La Bohème or Mama Mia? Whether you’re listening in awe or singing along off-key, you can’t do it on an empty stomach. So if you’re looking for a restaurant that will have you well-fed and in your seat before the curtain goes up, St. Louis has some great choices that serve early and are near (or in!) theaters.

After 15 years as the executive chef for the Fox Club, Stephen Proctor is still having a great time ‘mixing it up’ for longtime patrons. “Different shows mean different vibes—the mood of the crowd twists and turns, and I find that very invigorating,” he says. “And since our guests have a limited amount of time for dinner, we try to pack as much ‘punch’ as we can into the time we have.” Even though the restaurant is right inside the Fox Theatre, Proctor explains that reservations must be made for no later than 75 minutes before the curtain rises, so that no one feels rushed to get to their seat.

Organic Irish salmon with maple syrup glaze has long been a popular dish, says Proctor, and he learned just how popular when it was taken off the menu. “I’m always changing the menu to keep it fresh and unique, but it’s important to keep things that people enjoy, too,” he notes. The menu items are sometimes themed to a particular show, he adds. “We had a diner menu when Grease was here, and ‘ogre rolls’ were a favorite while Shrek was in town.”

At Big Sky Cafe in Webster, owner Tim Mallett says theater patrons have lots of choices that will keep them on schedule. “I think one of the amazing things is our expansive menu. There are 25 to 30 items, all of them available to theater-goers, who often have to be served all at the same time.” Small plate combinations, or ‘flights,’ are a favorite, says Mallett, because people generally prefer a light meal before going to a show. The flights change at least once a week, and a recent combination featured sweet potato bisque, Big Sky Caesar salad, and mushroom tallegio flatbread pizza. “For someone who wants a more traditional, single entree meal, braised lamb pappardelle or any filet are good choices, too, because they can be prepared very quickly,” he adds.

This year Big Sky introduced ‘specials’ cards for each table, says Mallett, and this has streamlined the ordering process. “We’ve always had the nightly specials written on glass chalkboards, but not everyone can see them from their table. The servers know every special, of course, but this way our guests can read them as soon as they are seated.”

As the executive chef at two restaurants in Grand Center (Kota Wood Fire Grill and Triumph Grill) Aaron Boggett has learned the most important consideration for diners on their way to a show or the symphony. “It’s not really about the specific menu item,” explains Boggett. “It’s more about the timing. At Kota, for example, the idea is quick execution. The goal is to prepare any menu item quickly, while remembering the time that’s allotted. You don’t want to rush through a 3-course meal in an hour.” Boggett, who grew up in a Southern family, says the jambalaya is a particular favorite of his, and popular with customers, as well.

And if it’s just your sweet tooth that needs satisfying before the show, Boggett has that covered, too. “Our most popular dessert? It’s my white chocolate bourbon bread pudding.” Sounds like the perfect finale.