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Category: Restaurant Reviews (page 2 of 3)

Bongo’s Cuban Cafe: A Dinner Review

Co-owned by Emilio and Gloria Estefan, Bongo’s Cuban Cafe is a 2 story restaurant located at Downtown Disney Westside serving lunch and dinner daily. I had the opportunity to eat dinner here last Saturday. Is it worth it? Read on to find out. 
Atmosphere
Bongo’s is described as “recreating the feel of a 1950’s Havanna nightclub offering authentic Caribbean flavor.” It’s certainly got a tropical feel, from the greenery, the intricate and detailed mosaic on the wall, and even the (fake) parrots over the bar. I’d previously only eaten lunch here, and found it largely empty. That is definitely not the case at night. The restaurant is packed with people at the bar and waiting for tables in line, and every table inside and outside was occupied. However, the biggest negative for me, and what will keep me from returning, is that loud music was BLASTING from speakers the entire time we were dining, and only stopped to allow a band to take a stage at night who were equally loud. I’m all for having music in a restaurant, but when it is to the point where it is impossible to have a conversation without screaming, or even order your food without screaming, it’s too much. 
The dress code is theme park casual.
Check out the cool bar stools!
Service
Our server, Ali was good, though I think in an effort to be personable, she lingered too long at our table and tried too hard to herself into our conversation. I don’t mind a little friendly banter, and in fact prefer when a server smiles and makes good eye contact and is outgoing, but it got to a point where my table-mates and I were exchanging awkward glances wondering if she would go away. The speed in which food was brought out from time of ordering was excellent though drink refills took a little longer than I would have liked. To be fair, this may have been in part due to the large number of tables she seemed responsible for.
Just part of the interesting mosaic adoring the walls.
Food
Not being of Cuban heritage, I suppose I’m at a disadvantage as to whether Bongo’s is truly authentic or not. Plus, to me it seems like it would be pretty hard to mess up cooking something like shredded beef over white rice, or chicken over yellow rice. However, I have seen mini reviews and heard comments from people who are Cuban who say this is a “must go to” location each trip, so I take that as a positive sign.
The varied menu features a wide selection of entrees ranging from the El Churrasco, a tenderizedskirt steak grilled to perfection and served with a side of Chimi-Churri sauce, white rice and green plantains ($19.95) to the Chicarrones de Pescado,lightly floured and fried marinated fish chunks served with a side of homemade tartar sauce accompanied by white rice and sweet plantains ($17.95). 
 
For my meal, I went with Ropa Vieja, shredded beef in a light tomato sauce with onions and peppers served with white rice and sweet plantains ($15.95) while my wife was a little more daring and tried the Camarones al Ajillo, tiger shrimp sauteed in a garlic and olive oil sauce served with white rice and green plantains ($22.95). The food was okay, but it didn’t wow either of us. Though the portions were generous, the food seasoned and flavorful, there was nothing about the meal that made us eager to return. For me, Bongo’s is a place I would eat if I couldn’t find availability anywhere else within the Downtown Disney area. 
The Ropa Vieja. Presentation isn’t a strong point of Bongo’s.
Prices for entrees range from approximately $15.99-$35.99, and a childrens’ menu is also available.
Bongo’s Cuban Cafe is one table service credit on the Disney Dining plan (a new addition for 2012), and they also accept the Tables in Wonderland card. Reservations are recommended before you go.

Grand Floridian Cafe: Lunch Review

 Walk ups can be easy to get here.
I’ll admit that when I hear the words cafe, I don’t think of a small coffee shop in Paris, where lovers sit outside drinking espresso out of small cups and ogling one another. Maybe it’s from what I was exposed to living in New Jersey, but “cafe” was usually code for “run down diner with perpetually sticky floor and wobbly tables that owner is trying to make sound upscale in an effort to attract business.” Luckily, the Grand Floridian Cafe is not code for anything but a delicious lunch (or breakfast or dinner). Read on for my review.
Atmosphere

Located towards the back of the first floor of the main building of the Grand Floridian, the Cafe is easily overlooked by many guests. This, coupled with its surprisingly large size meant that my wife and I were easily able to get a walk-up table for lunch, even though it was both the Princess Marathon weekend and the NBA All-Star Weekend in Orlando, and crowds were noticeably heavier.

