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Category: Disney Food (page 2 of 2)

Let’s Talk about Free Dining for September.

This time of year, you can’t read a Disney message board without seeing rumors about free dining being released for September. There are even “free dining prognosticators” who are minor celebrities on these boards, people who seem to know when it’s coming out long before anyone else. Whether they have an inside edge or they’re just good at utilizing past data and making predictions, these posters are great at whipping their fellow posters into a frenzy. And you know what? Some of them get it right.  Right now, the vibes, as it were, are really good for free dining. Of course there’s been no real indication from Disney yet. Here’s why I think the rumors are true.

1. September is a slow month. Even adding an extra week to Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival won’t bring in enough guests to counter that. 

2.  Historically, Disney has offered free dining in September for the last decade.

3.  In the last two years, Disney has added two new resorts, Art of Animation and the Disney Vacation Club Villas at the Grand Floridian. This translates to roughly 11,000 pillows that need heads on them every night without also bringing a corresponding number of guests from off property to hotels to on property.  In fact, the number of guests traveling to Orlando each year remains fairly static.  The real goal is to get those off site guests on property–and Disney does that pretty well with promotions like free dining.

4.  Free dining keeps lesser known Disney restaurants running during slow times, ensuring that the staff stays trained and gainfully employed–which includes making tips. 

And here’s the big one:

5.  Competition from Universal Orlando. In the last few years, theme park fans have been the beneficiaries of the competition between Disney and Universal: Universal opens up Harry Potter, Disney opens up the Fantasyland Expansion. And back and forth with minor attractions since then. Disney, of course, is set to debut the much-anticipated (you don’t know the half of it) Seven Dwarfs Mine Train ride in just a few weeks (perhaps even days), but Universal is opening up an entirely new section of  Harry Potter.

Now, for me, Universal will never beat Disney. The theming isn’t the same and the resorts aren’t as nice (and they’re all pretty uniformly expensive). Really, it just misses that certain something that Disney delivers time and time again. But I’m a diehard Disney fan so I’m quite biased. However, even I can see the allure of heading over to Universal. This new Harry Potter addition is going to be quite impressive.

Given that more theme park dollars are going to be lured over the Universal, Disney is going to have to make staying on property more attraction. And they’re going to do that by offering free dining.

Let me just say this: No one really knows if free dining is coming out for September. That’s my nice way of adding the caveat “please don’t come yelling at me if it’s not offered!”  But I would be really surprised if it didn’t happen, so get ready!  If you’re one of the many who are waiting for free dining, my suggestion is that  you jump on it the first day it’s offered. Last year, the pickings were awfully slim, especially for resorts like Port Orleans, although this was a bigger issue for the October thru December time frame than December.

Good luck!

Want a quote when free dining comes out? I’m only doing holds for free dining this time since the first day is so busy and rooms go quickly. A hold doesn’t commit you to anything, it just ensures that you get your room. For a hold I need the following information:

Everyone’s names plus the kids’ ages
Your travel dates
Resort choice(s)
Type of tickets

We can change everything later as we work out the details, but this at least gets you started with a guaranteed spot. Feel free to contact me prior to the release so I can have all your paperwork ready to go, then I’ll just email you the confirmation on the day of.  Just use the quote request form on the right or email me at ChrisW@PixieVacations.com or call 919-889-5281. As always, most clients qualify for a Disney tote and gift card.

Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival: What I Ate.

It might sound funny to highlight a post about Epcot’s Flower and Garden Festival by mentioning food, but trust me, the new food booths are the best thing to hit Flower and Garden since, well, since flowers.  Disney started small last year, with just a few food booths, but they’ve added more this year. Now almost every pavilion has something to offer. Here are a few items you’ll find.

Frushi from Japan.

Frushi, basically fruit sushi, was a big surprise, a delightfully refreshing option with a subtle taste.  A homemade fruit roll takes the place of seaweed, with coconut infused, lightly-sweetened rice and chunks of cool fruit making up the filling. It’s served with a side of whipped cream, but it really doesn’t need it. I have been craving this ever since.

The Piggylicious Cupcake.

You’ll find this cupcake at the Smokehouse Barbeque and Brew kiosk at the American pavilion. This is the one pavilion where we wanted to try everything, and it mostly came through for us.  As for the cupcake, despite the praise I’d seen elsewhere, it didn’t live up to the hype.  A yellow cupcake flavored with bacon and topped with maple icing and crushed pretzels.  A good idea, right? Unfortunately its more smoke than bacon. Everyone in our group agreed it was a “must not do.”

