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Inside Thunderbird's new dinner series: Culinary Cult Classics

Eat a meal based around your favorite cult films

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Beetlejuice and Lydia at Thunderbird's bar
  • Beetlejuice and Lydia at Thunderbird's bar
That was incredible. Honestly. I mean, I love me some classic Tim Burton, especially Beetlejuice; Michael Keaton at his best. But, he wasn’t the star tonight, nor was Winona Ryder, or even the sandworms; it was all about the food and drink.

Thunderbird has revamped its Dinner and a Movie series and now has brought us Culinary Cult Classics. The idea behind the new dinner series is simple, yet fun and different. A cult classic film is chosen — think Rocky Horror, The Big Lebowski, films by Tarantino, Wes Anderson or, in this case, Tim Burton — then a team of chefs and bartenders create a menu with that film as the theme.
Our handbook for the first Culinary Cult Classics: Beetlejuice
  • Our handbook for the first Culinary Cult Classics: Beetlejuice
The first dinner was based around the ‘80s hit Beetlejuice and the dinner was one of the most well-orchestrated tasting meals I’ve ever attended and the food was superb. Unlike in the film, our Handbook For The Recently Deceased was extremely helpful with its descriptions of the meal to come. A few dishes automatically jumped out at me including the squid ink pasta, dry aged ribeye and bone marrow.

The place was perfectly decorated with plenty of green neon lights, cobwebs, a model town and even a floral “wallpaper” with the word mauve spray painted on it.

Upon stepping into this eerie new world we were promptly greeted by our guide for the evening — Jesse Lee in his guide hat — and given the option of tasting some of the specialty cocktails for the evening, at $9 a pop I decided to go for the I Myself am Strange & Unusual: a strong and welcoming beginning to the evening consisting of demerara rum, cocchi rosa, campari and salt.

Looking around the room I was happy to see nearly all of the guests had come dressed up, many people taking notes from the film and wearing their best black and white pinstripes or black lace galore. However, we also were two seats away from ketchup and mustard — they probably have those in the Burton-verse.

"You read my mind."
  • "You read my mind."
Our cues for each meal came from the film itself. The first dish, an amuse bouche and cocktail entitled The Perfect Vacation, coincided with the opening scene wherein the loving couple, the Maitlands, played by Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis, take off on their “perfect vacation” that is abruptly cut short by an accident involving a dog and bridge. The cocktail was a simple daiquiri shooter with a fried plantain and it was the perfect taste to show where the menu would be taking us.

As the film went along we were presented with dishes mere minutes before each cue in the movie let us know it was time to eat. This was far and away the most impressive aspect of the evening. Having been to many dinners like this — and also having worked dinners like this — we were blown away by the kitchen’s ability to present, hot, delicious, unique and fully plated dishes on such a schedule. I tip my bat carousel hat to the chefs Kristen York and Lindsey Wheeler, and (solo bartender for the evening) Josh Gonzales for pulling this off; it truly was the most ‘magical’ aspect of the evening.
Not the prettiest, but some of the best bone marrow ever
  • Not the prettiest, but some of the best bone marrow ever
The dishes themselves were works of art, some of which surpassed the Burton masterpiece on the screen, notably the dish entitled My Little Accident, which was a simple yet perfectly executed bone marrow with beet salad and crostinis. The fact that we got to use the bone as a luge for the next cocktail (an Old Fashioned) — pulling in some of the savory, salty goodness — was just a tasty bonus.

Another bonus to this dinner is the addition of vegan options for the evening. When we arrived we were given a “totem” denoting that my girlfriend is vegan and the servers were able to let us know which dishes had replacements that met her dietary needs. This was much appreciated as at most food events she is left to enjoying only the alcoholic options of the evening. This time she was able to not only enjoy all of the cocktails, but also two larger dishes and a dessert.

In fact, her replacement option of BBQ jackfruit was one of my favorite bites of the night and truly shone light on the incredible abilities of the chefs in creating dishes that most anyone can enjoy.

A signature aspect of any great cult film is generally the quotablity, as well as the inclusion of memorable scenes. In Beetlejuice, the stand out scene comes at the dinner party and is accompanied by the classic Harry Belafonte tune, Banana Boat Song (Day O). Now that we all had a few cocktails in us as soon as the Maitlands began using their ghostly presences to make the Deetz family and their dinner guests dance around in one of the funniest scenes in cinema, the crowd in Thunderbird joined in in dancing and singing, leading to possibly the most memorable point of any dinner I’ve attended in Indianapolis.

The menu for the first Culinary Cult Classics at Thunderbird
  • The menu for the first Culinary Cult Classics at Thunderbird

For dessert we were gifted with a few options, but the dark chocolate truffle with Pop Rocks in it was delicious and nostalgia-inducing all at the same time. I don’t think I’ve had Pop Rocks since watching Urban Legend when I was eleven — I can’t die like little Mikey from the Life cereal commercials.

As the film came to an end and Day O came back on, everyone joined back in with singing and dancing. And then with the fade to black the audience came together in applause for everyone involved. The servers were on top of everything, the food and drinks on point, the film was as great as always.

Gonzales and team thanked everyone and let us in on the next film to come in the series, which will be happening sometime in December. It’s another Burton classic and perfect for the wintertime setting, Edward Scissorhands. The food at the next dinner will be prepared by Carlos Salazar and the culinary team from Rook. According to Gonzales he had stopped the Dinner and a Movie series because doing it every month was getting to be too much, but this series only comes every two months, giving plenty of time to prepare and to conceptualize meals as flawless as the one we just ate.

This is a new and exciting dinner series to keep your mind on, it truly offers something for everyone. To keep up with the series and see which movies will be covered and which chefs will be crafting the meals make sure to follow Thunderbird on Facebook.

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