I’m not in love with the decor -the flowery wallpaper and curtains remind me of a grandmother’s home. But it does fit the overall Victorian theme of the hotel and certainly isn’t out of place in that sense. And I do love the high trey ceilings, as well as the fresh flowers throughout the restaurant, including a fresh rose at each table. My wife and I had a table near the window with a beautiful view of the grounds and the pool. 
I love the trey ceiling and how bright and airy the Cafe feels!
The dress code is theme park casual.
Service
Our server, Robert, was excellent. He was friendly and personable not only with us, but with all the tables he was helping. He was prompt with our drink and food orders and was always there checking in and making sure we had enough to drink and didn’t need anything else. I wouldn’t hesitate to ask for him again or recommend him to others.
Ask for a table by the window and get a great view of the grounds.
Food
For lunch, the Cafe offers a variety of soups, salads and sandwiches. My wife had the Grand Sandwich, an open-faced hot ham, turkey, bacon, and tomato with a rich Boursin cheese sauce and fried onion straws, served on Focaccia bread ($12.49), while I had the Reuben Sandwich, which includes corned beef, Thousand Island dressing, and sauerkraut on rye bread ($10.99), though I substituted the rye for Focaccia as well. It comes with a side of chips, fresh fruit, or a cucumber salad, I chose the salad.
The Grand Sandwich.
We both liked the Focaccia bread, finding it crispy, yet still soft. Our only complaint was that it seemed a bit too salty, especially when combined with the ham on the Grand Sandwich. The sandwiches themselves were extremely tasty though, and the meats fresh and flavorful. We both ate up every bite. The cucumber salad was a nice compliment, the oil and vinegar mixture proving the right balance of sweet and tart, while refreshing on the palate.
The Reuben comes on rye but I substituted Focaccia bread.
While we didn’t save room for dessert, there were a number of smaller offerings to satisfy any sweet tooth, ranging from a Key Lime tart to a Boston Creme pie. 
Who’s up for some dessert?
Prices for lunch range from $15.99-$35.99, and there is a kid’s menu. The Grand Floridian Cafe is one table service credit on the Disney Dining plan, and they also accept the Tables in Wonderland card.

Restaurant Review: The Childrens’ Menu at Via Napoli.

Festive and pretty, Via Napoli is a grown up
restaurant kids will love.
Photo copyright Disney.

Most Disney kids’ menus follow a predictable pattern:  Nuggets, macaroni and cheese, and burgers.  The exception to the rule is the World Showcase, where kids can partake in more sophisticated but still kid-friendly versions of the type of cuisine their parents and older siblings are enjoying.  Nowhere is this more true than at Via Napoli, where the kids’ menu is easily as good as the adult menu.

If you’ve eaten there or followed the buzz, you know that Via Napoli serves outstanding wood-fired pizza with fresh mozzarella and inventive toppings. Appetizers and desserts are a pleasure, and the dining room is visually appealing, lively, and fun.  It’s a must-do for us on every trip. 

If you’re on the dining plan, kids start with a fruit cup or a small salad.  My kids preferred the fruit cup, which was a large serving of fresh strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and grapes.  It’s served in a fancy little glass perched on a saucer; a nice touch that makes kids feel a bit grown up.  You’ll then get a choice of three entrees: A small individual pizza, spaghetti with meatballs, or a ham and cheese calzone.  Kids on the dining plan also get a choice of dessert, a chocolate gelato or cookie.

Fruit cup.

My sons chose the pizza, which is a smaller version of the adult pizza.  It’s chewy, thin crust pizza with a delicious marinara covered with buffalo mozzarella. The taste is extraordinary, but if your kids prefer a traditional New York-style pizza, they may not like this.  My kids love it, but just be forewarned.  The marinara is nice and light, with the fresh taste of tomatoes and not overly spicy.  If I had one complaint it’s that the cheese only covers a few inches in the middle of the pizza. I would have preferred it to go a little bit closer to the crust.

My daughter had the spaghetti with meatballs and she ate the entire thing, minus the meatballs. My husband and I actually had them and they were quite good!  Tender, lightly seasoned, these would please kids who are real carnivores, I think.  The serving is huge, so if you’re not on the dining  plan and you have light eaters, you may consider having your kids share this entree.

Spaghetti and Meatballs.

After being offered cookies at almost every Disney restaurant, my kids were tired of them and opted for the rich, chocolate gelato instead.  Most ice cream that bills itself as gelato lacks the creaminess of real gelato, so I was pleased to see that Via Napoli’s has that desired texture that sets it apart from your everyday ice cream. The darker chocolate flavor of the gelato gave it a grown up touch that just added to the luxurious feeling of the dessert.  It’s a real surprise.

Mention must be made of the atmosphere of this restaurant, which is fun and lively at all times. Kids, and grown ups, can be a little loud without worry, but it’s not so loud that you can’t have a nice conversation. For quieter dining, try the covered outdoor seating, which is romantic enough for a date. Stepping into Via Napoli, you really will feel la dolce vita, right down to the friendly Italian wait staff.  Next time you’re planning a Disney trip, give it a try.

Top Five Hollywood Studios Eats.

Hollywood Studios doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to food, but if you know where to look, you’ll find some extraordinary treats in unexpected places. Here are my top five, in no particular order.

1.  The Red Velvet Cupcake from Starring Rolls.  At only one snack credit, this huge red velvet cupcake covered in cream cheese frosting with a surprise cheesecake filling will easily feed two happy kids.  Best of all, it’s not overly sweet like many Disney cupcakes.

2. Rosie’s 1/3 Pound Angus Onion Straw Cheddar Cheeseburger.  The onion straws, spicy barbecue sauce and cheddar cheese elevate what is the most maligned of Disney park food–the hamburger–to new heights.  Rosie’s All American Cafe is located across from Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage and has outdoor seating only.

