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Mealtime! Film and TV restaurant scenes offer a lot to chew on

Some of entertainment’s most memorable big- and little-screen moments feature dining out. Here’s a short-order menu of scenes for feasting.

Restaurants of all shapes and sizes have been familiar territory for Jack Nicholson during his four-decade film career.

It was 40 years ago when Nicholson made his first big foray into screen dining scenes with his masterful, memorable menu-ordering scene in “Five Easy Pieces,” in the process earning his second Oscar nomination.

Then, 27 years later, in “As Good As It Gets,” he delivered an Oscar-wining performance that included this great restaurant scene and the heart-melting line “You make me want to be a better man.”

(Note: Even if you’re not a big Nicholson fan — you’re not? — stick around because we’ve got a bunch of other memorable movie and TV restaurant/diner scenes that may jog your memory. As always, additional nominees are welcome in the Comment section below.)

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Memorable moments
The most memorable may be the Meg Ryan-Billy Crystal scene in “When Harry Met Sally” (1989) ending with the deadpan line from director Rob Reiner’s mom during the deli scene: “I’ll have what she’s having.”

Speaking of sex, this eating scene in the 1963 Oscar winner “Tom Jones” proves that human appetites — in this case, sex and food — have a certain lusty, intertwined history.

Casual dining — not Albert Finney’s 1700s style but 20th century Americana — figures prominently in two memorable, nostalgic, coming-of-age movies:

“Diner” (1982) which offers a late-’50s macho view of bonding at mealtime gatherings.

 • “American Graffiti,” George Lucas’ 1973 study of growing up. From its opening image of the illuminated “Mel’s drive-in,” the film makes it clear how important the diner is as a community gathering spot for working out many of life’s big and small decisions.  

Gangsters gotta eat, too
Gangsters, too, like to frequent restaurants and diners for pivotal scenes:

• The film heavyweight “The Godfather” (1972)features this restaurant scene as the key moment when Michael Corleone goes over to “the dark side.”

• And TV’s mobster equivalent:  the ambiguous, much-debated ending of “The Sopranos” (1999-2007) Here’s one of many detailed theories of what was going on in the finale.

Serving up laughs
But many classic TV scenes play dinner time for low-brow laughs. The still-beloved “I Love Lucy” series (1951-57) offers two classic Lucille Ball over-the-top “dining” scenes:

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• First, Lucy’s Hollywood encounter with actor William Holden at the legendary — and laugh-filled — Brown Derby.

• Then, the Ricardos and the Mertzes square off in a diner “death match.”

The two-woman demolition team, “Laverne & Shirley” (1976-83) managed to surpass that chaos level with one of my wife’s favorites,  “The Diner” scene, also known as “Betty Please.”

An encore for Jack
And then I have to end with one more order of Jack Nicholson restaurant scenes, this one a two-fer showing him at his charming best from the 2003 romantic (and touching) comedy “Something’s Gotta Give.” The movie features two great restaurant scenes thousands of miles apart — Paris, shown here,  and a wrap-up scene in New York.