Pork Slider and the Turkey “Rib.”

The pork slider, also at the Smokehouse, was a big surprise. It’s a meaty barbequed pork sandwich with cole slaw on a big bun. It’s a regular size sandwich, not a tiny serving like some of the items you’ll find at these booths, so bring your appetite. I live in North Carolina so I know my barbeque and this definitely passed the test.

The same cannot be said for the turkey “rib,” which is essentially a small turkey leg. Really, the taste is fine, it’s more the idea behind it that doesn’t really work. Well, it might work if you eschew pork and have a hankering for a rib experience. However, you’re probably better off sticking with tofu and passing on this.

Shrimp and Grits.

This was my favorite item both this year and last, making the Florida booth a must-do on everyone’s list. It’s pan-seared shrimp, chorizo, and grits, a traditional shrimper’s breakfast from the Carolinas.  As I said above, I live in North Carolina and if you know Southern food, you’ve probably heard of Bil Neal and Crook’s Corner, which is just a few miles from my house and considered the birthplace of new Southern cooking.  Crook’s Corner is famous for its shrimp and grits but this little tiny food booth blows their recipe out of the water any day of the week! If you’ve never had this dish, give it a try. It’s a real treat that might spoil you for an other rendition of this dish.

Watermelon Salad.

Also from the Florida booth, this watermelon salad was huge surprise. It’s served with greens, goat cheese, and a balsamic reduction. Everything about this dish was perfect, with each ingredient adding to the dish as a whole. The goat cheese was so mild it was like butter! The balsamic reduction was tangy and contrasted nicely with the sweet melon.  Looking back, you could make a delicious meal at the Florida booth–in fact, I think I will next time.

I tried a few other items but the only one that really stands out is the Taco al Pastor in Mexico. This has spicy pork and a pineapple salsa on a corn tortilla. I absolutely loved it. I’d have taken a picture, but I had a small disaster right after I bought it which involved breaking my phone. However, the taco was good! Maybe not worth dropping my phone over though.

As if Flower and Garden wasn’t an enjoyable enough experience, the addition of food booths really puts it over the top, feeding all your senses. Now you can go and enjoy a few noshes and drinks while you get inspiration for your own gardens back home. 

Hollywood Brown Derby Lounge

The Hollywood Brown Derby Lounge opened last fall in Hollywood Studios and since then, it’s become a popular location to meet up for drinks and snacks. Located right outside the restaurant, the lounge is a cozy spot with just about a dozen tables.  At present, you can’t make dining reservations for this location, but it’s open all day so if it’s crowded when you get there, go on a ride or take in a show and then try again later.  Kids are welcome, of course, but the menu is very grown-up and drinks are served. It’s more of a “bar” than a restaurant, so little ones might be bored.

We arrived at opening and had our pick of the tables.  Service was a bit inattentive to start, but picked up later; nothing we could really complain about. In general, I find that most Disney servers are top notch, and while our server wasn’t the best, she was still perfectly good at her job.

Since we weren’t super hungry, we split two entrees among the three of us.  The menu falls somewhere between a tapas-style menu and full entrees.  Think sliders and cheese plates, but more upscale. For example, the tacos on the menu are not your ordinary tacos, but rather are made with duck confit.  You can also get the Brown Derby’s famous Cobb salad, desserts, and specialty drinks.  We settled on the Derby Sliders and the Artisanal Cheeses and Charcuterie Board for Two

The burgers came in two flavors, a more traditional burger with bacon, mustard aoli, cognac-mustard aioli, smoked gouda cheese, and avocado and another topped with house-made chorizo chipotle mayo, manchego cheese, pickles and crispy onions. I absolutely loved the first burger, with toppings that complimented each other beautifully. There was simply nothing I would change, right down to the brioche bun. The chorizo topped burger, on the other hand, was a bit overpowering and tasted more like a really great sloppy Joe. Honestly, I think that was more a matter of personal taste–to me, a bit of chorizo goes a long way. Others may well love this burger. Even so, I thought both were terrific and I would get them again.

The cheese and charcuterie board came with assorted soft and hard cheeses, as well as salami and a clever little pot of chicken “faux gras” which was absolutely delicious.  Another winner, I would order this again as well.

