Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Dinner and Tournament, Medieval Times, Lyndhurst NJ

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Medieval Times is one of the most well known "Dinner Theater" type places. The main event is the show- a campy version of a knight's tournament and show of animal handling skills. The diners are herded into sections corresponding to each Knight's colors, and are encourage to cheer on their knight (and his allies) and jeer at the knights represented on the opposite side of the arena. It is presented in a family friendly way, although the bar, and the freely flowing alcoholic beverages seem at odds with that. If you can look past the ever present gift shops and attempts to get you to buy photos with various cast members, it actually is a fun experience when you embrace it for what it is. The food, while mass produced, actually has quite a few redeeming qualities, with some parts of the meal standing up to, or surpassing anything found in a more conventional family restaurant.

The menu is fixed- eveyone except for vegetarians and people with food allergies gets the same meal. Tickets are pricey, but the skill demonstrated in the show makes up for part of the price tag- the sheer quantity of food in the feast makes up for the rest. The food itself- or it's presentation at least) is intended to try and help suspend disbelief. All the food is served on pewter plates and bowls, and there are no utensils. You tear at your food with your hands, just like they did in days of yore- off putting for germaphobes, but fun for most everyone else. If you bring kids, don't expect them to stay clean!

The first part of the show involves the introduction of the knights, and the introduction of the King and his entourage. As the show settles into a show of horsemanship, the food starts coming out- a serving "wench" will come around, and after making sure everyone has a full tankard of whatever they're drinking, will come aorund with trays full of bread and pitchers of steaming hot tomato bisque.

The soup is poured into the nice pewter bowl- you can easily lift it by the pot-handle, and slurp away, or dip your bread into it. This course isn't anything remarkable, although the soup and bread are good, there's really nothing over-the-top or unexpected here. You have a decent, if unremarkable start to dinner while the horses prance about the arena. I actually get a real kick out of the soup bowls- they are distinctive to a point, but very simple- an elegant solution to the problem of bringing soup from plate to mouth. Somehow, it seems jsut as, or even more fitting than using a boring old spoon.

The best part of the pre-joust portion of the show has to be the hawk. The trainer walks out into the arena, and lets his bird-of-prey loose. The big hawk speeds aorund the arena in big loops, soaring around enough times to buzz over just about everyone's heads- sometimes speeding only inches above. This part has absolutely nothing to do with dinner, but it is quite a thrill to see this animal in action.

On to the main event. The real star of the Medieval times dinner is not the jousting, or the horses, or that impressive hawk... it's the roasted half chicken sitting on my plate, just waiting to be torn apart and consumed. The skin has a nice crisp to it, and the flesh is very juicy, and falls right off the bones. This makes it easy (if not a little messy) to tear into sans utensils while the colorful knights bash at each other with lances, swords, axes, and maces. The chicken has a flavorful coating of herbs that work just right. The wing portion seem liek it can get a little dried out, but the rest is absolutely everything a roast chicken should be. The part that is amazing, is the fact that literally hundreds of these half-chickens are served up at the same time, and they all appear to be of very consistant, high quality.

The chicken isn't the end of the meal though. There is more. (Remember- I said there would be a lot of food). The rest of the main course consists of a big hunk of pork spare rib, and a few big wedges of herb roasted potato. Personally, the barbecue spare rib was good, but unremarkable, especially considering that it shows up after having a chance to dig at least halfway through that great chicken! Personally, I liked the potatoes more than the rib- yes, that's blasphemy to an extent, but I stand by it. I'm not turning down the rib, but it was the less exciting portion of the main course.

The dessert course is the "pastry of the castle" - which is a fancy term for a slightly fancy looking apple turnover. The turnover is fairly good, but again, not all that remarkable. It fills it's function- again overshadowed by the memory of the now decimated chicken carcass... It's something sweet and tasty to munch while the Black and White knight is declared the winner of the tournament, and the bad guy from the nrothern kingdom picks a fight with him while trying to make a play for the King's daughter.

Clearly, the point of the whole experience is the entertainment- well actually, the point of the experience is to try to get you to buy more pricy bar drinks and the overwhelming number of souveniers paraded in front of you at every opportunity. Despite the rampant consumerism, the show is fun to watch. You'll get a good, big meal, and you will probably remember how good the chicken was for quite a while. It's a fun night out, that the kids won't soon forget- even if the knight that represents your seating section gets knocked out in the first joust.

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