Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews
BY MIKE WARING – DECEMBER 2008
On our latest trip, in late October, we hit one restaurant (Brown Derby) that we have previously visited, but not for some time. The other restaurants were either new to me or new to both of us. Our new favorite? The Wave at Disney’s Contemporary Resort.
- Brown Derby, Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- The Wave, Contemporary Resort
- Tutto Italia, Epcot
- Sunshine Seasons, The Land, Epcot
- ABC Commissary, Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- T-Rex, Downtown Disney (a non-review)
It has been quite a while since we visited the Brown Derby. This is one of Mary’s favorites since she loves the old Hollywood nostalgia trip and all. I like it because I can get a cocktail, in a theme park, at lunch time – how cool is that?
Brown Derby is a recreation of a famous watering hole and restaurant popular with the stars, the wanna-be stars, and the hangers-on in Hollywood during the Thirties through the Fifties (though the actual Hollywood Brown Derby actually lasted into the Eighties, albeit sadly diminished in later years). From the photos of the old place that hang on the walls in the restaurant, it’s a pretty accurate rendition. The restaurant is very nice in an early twentieth century California way. Exposed wood beams, whitewashed stucco walls, wrought iron grillwork. It’s all very pleasant and light and cool, and an excellent place to enjoy a leisurely lunch on a hot and steamy Orlando day.
I started with a cocktail, because that’s what one does in Hollywood at lunch, or so I understand from watching old movies. For lunch I had a 16 ounce porterhouse steak, bloody rare, and a baked potato with sour cream and butter and extra bacon bits while I exchanged bon mots with Hedy Lamarr. Unfortunately my efforts to attain the perfect Hollywood period feeling were ruined when the staff threatened to throw me out if I continued smoking unfiltered cigarettes. After snapping back into present day reality, I realized that I had instead enjoyed a starter of the lobster bisque, which was quite good, and finished up with Cobb Salad.
Mary skipped the famous Cobb Salad because she thinks it’s chopped too finely. I, on the other hand, like it that way. It just fits, and the salad was first created at the Brown Derby. The Disney version is pretty awesome, lots of iceberg lettuce, chicken, eggs, bacon, avocado, and blue cheese all diced up and presented in a big bowl. It’s quite a nice lunch dish though it is a very substantial portion. Mary instead had the rare ahi tuna which was quite good. She completed her meal with a piece of the justly famous grapefruit cake, from which she consented to allow me a couple of bites.
Brown Derby is very pricy, with entrees ranging from $15 to $32 at lunch and dinner. Starters are $8 to $11. We happen to think it’s worth it, partly because of the nostalgia aspect. The food quality is very good and the service is a notch above many other places in the parks. We recommend it highly.
We ate at The Wave, the newest restaurant in the Contemporary, twice over a couple of days, sampling the breakfast and dinner offerings. There’s also quite a stylish little bar but I didn’t have an opportunity to sample that. Mary kept poking me in the side when I started veering in that direction. It kind of hurt.
The Wave replaces the old Concourse Steakhouse, which was located, so very fittingly, up on the concourse next to Chef Mickey’s. We always felt that the Concourse was one of the more unfortunate restaurants on property, in that it was supposed to be a nice steakhouse environment but they located it next to what is possibly the loudest restaurant on the planet. (Well, if you don’t count Rainforest Cafe.) There wasn’t even much of a wall between the two concourse-level restaurants. So we were not sad to see the Concourse Steakhouse fade slowly into the sunset.
The Wave is located where the old counter service restaurant used to be, on the first floor just around the corner from registration. I’m so exacting because Mary argued with me for months, insisting that this is not where the counter service restaurant had once been located. Imagine my delight when she arrived at the hotel and realized that I had been right all along. The new counter service restaurant is located where the Concourse Steakhouse used to be.
The décor in The Wave is simple and pleasing. There are lots of oranges and neutral browns set off with some brushed stainless steel, and the wave motif is replicated in many ways including the ceiling, the entryway, table settings, and the backs of the chairs. The chairs were comfortable enough to keep us from experiencing extreme pain even if we lingered over dinner for an hour and a half.
Breakfast was relatively simple, and here I mean the menu. Some omelets, simple eggs, pancakes and French toast. It’s not the preparations so much as the constituent ingredients that define the place. For instance my French toast was made with thick whole grain bread and served with a strawberry compote. It was tasty and a little out of the ordinary. They make a big deal out of the fact that the food is almost exclusively organic, including the beer and the coffee. The coffee was good: can’t vouch for the beer.
Mary had a feta and spinach omelet that was unusual because the spinach was served, sautéed, on the side, rather than mixed into the omelet and it was a substantial portion. She pronounced it both tasty and a nice variation on the typical preparation. There’s also smoked salmon with the accompaniments and Eggs Benedict, along with Make Your Own Wave Muesli with yogurt for the hippies.