Hollywood Studios is a park with some really great table-service restaurants, but it’s quick-service locations are lacking. The Brown Derby Lounge fills a much needed space somewhere in between, with sophisticated bites, comfortable seats, and great people watching.  I’m so pleased that Disney made such good use of this small space. It’s bound to become a favorite meeting place in the park.

Breakfast at Kouzzina

Kouzzina is on  Disney’s beautiful Boardwalk.

Sometimes I like to cut to the chase in these food reviews so I can spare you the ten minutes or so it might take to read (although I appreciate it if you do), so I’ll just be blunt here:  Kouzzina, at least for breakfast, is terrible.I thought the service was fine, but you expect nothing less from Disney restaurants; servers are usually well-trained and friendly.  Same too for the decor. It was “nice.”  But the food? Good lord almighty.

Now, I’m just going to come right out and say I have a strong bias toward Cat Cora. I think she’s delightful and usually, her recipes are fantastic. For this reason, it pains me to give her restaurant such a bad review, but in fairness to everyone who reads this, the truth needs to be told. Here’s a restaurant that occupies prime real estate on  Disney’s Boardwalk, surrounded by no less than five resorts, all of which have people who, presumably, are going to need to eat breakfast. Sadly, rather than serve that demographic well, Kouzzina suffers from unskilled hands in the kitchen and an unappealing menu,

Kids Mickey waffles and fruit cup.

We stayed at Boardwalk last weekend and decided that eating breakfast before we went to the parks would be easier on the kids.  Kouzzina was right there and I’d been wanting to try it so we walked in at around 9:00. The restaurant was empty and service was quick.  My twins ordered the Mickey pancakes which were heavy and slightly greasy. These were doused with syrup and eaten with few complaints, as you might expect from little kids who haven’t quite blossomed into food critics. At least at $6.99, you’re not spending much more than you would at a quick-service restaurant.  My older son had the Mickey waffles. These were actually quite good, fluffy and a little sweet.  I would definitely recommend skipping the pancakes in favor of these.

Spinach, eggs, tomatoes and feta. And more feta.

The real problem, however, was with my and my husband’s breakfast.  I won’t mince words here: They were both awful. My husband ordered the scrambled eggs with spinach, tomatoes and feta.  This actually sounds like a great combination, but if you know feta, you know that a little goes a long way. The cook, apparently, wasn’t aware of this old chestnut or perhaps he just had an extra block of it laying around and felt like bestowing upon us a rather large chunk of cheese. Whatever the case, it completely overwhelmed what was potentially a nice dish. To the chef’s credit, the eggs weren’t overcooked and the potatoes were edible. The sausages were the same breakfast links you see all over property, only this time they were made of chicken rather than pork. Good but not remarkable.

Stacked Kouzzina Breakfast.
I had the stacked Kouzzina breakfast, which is two poached eggs covered in an artichoke spread served atop a sweet potato hash. It comes with a side of bacon or chicken sausage and kalamata olive toast.  I ordered this mainly because I love sweet potatoes but also because I thought it was an interesting nod to both Cat Cora’s Greek heritage and her southern roots and I wondered how this would come together. I think you might know where this is going, right? Taken alone, the elements of the dish were fine. The hash, while bland, was good comfort food. The eggs were perfectly poached. Even the kalamata toast was nice. But thrown together in one dish? It was laughably bad!  I have rarely met an artichoke I didn’t like, but the mess that was served on top of the eggs was a salty disaster. If there was any artichoke in there you couldn’t prove it by me.
The one plus Kouzzina has going for it at breakfast is the crowds: There are none. You can literally waltz right in and be seated right away most days, and maybe that’s the problem. With everyone rushing to the parks or to character breakfasts at other resorts, there’s really no need to tinker with the menu. This is a shame because there are very few places to eat a sit down, non-character breakfast in the Epcot resort area.
I’m willing to bet that if you stick with the “American” style breakfast on the menu–that is, a simple platter of bacon, egg, toast and biscuits–you’ll be a lot happier. I’m also curious to try Kouzzina now for dinner, as I’ve actually heard good things about it. Will it be just as bad?  I don’t know if I’m willing to chance it. With so many good restaurants just a fifteen minute walk away in Epcot, it’s going to be really hard to get me back in there. I may have to just keep wondering.

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