A Movie Theater With Good Taste

At Enzian, an upscale dinner and an indie movie share top billing.

Enzian Theater is an odd duck.

Neither a seats-in-rows movie theater nor a table-and-chair restaurant, it has existed in Mait-land for 25 years as a showcase for independent films and a place to get a casual meal. At the same time.

“Food and film are cultural expressions, but, unlike film, a chef’s art doesn’t last,” says Sigrid “Sig” Tiedtke, chairman of the theater. “We try to make it interesting.”

Food has always been part of the Enzian experience. Founder John Tiedtke used the profits from his sugar and corn farms to, among other things, fund Winter Park’s Bach Festival and Rollins College’s Tiedtke Concert Hall. He built Enzian (named for a mountain flower, to recall the Tiedtke family’s Austrian origins) with his daughter, Tina, in 1985. Tina’s sister-in-law, Sig, took over as chairman in 1990, and began the Florida Film Festival the year after.

Originally, Jordan’s Grove restaurant next door (later called Nicole St. Pierre) catered the theater. The arrangement quickly became unwieldy, and a tiny kitchen was squeezed into the theater building. If you can take more than 10 steps in your home kitchen, you’ve got more cooking room than Enzian does.

The small space barely fits three sous chefs, who stand in a line, rotating in their places, and executive chef Josh Oakley, who stands on the other side of a pickup counter, assembling plates for the servers. The order printer spits out slips of paper that then hang at eye level in front of Oakley. During a busy evening with, say, 200 indoor diners and 50-60 more  at the outside Eden Bar, the tape could stretch 40 feet. Oakley points to the rack of orders, full soon after the doors open at 6. “At this point, we might not see an order for a cookie for 45 minutes,” he says.

Sig’s daughter, Elizabeth, who is now exceptional events coordinator, grew up here; school was across the street at Park Maitland, and she would sneak cookies from the kitchen afterwards.

“It’s hard to serve 200 people at once,” says Elizabeth, who’s involved in everything other than actually showing the movies. “The timing is intense.”

While the execution may be hard, the mission is simple. “We want to be that third place,” Sig says. “There’s home, work and what used to be the local pub. We’re more about community building than anything else.”

Not every audience member is a convinced fan. “When I first came here I thought, where do I sit?” says Vicki Collen, drinking a cocktail at the Eden Bar.

“And why is a waiter talking while I’m watching a movie?” adds her friend, Annette Sweeney, nursing a chardonnay the color of her hair. “But if they’re playing a movie I want to see, I’m here. And the bar is nice,” Sweeney laughs.

The Eden Bar, tucked alongside the building, opened in 2008. Inside Enzian, finger food, sandwiches and salad reign; it’s hard to watch a movie in the dark and handle a knife. Outside, an expanded menu is highlighted by hand-tossed pizza, free-range organic chicken, and the Wagyu beef Eden burger.

“Who else does what we do?” Sig asks. Other places try—in a way. Farrelli’s Cinema Supper Club in Arizona shows mainstream pop movies with dineresque food. There’s Chunky’s Cinema Pub in New England, where audiences munch burgers while watching A Nightmare on Elm Street. Downtown Orlando’s Plaza Cinema Café shows blockbuster movies and serves beyond-standard movie food, with mixed results.

Enzian’s menu focuses on food that is sustainable and organic: house-cured ham and bacon, hand-made sausage, local lettuce and seafood. Chef Oakley has worked at Pebbles, Kres on Church Street and Seasons 52. When he first heard of Enzian, he says, “People told me, the food idea is cool, just don’t order any of it.” A chance conversation brought him into the theater’s kitchen in 2003 and, as Sig Tiedtke says, “The raves we get about the food now are all due to Josh.”

The most intensive food-film mélange is during the annual film festival. Superstars Cat Cora, Anthony Bourdain and Norman Van Aken, and James Beard award-winner Martha Foose are just some of the chefs brought in for forums, parties and luncheons, as were cookbook authors Matt and Ted Lee.

“We came because of what we heard from other Southern chefs,” says Ted Lee, “that this was one of the best parties in the Southeast.”

Poet and teacher Susan Lilley is a regular at Enzian. “The fact that our house is two blocks from the Enzian is one of the reasons we bought it,” she says. “Sitting in the dark, watching a movie, being served. It’s exactly the way I want it.”

Since our article about Enzian Theater was written, executive chef Josh Oakley and the theater have "mutually agreed to part ways," according to Enzian’s marketing coordinator, Jordana Meade. Advancing to position of chef is Charles Hamilton, who previously manned the grill.

Enzian Theater and Eden Bar

ADDRESS 1300 S. Orlando Ave., Maitland
PHONE 407.629.0054
ENTREES $7-$14
WEB enzian.org

Categories: Dining