We had dinner at The Wave on our last night in Orlando. It was really quite good. Selections range from steak to fish of the day to vegetarian if you swing that way. The appetizers are innovative and sounded very appealing. I didn’t actually have any, since I had kind of filled up on the food booths at the Food and Wine Festival, but Mary who’s good and virtuous and leaves no opportunity undone in reminding me of this fact, had not overindulged and was able to sample the delights of the navy bean soup. She pronounced it delicious, with a wonderfully porky, smoky goodness. I liked the preparation: the soup itself was a meaty broth rather than the usual thick version.
For entrees Mary had the pork tenderloin with pineapple rice, wilted greens, and black bean sauce, while I had the marinated flank steak with chimichurri and avocado. Chimichurri is something I now may be addicted to after the trip to the churrascaria. I have a monkey on my back and he insists I spread a tangy blend of parsley, garlic and vinegar on my meats.
The accompaniments for my steak were surprising, in that there were no starches, just some sautéed veggies. I’m not complaining, mind you — I can always use less starch — but it was an interesting choice. Mary’s sides included some wonderful braised bok choy that I loved and a pineapple rice dish that really was quite exceptional. I could have eaten it all on its own. Both of us enjoyed our entrees and would definitely order them again.
The wine selections, mostly from Australia and New Zealand, were very nice. The wines offered are all screw top brands, an area in which the Antipodes are taking the lead. There were really good selections, such as the Jim Barry Cover Drive Cabernet Sauvignon, and I added a couple to my “wines to watch for” list. Overall, the wine prices are cheaper than those found upstairs at the California Grill, but then again it is a much smaller wine list.
Desserts borrow from the “small bites” philosophy also promoted by Seasons 52. You order a dessert tray and you’ll get three small desserts all based around a theme, like three different sorbets. Each individual item is a couple of bites, so you won’t get filled up but you’ll also get a chance to sample three variations on a concept. I like this approach a lot, and Mary who actually does eat desserts a lot of the time, likes it even more.
If you’re looking for some nice dining with a minimum of fuss, The Wave is an excellent choice. One caution: the menu is limited. There are a total of six starters and eight entrees. If you have picky eaters who have recently graduated from the children’s menu choices, then you might have a little trouble finding something. On the other hand a limited menu is usually a pretty good indicator that the food is going to be good, which is what we found. And vegetarians should really like this place.
Prices at breakfast range from $7 to $18 (the latter price is for Eggs Benedict with steak on the side). At dinner, starters go for anywhere from $6 to $12, while entrees fall in the range of $18 to $29.
We, or I should say I, had been meaning to check out Tutto Italia for some time. Located in World Showcase, Tutto Italia was one of the few remaining restaurants in Epcot I had not tried.
Apparently, the restaurant was given a makeover recently, though it was limited to the menu. Mary, who ate here once back when it was L’Originale Alfredo Di Roma Ristorante (say that three times fast), says the décor is the same as it has always been, though I believe there are plans to gut it and redo it at some point. The décor is very…red, I guess is the best word I can come up with. I think there’s some gold in there too, but it’s mostly red. The place is bustling and it looks like lots of people likes them some Eyetalian food.
We went with our eldest niece who is spending a semester working at Disney in their college program. Hopefully at some point we can convince her to give us a few words on what the program is like, and how she liked it, but we’ll wait ’til after she’s completed her tour first.
The cuisine at Tutto Italia seems to be mainly or roughly Tuscan style, with lots of meat dishes, though there are a fair number of pasta dishes with the requisite tomato or cream based sauces. We started with an antipasto to share among the three of us. The menu description says it serves two, but we think this is a bit of a misstatement. There was no way we could have finished this and still had an entrée if there had only been the two of us. The antipasto seemed rather uninspired, though that may be a failing on my part as I’ve recently begun exploring the rich and varied field of cured meats, and the standard and insipid pieces of salami and ham that were served in the antipasto didn’t really do much for me. The prosciutto was pretty good though.
For my entree I had the Pollo Al Mattone, which is a roasted pressed chicken half with lemon, herbs and hot peppers. I didn’t get anything I’d really consider a hot pepper and pouted through the rest of the meal. The chicken itself was fine. Mary had the Tagliata di Manzon, which was basically a Tuscan style steak. It was quite big and pretty tasty. Our niece had the Cannelloni al Forno stuffed with spinach and ricotta and served with a béchamel sauce. She liked it. With dinner we had a carafe of wine that was pretty good and a decent price.
Since we were on the Dining Plan, we had to have dessert. I tried the tiramisu again, and again wondered why I ordered it since I’ve yet to find a version I like. I’m just perverse that way I guess. Mary had panna cotta, which she pronounced acceptable, and our niece had the cannoli, with an eye to trying to consume only food served in tubular shells. I was the only one who did not enjoy his dessert. So I had a double espresso to make up for it.
Tutto Italia is a restaurant that does not take any chances whatsoever. The menu is pretty standard fare and executes it competently. If you’re looking for something exciting, don’t come here. If you’re looking to use a Dining Plan table service meal credit, Tutto is a great deal. The prices in this restaurant are very high, much higher than the food warrants. For instance, the highest priced entree at Tutto is $36. California Grill charges a high of $41, while Bistro de Paris, also in Epcot, charges the equivalent of $36 for their highest priced entrée (except for the whole lobster for $43 but, I mean, come on!).
