernels flying and angry patrons huffing and puffing. He told us about a customer who bought tickets for a show but left in a tizzy upon discovering they were out of popcorn. Apparently there’s a significant number of moviegoers out there whose tastes in cinema are dictated by their popcorn palette.
Suddenly, with a knowing smile, Dylan drew us in close as he reached under the counter and procured a small plastic bin and a set of tongs. We were very intrigued.
Dylan revealed to us that for Film Forum employees and a few discerning customers there is a secret stash of freshly cut lemon and lime wedges, that when squeezed over your flakes gives them a certain Spanish flavor. I have not had popcorn in Spain but I will take Dylan’s word for it. The first bite was a bit strange, but after several more I began to enjoy the refreshing combination of flavors in my mouth and the citrus aroma lifted my spirits. Ted wasn’t as appreciative so I got him a bag of plain popcorn. This made him very happy.
Unlike the Film forum, the Angelika requires you to get past Madame ticket taker to go downstairs to the popcorn counter. The beleaguered woman, probably thinking I would try to sneak into a movie, was hesitant to let me down into the belly of the beast. I left Ted with her as collateral and proceeded on my own. I knew I only had a few minutes to get the information, so I kept it simple. I learned that the Angelika uses Canola oil and salt. Butter is available in a DIY pump adjacent to the DIY soda machines. I managed to make it back upstairs before the gatekeeper raised a fuss. Ted and I agreed that the popcorn was a bit salty for our tastes.
FYI: The downstairs popcorn counter has the traditional choices of candies and snacks, so if you want to partake of their vast selection of sweet and savory delights, you will need to do it at the upstairs concessions counter before you head down.
Ted and I headed over to Landmark Sunshine where we were greeted by a trio of smiling young people ready to discuss their popping methods but unwilling to have their photo taken. I settled for a photo of their popcorn.
Sunshine popcorn is cooked in partially hydrogenated soybean oil that they claim has no trans fat, no cholesterol and is kosher. They also use a special salt called Flavacol, which gives the flakes a yellower color than those at Film Forum and Angelika. I love this popcorn. Kind of like Proust’s madeleine, this popcorn takes me way, way back. I love the assortment of seasonings that are available for free.
White cheddar is my personal favorite. I have seen these at both Clearview and Regal Cinemas selling in tiny bottles for exorbitant prices.
Just as the trio was explaining to us that Anthology movie goers often drop in to Sunshine to buy treats before their show, Chris Burke rushed up to the counter to buy popcorn. You may remember him as the actor who played Corky on Life Goes On. He was in such a rush to get to his movie that I didn’t ask him for a photo, or mention that I had tried to cast him in my latest short film, “Down in Number 5.”
So to sum it all up, if you are someone who, as Dylan at the Film Forum described, picks your movie based on your popcorn, then here is what I can tell you. If you are looking for hip, naked popcorn that tastes like Spain, then head to Film Forum for some clandestine, under-the-counter lime. If you prefer old school, finger-lickin’, cheese wearin’ kernels that necessitate at least a half dozen tiny, movie theater napkins then head to Landmark Sunshine. If you are feeling like something in between, then go to the Angelika for some popping corn adorned with salt, and optional do-it-yourself butter topping. With any of these choices you will get an amazing concession stand chock full of baked goods and healthy alternatives, and your flakes will have a pleasing mouthfeel as well as a balance of butterflies and mushrooms that offer the right combination of tender starch and crispy hull. Just be careful not to break your teeth on the old maids!