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Thursday, May 27, 2010 09:41 am

Dinner and a movie under the stars


Drive-ins are making a comeback as a cinematic tailgate experience.

It was one of my special childhood summertime treats: The Route 66 Drive In on South Sixth Street. Truthfully, most of my remembrances are less about the movies than the playground. Its main attraction was a miniature Ferris wheel; the rest was common playground equipment. What made it extra-special was that everything had been painted Pepto-Bismol pink and black. I thought that color combination was the coolest ever – it was exotic.

We always arrived early so I could partake of the playground’s delights. As dusk deepened into darkness, Mom, Dad and I settled into the car, the pendulous speaker hanging from Dad’s window. Sometimes we’d visit the concession stand, but most often Mom brought treats from home. We’d munch away during the trailers and cartoons. When total darkness finally descended, I changed into pajamas and snuggled down in the back seat with a pillow and blanket. Come to think of it, the reason I remember so little about the actual movies is that I probably slept through most of them.

The first drive-in opened in New Jersey in 1933. By the late 1950s and 60s, when drive-ins numbered almost 5,000, they were at the height of their popularity. During the 70s they began a gradual decline; these days there are less than 500. Skyrocketing land prices, and the emergence of videos and DVDs for private viewing, are two of the reasons most cited.

But in the last decade, drive-ins have been making a comeback. Some old drive-ins have reopened, others have expanded and new ones are popping up. While no one – either enthusiasts or those operating drive-ins – expects they’ll ever be as popular as they were in their heyday, drive-ins seem to have found a niche market and are holding their own.

One reason for drive-ins’ resurgence is how patrons see and hear the movie. These days a low-frequency radio signal does the job. Few people now stay inside their cars. Instead they open windows and turn up the sound system or use portable radios. Lawn chairs and coolers appear; it’s a cinematic tailgate experience.

The Route 66 Drive In of my childhood had been closed for almost 20 years when it was revived by the Knight family as part of their Knight’s Action Park complex. These days the Route 66 Drive In is open on weekends only from April 1 to Memorial Day weekend, when movies begin showing nightly. After Labor Day, they go back to weekends-only through the end of October. The movies are “second run,” meaning they’re shown a couple weeks after their initial opening. Attendance varies depending on what’s being shown and the weather, according to George Knight. But business is good enough that he sees the Route 66 Drive In continuing into the foreseeable future.

“We’ve got something for everybody,” Knight says. “There’s even a good-sized group that regularly comes in two big trucks. They unload a sofa, tables and lamps. It’s quite a deal.”

Another option for dinner and a movie under the stars is Springfield Park District’s Movies in the Park. At dusk on one Friday each warm-weather month, family films are shown at a different Springfield parks. This year’s dates and shows are: 6/18, Comer Cox Park, Where the Wild Things Are; 7/9, Dreamland Park, Planet 51; 8/6, Centennial Park, Monster vs. Aliens; 9/10, Rotary Park, Willie Wonka. Admission is free and the park district recommends bringing lawn chairs or blankets.

Of course, going to the drive-in or Movies in the Park doesn’t have to include any food, or can consist just of pre-purchased or concession stand snacks. But bringing delicious finger foods, sandwiches or other goodies to enjoy with friends, family or on a date elevates a fun evening into a special occasion. It can be as simple as good bread and cheeses and seasonal fruit, perhaps strawberries to dip into honey-sweetened yoghurt; or something as elegant and easy as this recipe for pressed focaccia sandwiches and my marinated shrimp and melon skewers. That recipe can be found at illinoistimes.com.

 Dinner and a movie under the stars: It’s a magical, memorable summertime experience.

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.

Drive-ins are making a comeback as a cinematic tailgate experience.

RealCuisine Recipe
Pressed foccacia sandwich

I made this sandwich in many variations when catering lunches. It’s a family favorite for picnics, tailgating – movie or otherwise – or roadtrip meals.

  • 1 8-10-inch plain or herbed round foccacia
  • About 1lb. meat such as thinly sliced steak, roasted or grilled chicken, ham, salami, mortadella, roast beef, etc. Or use grilled tofu or portabellas.
  • 12 thin slices of cheese, approximately 8 oz. – provolone, cheddar, pepper-jack, Swiss, or other cheese.
  • 2 roasted red bell peppers, peeled, seeded, and left in large pieces
  • 2 large handfuls of salad arugula OR mixed baby lettuces
  • Approximately ½ c. Italian salad dressing, or other vinaigrette

Slice the foccacia horizontally in half with a long bread knife. Separate the halves and pull out as much of the interior as possible while still leaving an intact shell.

Shake the dressing to combine; then brush the inside of each half with the sauce. The bread should be covered, but don’t use so much that the bread gets soggy.

Cover each focaccia half completely with half the cheese.

Cover the inside top focaccia half with the peppers, then top them evenly with the chicken, steak, salami, portabellas, roast beef, ham, etc.

Mound the arugula or lettuce evenly over the meat or mushrooms/tofu. Lightly press the cheese into the bottom bread half to keep it in place and then invert it over the greens. Cover the sandwich with plastic wrap and place a heavy weight over it (an iron skillet is ideal). Let stand for at least ½ hour and up to 1 hour at room temperature.

Cut into six wedges and serve. Can be made several hours before, refrigerated. It even keeps well overnight, although the greens will be somewhat wilted. This can also be made with rolls or sub buns for individual sandwiches.


Drive-ins are making a comeback as a cinematic tailgate experience.

RealCuisine Recipe
Marinated shrimp and melon skewers

Make this recipe when fragrant local melons are in season for an especially delectable treat. Bamboo skewers are infinitely versatile: good for grilling, but equally useful for threading pre-cooked or uncooked items to be eaten as finger food, with or without dips. 

  • 36 shrimp, deveined, peeled (peel the tail also), and cooked
  • 2 T. minced shallot OR sweet onion OR scallion
  • ½ c. seasoned rice wine vinegar
  • 2 T. chopped fresh tarragon, OR substitute Italian or Asian basil
  • 1-2 T. sugar
  • ½ tsp. freshly ground pepper, preferably white, or to taste
  • 1 ripe but firm cantaloupe, halved and seeds removed
  • 1 ripe but firm honeydew, halved and seeds removed
  • 12 bamboo skewers

Place the shallot, rice wine vinegar, tarragon, sugar, and pepper in a large resealable plastic bag. Seal the bag and squish with your hands until the ingredients are combined and the sugar is dissolved. Add the shrimp to the bag, squeeze out as much air as possible, and turn to coat the shrimp thoroughly. Marinate for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour, turning a few times

Using a melon baller, make 18 balls EACH from the cantaloupe and the honeydew. The size of the balls you need depends on the size of the shrimp. The shrimp should curve around the balls and cover at least half of the ball. Make the balls as perfect as possible, saving the “rejects” for another use such as fruit salad.

Drain the shrimp in a colander and shake a few times to remove excess moisture and some of the bits of herbs and shallots. It’s OK if little bits of the tarragon and shallot stick to them.

Thread a melon ball about 3 inches down one of the bamboo skewers. Then spear a shrimp in the middle of the inside curve and bring it down so that the shrimp curves over and around the melon ball. Whichever kind of melon ball you used first, thread a ball of the alternate melon down on top of the shrimp and place another shrimp over it in the same manner as the first. Repeat, using another melon ball of the first kind. Continue making skewers in the same manner, alternating which kind of melon you start with. Each skewer should have three shrimp and two melon balls of one kind and one melon ball of the other kind.

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