So if you are really jonesing for some Italian food and you’re either on the Dining Plan or you don’t mind the cost, then go ahead and try Tutto Italia. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for something a bit better, then go for Bistro de Paris or check out the higher end restaurants in the Deluxe resorts. I think you’ll be a little more pleased. Plus, at the resorts the pace is a little slower and it’s quieter.
We opted for a bit of a change and went the healthy route for lunch one day. Sunshine Seasons sounds like something that should have been a cartoon show on Saturday mornings during the Seventies, sandwiched there in between the “Care Bears” and the “Smurfs,” but in reality it’s a quick service restaurant serving “healthy” fare. The operation has a number of stations, each offering something different. You pick what you want and it’s served to you right there. You pay for it on the way out. The different stations offer a bit more variety then the average counter service establishment.
One station offers baked goods and is primarily there for breakfast items and desserts. Another station serves Asian fare like noodle bowls, sweet and sour chicken, and Mongolian ginger beef. A station dedicated to sandwiches has some choices that are slightly out of the ordinary, like grilled vegetable Cuban sandwich, or turkey and muenster cheese on foccacia. A station that serves soups and salads is where one can find things like roasted beet and goat cheese salad, or Caesar salad if you want to coast. And finally there’s the Grill, which has the big ticket items like a half roasted chicken, or a grilled pork chop.
I had the chicken, chili and garlic noodle bowl from the Asian counter, which was surprisingly good. It had a real meaty broth with nice udon noodles and crisp veggies and a bit of a bite from the spices. I was quite happy with it. Mary had something she thought was pretty good too: seared tuna on mixed greens from the salad station. I had a bite and the tuna was very good, though it won’t make people who don’t like their fish rare very happy.
There weren’t many dessert options that one could construe as healthy. We were using the Dining Plan, so we got an entrée, drink, and a dessert. There were some bowls of fruit next to each of the stations, but they only contained apples and a few oranges. Right next to them were bowls of candy bars, which of course most kids are going to select over an apple. Mary picked up a couple of cookies from the bakery station and they were not very good. Kids might be happy with them but they were not my taste: spongy and sweet and no other real discernable flavor. There were some other baked goods like fruit tarts that looked better and might be worth a try next time.
Pretty much everything at the restaurant is under $10. My noodle bowl was just slightly over $6 and Mary’s dish was a little over $8. I think that’s fairly reasonable. Besides the items served at the stations themselves, there are coolers with additional grab-and-go items like prepackaged sushi and the like. Overall, we were pleasantly surprised. If you’re looking for something relatively healthy or even just a break from the standard burger and fries route, Sunshine Seasons is a pretty good choice.
We had a midafternoon flight on our last day in Orlando and decided to spend the morning at Hollywood Studios. We had some deluded idea about popping in and checking out the new Toy Story Mania attraction, silly fools that we were, but it turned out that this is where approximately 75% of the current park denizens were located. So no attraction for us, sad panda bears.
We had one remaining counter service credit available on our Dining Plan and lunch was approaching so we decided to check out the ABC Commissary. I’m not sure how much it looks like the ABC Commissary in Los Angeles, or if there even is a Commissary in Los Angeles, but if there is, I feel a little sorry for the TV stars who have to eat there. It’s pretty much a standard and fairly uninteresting counter service restaurant with one of the more limited menus I’ve seen on Disney property.
There are a total of five and only five meals for sale at the Commissary. Fish and chips, cheeseburger, Cuban sandwich, Asian salad and chicken curry. I will admit that a couple of the selections are a little different and I like that. I tried the chicken curry and it was all right, nothing to get excited about. Out of all the restaurants we visited over the week, the Commissary was certainly the least populated. With such a limited selection and nothing except constant television commercials for ABC shows on the ubiquitous wall monitors, there is little to attract people. At least the meals are cheap, ranging from $6 to $7. That’s pretty much it.
As noted in an article posted over on my blog, Foolish Questions, all of the Pleasure Island/Downtown Disney restaurants were really hopping the night we wandered over there. The new restaurant attraction at Pleasure Island is T-Rex, brought to you by the same megacorporate merchants of mediocrity that have sown the earth with Rainforest Cafes. We wandered by just to get a look at it, and eyeball the menu.
From what we could see, it’s really busy, it’s really noisy, and it’s really making lots of money. The menu is very extensive, with lots of choices, though almost all of them seem to be covered with melted cheese, or a sauce, or melted cheese with a sauce. It does not look like there are any concessions to the concept of healthy dining and vegetarians: well, there is exactly one pasta dish out of twenty-three entrees that does not contain meat, so plan accordingly.
I really have little desire to check out this restaurant by dining there, but will probably do so at some point if I can borrow a niece or nephew of the correct age to see how it appeals to the prime demographic. Until then, I wouldn’t hold your breath.