Believe It or Not, Non-Cheesy Dinner Theater Is Having a Moment!

Pairing high drama with braised beef. And barbecue half-chicken. And veggie chili.

Photo courtesy of At The Illusionist's Table

Theater is a communal activity: You sit together, laugh together, sometimes even cry together. It’s like a family meal—minus the relatives and food. But a few shows now playing in New York combine the best of the stage and the kitchen. Sure, we normally associate dinner theater with tacky, last-century eateries off the interstate. But here’s a tasty handful of theatrical banquets that want you leaving the show with hearts and bellies equally full.

Oklahoma!, through November 11

We start our gastronomic tour of NYC theater with an amuse-bouche, hardly enough to make a meal (unless you’re on a diet). If you can wait until intermission at this moody, modern spin on Rodgers & Hammerstein’s 1943 classic, you can line up for a treat: a small bowl of savory vegetarian chili with a modest square of sweet cornbread on top. These vittles, provided by Mi Casa Foods, are perfectly in keeping with the country-and-Western vibe (the set includes several prominently displayed Crock-Pots). I gobbled my portion down and was tempted to ask for seconds. St. Ann’s Warehouse, 45 Water Street, Dumbo 

dine in theater nyc
Come for the fresh, moody take on Oklahoma; stay for the chili. / Photo by Teddy Wolff/Courtesy of Oklahoma

Lewiston/Clarkston, through December 16

Here, the meal is key to audience endurance. Rattlestick Playwrights Theater has been gutted and completely remodeled to accommodate two separate works by acclaimed playwright Samuel D. Hunter. Lewiston/Clarkston are paired dramas about modern-day descendants of the famous explorers Lewis and Clark. Between shows, you can prepurchase a meal. (Audiences are asked to stay between the plays.) The whole night (including dinner) lasts three and a half hours. As for the meals: For evenings, you can get the barbecue half-chicken with potato salad, coleslaw, and a dinner roll with butter; or, for vegetarians, roasted barbecued tofu with potato salad and mayo-free slaw with a roll (no butter). Both are $17. At matinees, it offers an “Idaho Sweet n’ Savory Snack Pack” (hummus, chips, jerky, and candy) for a mere $10. Cheaper than a sippy cup of bad wine on Broadway! Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place (between West 11th and Perry Streets), West Village

dine in theater nyc
2 shows + half a BBQ chicken equals a delicious night. / Photo by Jeremy Daniel/Courtesy of Rattlestick Playwrights Theater West Village

At the Illusionist’s Table, through December 30

Hands down, this was the classiest and tastiest of the bunch. In a shadowy room, you sit at a long table with strangers and have your mind blown for two hours by mentalist Scott Silven. The hip Scottish host spins mysterious yarns and guesses which card you picked, as shots of rich, peaty whiskey are offered (free) and the courses keep coming. The menu includes a delicate seafood risotto; braised beef with potatoes and roast veggies (yum); and a lip-smacking chocolate mousse for dessert. You can augment the experience by ordering beer, wine, or cocktails from the bar. I’m not so barbaric that I consume beef sans a glass or two of red, so I indulged. There were some fairly complicated and (for me) inexplicable tricks by the dessert course. Was it magic or was I tipsy? I’ll never know, and Silven will never tell. The Club Car at the McKittrick Hotel, 530 West 27th Street (between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues), Chelsea

dine in theater nyc
Sleight of hand with a side of pinot? / Photo courtesy of At The Illusionist’s Table

Shake & Bake: Love’s Labour’s Lost, through January 5, 2019

Billed as an adaptation of Shakespeare’s early pastoral comedy accompanied by an “eight-course tasting menu,” Shake & Bake is zesty but leaves you wanting more. It’s not a feast by any stretch of the imagination—even if the actors provide several cubic yards of ham. Consider it eight light snacks, washed down with three or four drinks (a shot of Jägermeister!) and plenty of distraction from a crew of clowns/servers. A frothy farce about of the king of Navarre and his male courtiers’ attempt (and failure) to eschew the company of women, this pun-filled battle of the sexes is reconceived as a power struggle among uniformed cooks and waitstaff: Top Chef meets Shakespeare in Love. There’s much dancing, sight gags, and deftly repurposed kitchen equipment. The food? Oh, right. Yummy pickled carrots and green beans; a trashy square of Cheetos-flavored mac ‘n cheese; a room-temp single taco; and a refreshing thimble of gazpacho. Have a light meal before or nosh after. 94 Gansevoort Street (between Tenth Avenue and Washington Street), West Village

dine in theater nyc
Top Chef meets Shakespeare in Love, anyone? / Photo by Chad Batka/Courtesy of Shake & Bake

The Dead, 1904, November 17–January 13, 2019

This immersive period dinner drama by the Irish Repertory Theatre has become a seasonal destination for lovers of great literature and hearty food. Now in its third year, The Dead, 1904 is a 360-degree staged adaptation of James Joyce’s short story “The Dead” interspersed with a traditional Irish banquet. In case you haven’t read Joyce’s Dubliners: “The Dead” is a mournful, wry, and nostalgic portrait of a Christmas party attended by a Dublin book reviewer and his disenchanted wife; guests include wise aunts, sad drunks, and flamboyant actors. Irish politics of the early 20th century come up, inevitably, and the foundations of an Irish marriage get tested. Okay, enough drama, what’s to eat? The fulsome menu includes turkey, beef, mashed potatoes, cranberry relish, bread pudding, and plenty of Guinness and whiskey. You’ll think you’ve died and gone to Celtic heaven. American Irish Historical Society, 991 Fifth Avenue (between East 80th and 81st Streets), Upper East Side

dine in theater nyc
We’ll drink to that play and so will you! / Photo by Carol Rosegg/Courtesy of The Irish Repertory Theater

Network’s Foodwork, November 11, 2018–March 17, 2019

This is probably the hottest ticket on this list, and the most mouthwatering. If you book one of 22 seats located on the stage of the Belasco Theatre, you’ll not only have 360-degree action, you’ll get a full-course meal. Ivo van Hove’s dazzling multimedia satire of the TV news will be accompanied by a sumptuous spread curated by former White House Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses. The plates aren’t big but there are several of them, and the descriptions (we couldn’t taste in advance) sound excellent. Corn and scallion empanada. Roast filet of beef tenderloin salad. Chocolate mocha dobos torte. Lime granita and pink prosecco. Those are just a few of the items at Foodwork (there are veggie options). Insane anchorman Howard Beale (Bryan Cranston) may be “mad as hell and…not going to take it anymore,” but I will definitely have seconds. Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th Street (between Broadway and Sixth Avenue), Midtown

Photo by Jan Versweyveld/Courtesy of Network

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