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CINEMATIC SPREAD

It used to be a familiar plot: While catching a film at Enzian, a moviegoer opens the menu, scoffs at the offerings, pines for something more substantial, orders anyway, eats and then awkwardly pays the bill just as the movie's clincher flashes onscreen. I've been there and done that, many times. But over the past year, things have changed in the kitchen at Enzian, and with the annual Florida Film Festival about to start, it's time to take stock of the improvements.

It's been more than a year since head chef Josh Oakley was hired, and a quick peek into his kitchen these days shows cooks in crisp whites working the line rather than helpers in Metallica T-shirts working the microwave. Actually, Oakley rid the kitchen of a microwave altogether. His new menu is fresher and has more panache, but it is also more efficient. There's no pesky check to settle at the film's climax, thanks to a new computerized system that sends orders straight to the kitchen, cutting back on the distraction of servers running around at the beginning of the movie, but also cutting down on wait time. On a recent visit, a little more than halfway through The Merchant of Venice, we had ordered, eaten a full meal and settled the check. Aside from our server checking in on us, we were free to watch the end of the movie, full and satisfied.

Outside the kitchen, the Enzian is about halfway through a much-needed renovation of the quirky combo dining/screening room, well-worn with its beige walls and '80s artwork. They've started changing out the old tables and chairs, but are only doing one quadrant at a time, so part of the room still dates from the time when smokers huddled around green tables eating chicken wings and watching Pink Flamingos. The newer part is brighter and more stylish, with aqua carpet, sleek chairs and contemporary tables that look kind of like a child gone crazy with crayons. Are the new chairs as comfortable as the old? My verdict: maybe slightly less comfy. But there are cozy new couches down in front if you just want to lounge.

Some of the new menu items look familiar: spinach or black bean quesadillas ($6.50), cheese steak ($9.50), black jack burger ($9.50). But there are new items, too: turkey Cobb sandwich on brioche ($9.50), pesto penne ($8.50) and ginger barbecue chicken ($8.75), which turned out to be wonderfully infused with fresh ginger's woody pungency.

Almost half of the menu items are now vegetarian/vegan options, including a tofu version of the ginger barbecue sandwich ($7.75) and the Enzian herbivore ($8.50), a veggie burger they whip up from scratch daily. I enjoyed my portobello sandwich ($9.25) with provolone and balsamic onions on rosemary focaccia.

Dessert selections, made by Bruno's Gourmet Kitchen, are showstoppers. A wedge ($6.50) of peanut butter wafer with chocolate mousse, all coated with hard chocolate ganache, was a perfect concoction of delicate crunch and airy chocolate. The chocolate mousse cake ($5.50) was not very fresh, but the ruby cake ($7.50), an amaretto cake with white chocolate and raspberry, made up for it.

More changes are coming. There's a new sandwich press, so panini are on the way. And flatbreads, such as smoked salmon and goat cheese, will replace the unexciting 12-inch pizza. Oakley is also overhauling the pasta items, adding dishes like shrimp and lobster tortelloni in garlic cream sauce with red pepper pesto.

No movie experience is complete without popcorn ($4.75 large), and Enzian pops the best. I can always count on fluffy white kernels drenched in real butter – no flavored motor oil here. Look for Oakley's specials during the Florida Film Festival, which will wisely include lots of tapas and finger foods. He's also offering more treats for the morning crowd, so come hungry – no matter the time of day.

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