Standing ovation for Schuster Center restaurant

The Place: Citilites At the Schuster, inside the Benjamin & Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center, at Second and Main streets in downtown Dayton

The menu: For the 10th anniversary of the Schuster, Citilites is offering a menu that includes some of the restaurant's "Greatest Hits" — top-selling lunch selections since its 2003 opening. We were given a private sampling of their lunch menu. Everything we tried was fabulous.

The portions are generous. The dishes, beautifully presented. The food is colorful, healthful and sumptuous. The ambiance is charming among the palm trees in the Wintergarden of the Schuster. And if you’ve never been there during the holiday season to experience the beautiful light decorations and the vintage Rike’s Department Store mechanical holiday displays, be sure to put it on your list of to-dos this year. It is pure, delicious magic.

Citilites is partnered with the Victoria Theatre Association, which “is committed to the business of making memories. We take that to heart,” said Diane Schoeffler-Warren, public relations and promotions manager for VTA.

As for lunch, Citilites is a wonderful place to dine downtown. Staff members are sensitive to budgets and time. The menu items “are really affordable,” said Lisa Wagner, vice president of Ticketing and Hospitality of VTA.

“We have lots of business people who need to get in and out,” Wagner said. So the staff work to make that happen so guests will return.

“We want people to come here two or three times a week,” said Head Chef Tim Schonahech, who came to Dayton by way of South Carolina.

Chef Tim’s menu items are fun and delightfully surprising, some with a distinctly Southern influence. “I think (my dishes) are more approachable,” he said.

Citilites takes the guest experience very seriously. There are gluten-free and vegetarian options, and the staff can accommodate children. “Please communicate (your needs) with your server,” Wagner said.

What we sampled:

Quinoa veggie burger with feta, lettuce, tomato and tzatziki on egg bun, served with side of sweet potato salad, $7.95: If ever "awesome" describes a veggie burger, this is it! We loooove quinoa anyway, and turning it into a burger with feta cheese and delicious tzatziki sauce makes it luxurious AND healthy. And if that's not enough, the new sweet potato salad with candied walnuts, pineapples and chives is a lighter, sweeter version of your grandmother's potato salad. Pair the potato salad with the quinoa burger, and you've got a delicious duet!

Cranberry turkey wrap with smoked gouda, spinach and cranberry pecan aioli, served with side of beet chips, $8.95: "It's like Thanksgiving in my mouth!" Yuna said. "And those homemade beet chips are so fabulous!" "I know," Connie added. "It's hard to put them down. So much better than regular chips!" These delicious garnet-colored chips are truly unique and are a labor of love for Head Chef Tim Schonahech and his staff to bring to your table. First they roast the beets for two hours, then peel and slice them paper thin before frying for 45 seconds. The turkey wrap combined with the beet chips is sweet enough that you probably won't need dessert.

Curry chicken salad with lettuce and tomato on a croissant, served with side of Mediterranean salad, $7.95: "Yum!" Connie said. "There's just the perfect amount of curry to add pizazz to the chicken salad!" Yuna added: "Plus, the heirloom tomatoes in the salad are right out of Chef Tim's very own garden! Very classic!"

Crab cake sandwich with lettuce, tomato and Cajun remoulade, served with green salad (kale, chickpeas and sundried tomatoes), $8.95: A scintillating symphony of flavors! "Better than a trip to New Orleans!" Yuna said. Connie agreed. The Cajun remoulade is what makes it extra special.

Blackened Chicken Salad with mixed greens, roasted corn, avocado, tomatoes and tortilla strips, $11.95: Beautiful and tasty medallions of chicken breast topping a large bowl of lovely vegetables and tortilla strips are a true festival for the mouth and bring to mind thoughts of a warm and sunny clime."Besides being tasty, it's presented so beautifully," Yuna said. Olé!

"The Applause" (Mehaffies' cheesecake, topped with torched house marshmallow, smoked chocolate and graham cracker, $6: Remember those nights around the campfire? You will when you bite into this delicious interpretation of S'Mores. But it's an adult version – there's rum in the homemade marshmallow! "These are the best marshmallows I've ever had!" Connie said. "I feel like I'm in camp!" "The torching makes them oh-so-special!" Yuna added.

Pinot Noir, Mark West (California), $6.95/glass, $25.95/bottle: An all-purpose pinot noir with deep red color, berry aromas and notes of vanilla, caramel, oak and pepper. Light enough to accompany a rich, chocolaty dessert.

Other highlights: Besides being a restaurant, Citilites is also a well-known catering business which is happy to make your wedding and other special events extra special.

And then there’s dinner. The restaurant is typically open before VTA performances. “Dinner is a completely different experience,” Wagner said. “We’re competitive with the Oregon District and other places. Our menu is creative.”

The new dinner menu debuts Saturday, Sept. 21, before the Schuster’s Season Opening Spectacular. If the lunch menu is any indication of the creativity the staff is putting into the dinner menu, it is sure to be amazing. Plus, one dinner item will be unveiled Saturday, Oct. 5, as part of a special menu for the Inaugural Dayton Performing Arts Alliance Gala.

The info: Citilites At the Schuster, inside the Benjamin & Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center, 138 N. Main St., Dayton; (937) 222-0623, www.schustercenter.org/citilites.

Hours: Lunch, Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. Dinner, opens 2/5 hours prior to most evening matinees in the Mead Theatre and Broadway Series performances in the Victoria Theatre. Reservations for dinner are strongly recommended. For same day reservations, call (937) 222-0623. For advance reservations call or go online at www.schustercenter.org/citilites/reservations.