Matt Potter 3:39 p.m., Dec. 18
The best corn in San Diego isn't popped in a movie theatre
George's was a small candy store located next to Chicago's Nortown Theatre. In addition to the homemade fudge, taffy apples, and wrapped candy bars that lined the shelves, George had a giant popcorn-popper strategically placed in the front window.
It was a simpler time, before ticket-takers began patting patrons down in search of "outside food and beverage." The ushers didn't think twice about allowing George's concessions into the theatre. He didn't sell soda, so the Nortown was bound to up their per-capita no matter what. A big bag of George's corn cost 20-cents. Add a nickle if you wanted a shot of topping. It wasn't butter, but whatever was inside the battered teakettle that George used to drizzle atop the popcorn sure did taste good. Compare it to the 50-cents the Nortown charged for a similar size bag and the line to get into George's before a kiddie matinee was often as long as the one snaking around theatre.
Don't listen to Orville Redenbacher; the secret to perfect popcorn is the oil, not the seed. Have you ever tried Orville's buttery flavor "popping and topping" popcorn oil? If so, your shower stall is probably lined with bottles of this:
Using the same soap to wash your hair that you would your ass?! No wonder people call you shithead when your back is turned! There is soap and there is shampoo. There is popcorn oil and there is popcorn topping. Never the twain shall meet!
For better tasting corn than any you'll find in a local store or theatre, Google 'Cretors coconut popcorn oil' and fire up a kitchen burner.
Considering all the theatres I've managed and all the movies I've logged, you'd think that by now even so much as a whiff of popcorn would leave me totally repulsed. Never! Not a day went by when I was working a theatre where I didn't down a bag of corn. From cooking to consuming, I am all about the popcorn. I'd frequently shoo the concession staff away from the kettle and pop it myself. And, it's complete lack of nutritional content frequently parallels what's on screen. It's a perfect combination!
Movie theatre popcorn has become cost prohibitive. You'd be better off pricing jewelry than you would a popcorn and Coke at your local multiplex. As much as I love the stuff, I'd go broke were I to purchase a tub 'o corn for every screening. Nor do I suggest popping corn at home and smuggling it into the theatre. You're not only cheating the theatre owners out of money by not frequenting their concession stand, but have you ever purchased a case of water bottles that have been sitting in the hot sun for too long? The contents taste like plastic. The same goes for freshly popped corn sealed in a Ziploc sandwich bag. Do it right or do without.
Of the major theatre chains, Reading Cinemas, particularly the Town Square, pops the best corn in town, but does anyone short of Landmark still provide popcorn salt? Granulated table salt on popcorn is foul, one step above rocks of kosher or road salt.
I've yet to try the popcorn at Arclight because the chipper staff -- all graduates of the school of hard sell -- is so damn eager to jam it down my throat. I show up for a 10am screening where I'm greeted by what looks a day camp counselor carrying a clipboard with the bus roster.
"Howdy," he beams from within a prolongated grin that's so taut it's a wonder his teeth don't pop out. "Do you smell that?" I look down checking to see if I had stepped in something. "We just popped a fresh batch of carmel corn," he drones on, "and it's waiting for you at our concession stand!"
It's 9:45 in the morning. I haven't even had my coffee yet and this prize staff crackerjack thinks I'm in the mood for candy-coated popcorn. Do I look like the kind of guy who doesn't know his way around a concession stand? Kindly can the annoying high-pressure sales pitch and point me in the direction of bunker #7, If I want candy, I know where to find it.
Landmark's Ken Cinema remains Our Town's #1 theatre when it comes to the total movie popcorn experience. It's the only place in San Diego with topping that doesn't taste like it came from a can marked Valvoline. Whatever you do, Ken concessioneers, don't clean the kettle!
As much as I enjoy Ken corn, there is one place in town that beats it at less than half the price. Next time you're at Target stocking up on Suave 3-in-1, stop by the food area and plunk down $1.50 on a bag of freshly popped corn. You'll thank me.