Sunday, August 18, 2013

DC's Best Popcorn, According to DC Outlook

What's poppin' DC? Good question, and one your friends at DC Outlook take very seriously. How seriously? Have you seen the price of popcorn lately? We went out and paid for bags/tubs of popcorn from all the big (and not so big) players locally. The criteria? First and foremost, the big T - Taste! After that, we looked at price, sticky factor (BTW, no butter... so watch the oil) unpopped kernels and overall value. Size depends on this critic's appetite at the moment (think LARGE, most of the time.) Also, this is one contest where customer service (good or bad) won't impact the grade: It' all about the corn. Without further adieu, here's what we came up with...

AFI Silver Theatre: AFI scores big with price (only $6 for a LARGE) and a nice, yellow hue; but slips a notch with a STICKY FACTOR of 7 (out of 10.) More salty than oily, I can live with washing my hands afterwards... especially if it tastes good. This does, but starts to taste greasy half-way in. Free refills on top of an already low price put AFI atop all others in value... although their SMALL is downright puny.

Grade: B-

Large Popcorn at AFI Silver Theatre

AMC Theatres: If I had a nickel for (instead of) every bag of popcorn I've ever had at an AMC theater... I'd be a lot richer and a whole lot thinner. I've consumed literally hundreds of bags of popped corn at Georgetown, Mazza and Uptown over the years; but it's more out of habit, than taste. My latest bag, a medium for $7 ($6 with an AMC Stubs card/free upgrade to the next size) cried for salt. It wasn't greasy, but hardly flavorful either. I'll give it an 8 (out of 10) for STICKY FACTOR (a little salty... after I hit it with the shaker, is all.) Most kernels were full-sized, with a couple of random burned ones and a palmful of unpopped ones at the bottom of the bag. Free refills are available with a large; and free upgrades with the aforementioned AMC Stubs. Fine for function, not so hot for taste.

Grade: C+

Medium Popcorn at AMC Mazza

Angelika Film Center & Café at Mosaic: Pricey ($7.50 for a medium) salty (I added none) and a touch oily, Angelika's popcorn doesn't match the overall "luxuriousness" of this glitzy Fairfax movie house. That's a shame; because it's the only DMV theater (that I know of) that offers multiple Coca-Cola Freestyle dispensers. That alone, bumps it up to a C+, on par with national heavyweight AMC. Service was friendly, but a tad slow. Scores a 7 (out of 10) on the STICKY FACTOR with very few unpopped kernels (about a dozen or so) at the bottom of the bag.

Grade: C+

Medium Popcorn at Angelika Film Center & Café at Mosaic

Avalon Theatre: And there's a new leader in the clubhouse: This Chevy Chase independent has undergone a number of changes in the past couple of years (new cafe, elevator) but one thing has stayed the same... their popcorn. Affordably priced ($4 for Child size, $5 for Regular, $6 for Value) Avalon's popcorn has an almost golden color with very few dead kernels, and the perfect balance of oil and salt. Scores a 9 out of 10 on the STICKY FACTOR, and tops the field (so far) in taste. Always great customer service behind the counter makes ordering a breeze. No free refills, but a Value feeds two easily.

Grade: B

Landmark E Street Cinema: Landmark won me over with its gigantic MEDIUM bag of popcorn: Only $6.50, this beats most others' LARGE bags. The rest of their menu is exotic in comparison; but Landmark's popcorn is plenty good on its own (especially with a generous-sized courtesy cup of refillable water at the counter.) Mine had a great crunch, with the perfect amount of salt. Even better: Landmark provides Kernel Season's toppings for free (AMC and Regal charge at least $1.50 extra.) My fingers were dry as a bone after, so chalk up a perfect 10 out of 10 on the STICKY FACTOR. Toss in free refills, and you have the best popcorn in DC (so far, as of 20 September '13.)

Grade: B+

Medium Popcorn at E Street Cinema

Regal Cinemas: I'm sure AMC and Regal sell more popcorn than their competition combined; but that doesn't keep the top two chains from producing the worst popcorn in the area. Regal's is even worse than AMC, tasting dry and flavorless with lots of unpopped kernels. Don't ask how many, as I barely finished a third of my $7 medium bag. Not salty, but still merits a STICKY FACTOR score of 7/10. Free refills for a large, and only $2 for a small bag on Tuesdays with paid admission and your Regal Crown Club card.

Grade: D

Medium Popcorn at Regal Cinemas

Verizon Center: You don't have to go to the movies for popcorn; but should you spend $7.50 for a bag at a Neil Diamond concert? Maybe. It's not the best tasting (by a long shot) or freshest; but it's cheaper than most items on the menu, and you get FREE refills. That last "kernel" pushes it past Regal Cinemas, but not much further. Scores a deceiving 9/10 for STICKY FACTOR, most likely due to the fact that it was popped hours in advance. Another plus? Very few (if any) unpopped kernels. Didn't finish the bag; but it's nice to know there's a free refill at the end of the rainbow.

Grade: C

Popcorn at Verizon Center

West End Cinema: Three cheers for TBD's "Best Popcorn." Runs a close second to E Street for our favorite. A MEDIUM bag is plenty big enough for one, smaller than E Street's, but a buck and a half cheaper. The "secret" ingredient is coconut oil, which stays on the popcorn (and not in your hands.) Can't say much for the rest of their concessions (a few boxes of candy, beer & wine) but they had me at hello popcorn.

Grade: B+

Medium Popcorn at West End Cinema