When I go to the movies, I bring just enough cash to cover the price of my ticket, with maybe a couple of extra bucks for the corner market where I'll buy soda and Gummi Bears to sneak in. Because honestly . . . who wants to pay $6 for popcorn that has been fermenting in a giant glass container all day, or $3.25 for a fountain drink that should cost about 10 cents? But on the other hand, it's no fun sneaking food into the theater, either. First, you earn stares during the noisy wrestling match that inevitably occurs with the material encasing your food. And later, when the room mysteriously starts smelling like a Dick's burger, a chicken sandwich, or that piroshki from the little place downtown . . . you know where all eyes will be looking: right at your grubby little hands. Which is why Central Cinema, a theater-plus-restaurant, sounded like the perfect place for me. The prospect of consuming meals openly while watching a movie sent my friends and me sprinting to the CD on a Saturday night. Lucky we sprinted, because even though we reached the cinema about 25 minutes before the film was supposed to begin, the theater was quickly approaching maximum occupancy. The lobby (home to a waiting area and small bistro) was also crowded with people milling around, chatting, and checking out the DVDs for sale. Since we were going to see the premiere of the documentary Granito de Arena by Jill Freidberg (producer of This is What Democracy Looks Like), about Mexican teachers struggling for quality education, the atmosphere was lively with people fervently talking world politics and policies. Moving into the theater, we slid into one of the dineresque booths lining the front area. A row of booths in the middle aisle seat four across, the booths on the side aisles about two, and rows of regular theater chairs fill up the rear of the room. Settled into the surprisingly comfortable booth, we snatched up the menu and ordered beers from the slightly frazzled-looking waitress. Being one of the only servers on the floor, she was obviously desperate to get orders in before the lights went down. (You can order through the first hour of the movie, but what server wants to carry heavy trays of food around in the dark?) I wasn't particularly happy about spending $4 on a Miller High Life and then proceeded to really kick myself when I noticed that all pints of beer, regardless of brand, were $4, including Bridgeport IPA and even Mac & Jack's African Amber. Various wines and caffeinated beverages were also available on Central's menu, but in my book, beer goes best with movies. My friends and I finally settled on sharing the salmon burger with spring greens and chipotle mayonnaise ($7.50), the chicken panini with green olive tapenade ($7.50), and two pizzas, the quattro formaggi ($6.50) and the sauceless sienna ($7.50). People around us were also discussing what to order, which is when I noticed the crowd's resemblance to an Evergreen State College alumni party. It may have been the subject of the film or maybe the progressive concept of an independent movie house "experience," but the patronage was mostly a mid-30s crowd with hippie tendencies (a few even brought their kids to feast on popcorn sprinkled with brewer's yeast, $3). Our food came about five minutes before the movie, and not wanting to be the gluttons who scarf down everything before the lights even dim, we tried to distract ourselves from the dishes. When the film finally started, we dove in, passing slices of cheesy pizza down the row, and sampling bites. Unfortunately the salmon burger was a little disappointing, with a sparse amount of the promised chipotle mayonnaise and therefore slightly lacking in juiciness and flavor. But still . . . eating a salmon burger in a movie theater? In our smuggling days, we never could have gotten away with that one. The chicken panini was better, with fresh, toasted bread enfolding moist pieces of chicken and zesty olive tapenade. The pizza was the strong point of the meal, though (and the Central's main culinary focus), with the quattro formaggi boasting mozzarella, Parmesan, smoked provolone, and Asiago. The sauce was a little meager and overall not up to my greasy standard, but it's hard to beat watching an enticing documentary while munching on homemade pizza. The sienna pizza with provolone, caramelized onion, pine nuts, and fresh basil was not extraordinary, but the basil was fresh and flavorful, and both pizzas boasted a crisp and delicious crust. Upon exiting the theater that night, I realized that while the food may not be stellar, the theater itself is extraordinary, with beautiful exposed brick walls, a friendly staff, and the tangible excitement that comes with being part of something artistic and innovative. We hope the food will improve and become more adventurous as time goes on (although I'm impressed by any place serving pigs in a blanket in 2005). Someday, going to Central Cinema really might be specifically about the food, but for now it's about the entire experience of munching good food while watching fascinating films in a room of others who also wouldn't have it any other way. firstname.lastname@example.org Central Cinema, 1411 21st Ave. CENTRAL DISTRICT. Central Cinema Bistro is open 6–11 p.m. Wed.–Fri., noon–11 p.m. Sat.–Sun. Central Cinema is closed Mon. and Tues. Late showings only for those 21 and older. www.central-cinema.com.