Atmosphere: Attractive renovated rustic.
Hours: For Sunday family matinee, doors open 11:30 a.m.; dinner, noon to 1 p.m.; showtime, 1:30 p.m.
Price Range: Matinees, Wednesday and Sunday afternoon only: Adults, $14.95; children $7.50.Evening performances children pay full price.
Credit Cards: Visa, Mastercharge.
Special facilities: Easy parking in theater's lot; accessible to the handicapped.
You can revive the old-fashioned custom of Sunday dinner at noon, by taking advantage of a specially priced family matinee at the Harlequin Dinner Theater, where dinner is generally followed by a cracker jack musical performance.
Through April 27, it is "Godspell," a three-ring circus of a show with enough colorful antics to enthrall the most fidgety 6-year-old, as well as a rousing and humorous score to entertain his parents.
The theater is pleasant, the operation efficient, the food good and attractively served. Since the cast also waits on tables, your dessert and coffee are likely to be plunked down by the likes of Mary Magdalene, trailing a feather boa, or John the Baptist in a crazy-quilt waistcoat. The whole scene is a lively show for children, and provides a festive setting for a family celebration.
In our only previous encounter with dinner theaters, the food seemed an afterthought to the production. If not regrettable, it was certainly forgettable. However, the Harlequin pays as much attention to producing its food as to producing its music. Both are above average.
At a recent Sunday matinee, the scenario ran like this: We were greeted by a hostess and ushered to our reserved table. Our waiter introduced himself and took our drink orders. He returned shortly to direct us to the buffet tables, set in a large alcove to one side of the stage.
We began with the salad bar, two tables arrayed with gorgeous fresh vegetables and salads of every description. A bowl of mixed greens was just the beginning. Fresh tender spinach was available, bowls of sweet peppers, marinated zucchini and summer squash, garbanzo beans, marinated cucumbers, bright red tomatoes in onion dressing, three bean salad laced with slices of pepperoni, and of course, potato and pasta salads and slaws.
A fruit and cheese board came next, offering honeydew and fresh pears and a trio of mild cheeses; next a basket of french bread and crocks of sweet butter.
The attention paid to food preparation at the Harlequin shows up in its vegetable dishes.Quality ingredients are used, there is variety and vegetables retain their character and crispness despite their sojourn on chafing dishes. We sampled a combination of long grain and wild rice, corn pudding, a broccoli, crumb and cheese dish, and a delicious zucchini lasagne, creamy with ricotta and a fragrant tomato sauce.
The entrees were somewhat less interesting. The Harlequin typically offers chicken and fish in addition to roast beef. The chicken, served in a mild fruit sauce, and the fish, sauced lightly with butter, were properly cooked, but both were fairly bland and undistinguished. Large rounds of roast beef looked succulent, but not all of it was tender, perhaps because our slices came from the top and were not as rare as they might have been.
Although several dishes lacked salt (an easily remedied shortcoming), the buffet presented an interesting variety of foods, textures and tastes that if not exactly exotic, were not completely predictable, either. On the whole, it was good fare. The kids loved being able to pick just what they wanted, and went back for seconds.
After a time, our waiter delivered to our table five desserts -- a nonnegotiable cheesecake that was quite decent, if not as rich as our favorite version. Unfortunately it had been frozen and was still icy in the center.
Efficient and gracious service gave us an hour or so for dining, which was just about right for us. If you prefer a more leisurely meal, plan to arrive early. After dinner, we ordered Cokes, to be delivered at intermission, and settled back to enjoy the show.
Considering the high cost of family entertainment, the Harlequin's matinee is a good buy for a special occasion. Five of us enjoyed dinner and a show for $52.40. Drinks, tax, and tip for the actor/waiter add to your bill, but if you forgo the exotic -- and expensive -- Harlequin specialty drinks in favor of soft drinks and coffee, you'll still save on the price of a pleasant dinner and show tickets downtown.
And should you decide to celebrate at Harlequin, your "Happy Birthday" will be sung by a coloratura.