Movies aren't exactly dying. Despite all the sturm und drang of predictions that Netflix and streaming videos would kill the cinema, global box office receipts hit $38.6 billion in 2016, a 1 percent gain over the previous year. But that doesn't mean going to the cinema is precisely what it was a generation ago.
Eighteen- to 24-year-olds go the most these days, and the next-highest patronage is among 12- to 17-year-olds. Which brings me to this: Why have high-end, super-swanky restaurants-cum-theaters proliferated in recent years? I've written about Studio Movie Grill, CinéBistro and a raft of others alongside Times movie critic Steve Persall. These are places where ticket prices are $12 and $15, things ratchetting up quickly when you add in a couple beverages and a grilled salmon bowl.
I know 15-year-olds, and they aren't dropping $40 at the movies.
In March, an ambitious new "eatertainment complex" opened in Riverview. I can't speak to the Riverview 14 GDX's 80,000-square-foot, 14-screen state-of-the-art multiplex (plush recliners and 70-foot-wide screens with something called Dolby Atmos and 4K projection). But I can talk about the 5,900-square-foot Features Gastropub that is attached.
For the project, they tapped Philadelphia chef Brian Duffy, who has appeared on NBC's Today show and the Spike TV show Bar Rescue.
Duffy (who has a tattoo that says "the art of the preparation creates the experience," also a meat fork on his right bicep with a sugar skull) has spent a big part of his career consulting on new concepts, for a while a series of restaurants that showcased "new Celtic cuisine." I spoke with him months ago by phone, and he talked about how Features would have stuffed burgers, craft beer dinners, and cheese and charcuterie boards.
Huh. I've eaten my way through a bunch of the menu and I'm not seeing it. There's nothing gastropubby about the concept — it's straight-up American food that will be familiar to anyone. There are buffalo wings ($10), retro artichoke and crab dip ($8), perfectly pleasant burgers ($9 to $13, but nothing "stuffed") and a quartet of grilled flatbreads ($8 to $10) that would feel right at home at any of the big national chains. Certainly it's convenient to the theater, and definitely the Gibsonton/Riverview area isn't awash in ambitious restaurants, but it's perplexing that the folks behind the GDX would import a chef with an impressive resume and this would be the result.
Only a couple of the dishes are seriously flawed — that artichoke and crab dip has a mantle of cheese on top that, once cooled, created a hard barrier to entry (you have to peel it back like a cap to get to the goo underneath), and the cookies on the cookie sundae ($5) are so thick and inelegant you wield your spoon like a hoe — but much is forgettable.
A spin on a Caesar salad ($8) has so little flavor it makes you pine for a traditional Caesar dressing with its anchovy and garlic punch. This version seems hardly dressed at all, the chopped outer leaves of romaine accompanied by a charred lemon half and a few salt-roasted tomato wedges (these are nice, and you'll see them again as an accompaniment with the burgers and again on the "Florida caprese"). Duffy does seem to be adept at using items in a variety of contexts: The seasoned and grilled flatbreads perform a variety of functions as crostini on salads and scoopers for the dips.
The flatbreads themselves are unlikely to charm. The grilled veggie version ($8) read like a grill-marked pizza dough that, once cooked, is strewn with sauteed onions, zucchini, peppers and mushrooms (but not wild mushrooms as the menu touted), with little clods of goat cheese and a whiff of truffle oil adding a bit of interest. It's fine, and fairly wholesome, but in no way memorable. Same goes for the Florida fish tacos ($9), a slightly sweet blackening spice dominating the fish's flavor, with a bit of chipotle cream and corn salsa lending textural interest. But what makes them "Florida"? Is the mahi from the gulf? The menu makes no local sourcing claims.
Many cocktails are served in huge highball glasses packed with ice and juice, the booze lost in a sea. The beer list skews toward the familiar (Bud, PBR, Corona and a few big-production craft like Cigar City), and the service staff is by-and-large nice young folks for whom it seems like this may be a first waiting job.
In short, Features is a boon if you're patronizing GDX and feeling a little peckish. But it doesn't have enough "features" to draw on its own.
Contact Laura Reiley at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley. She dines anonymously and unannounced; the Times pays all expenses.