3. Sterling Silver Pork Seared Tenderloin. Despite the Studios less than stellar food reputation, it happens to have one of the best signature restaurants on property, The Brown Derby.  While you’ll hear a lot of talk about the Cobb salad and the grapefruit cake, the real star on this menu is this sweet and smoky pork dish, which often comes with herb and four-cheese spaetzle and a cider vinegar jus.  Don’t eat pork? Consider asking your server to have it made with a chicken breast instead.

4.  Grilled Veggie Sandwich at Backlot Express.  Vegetarians have to look hard to break out of the veggie burger rut at quick-service locations, but each park seems to have a standout sandwich. This grilled sandwich at Backlot Express comes with mushrooms, red peppers, zucchini, tomato, watercress and cheese with sundried tomato pesto on a nice artisan bread.  Vegans can ask to have this sandwich minus the cheese but watch out–the bread has asiago cheese in it. 

5. The Carrot Cake Cookie from the Writer’s Stop. This sandwich cookie is the best of both worlds: Two soft, lightly spiced carrot cake cookies with a thick layer of cream cheese frosting in the middle. It’s not so much a cookie as a nod to that great American tradition, the whoopie pie. The Writer’s Stop itself is a hidden gem, tucked right next to the Sci-Fi Diner. You might miss it altogether if you’re not looking. Probably because of this, you’ll rarely encounter long lines in this shop, where you’ll also find decent coffee and other treats. It’s as close to a neighborhood coffee shop as you’re going to get in a theme park.

One last thing: It can be hard to get breakfast at Hollywood Studios. Part of the reason for this is that there isn’t a lot open, so the locations that do serve breakfast are very crowded.  The other problem is that you’re probably going to be running to Toy Story Midway Mania to get your fastpass. Unless you have time to spare, make sure you eat a little something before you hit this park first thing in the morning.

Restaurant Review: Yachtsman Steakhouse

Inside the Yachtsman Steakhouse. Photo courtesy of Walt Disney World.

When describing Disney World to someone, you might say things like “amazing themed resorts” or “full of family fun!” But when was the last time you said “It’s a place to go to get world-class steaks?” If the answer is never, then you need to make a point of visiting the Yachstman Steakhouse on your next visit. 

Located inside Disney’s Yacht Club Resort in the Epcot area, the Yachtsman Steakhouse is considered by many the go-to restaurant on property for quality meats cooked to order. I happen to share that sentiment.  It is a signature restaurant on the Disney Dining Plan, meaning it requires two table service credits per person. If paying out of pocket, they also accept the Tables in Wonderland card. Open nightly for dinner only, a credit card guarantee is required at the time of booking your reservation. Your credit card will not be charged any money at this time; however, should plans change and you fail to cancel your reservation at least 24 hours in advance, a $10 per person cancellation charge will be billed to the card.

Although Yachtsman Steakhouse is described as having a “New England theme” (perhaps because of the resort it is located in), if you are looking for nautical touches, you won’t find any other than the sailboat on the sign outside. No matter, the dark colored hardwood floors and crisp white linen tablecloths and contrasting dark napkins make for an attractive setting, and the dining room itself is quite expansive; it’s much bigger on the inside than it would appear to be. I found the tables to be far enough apart that you didn’t feel as if you were on top of other guests while eating (a problem that some Disney restaurants suffer from – I’m looking in your direction, California Grill) and that even though there is an open kitchen, it’s also far enough away from the main dining area that it didn’t interfere with conversation. I think Chris and I disagree as to whether this is a romantic restaurant or not. Granted, aside from perhaps Victoria & Albert, there’s probably no place you can eat on property without dining among families and children, but the dimmed lighting and steakhouse feel come pretty close to at least giving it high romantic potential. 

Once seated, your sever will bring you out a nice array of fresh breads to try together with a lovely citrus infused butter with sea salt. If you care for an adult beverage, there are a number of specialty drinks and cocktails, or you can have them make you a cocktail of your choice. If you prefer, ask your server about the extensive wine list featuring both new and old world wines. Just don’t fill up on bread while you decide what to order. In fact, you might want to skip the appetizers (or consider splitting one) to save room for the main course. While Yachtsman Steakhouse serves a seasonal menu of fresh seafood, free range chicken, lamb and assorted children’s dishes, being a steakhouse, the main focus is of course, steak. 

The delicious 12 ounce New York Strip Steak.

All of the steak served at Yachtsman is aged, grain fed beef, and then cut on property before being cooked. In fact, when you are being escorted to your table, your server will be sure to point out the butcher room to your left if anyone in your party has never dined there. There’s even a helpful reference chart inside to show you what part of the cow each cut of beef comes from. Steaks are offered in a variety of cuts and sizes, from the 8 ounce Center Cut Filet Mignon served with mashed potatoes in a Cabernet wine sauce ($41.00) up to a 24 ounce Prime New York Strip Steak served with carmody potato gratin and a peppercorn brandy sauce ($44.00). Anyone else picturing that scene with John Candy from the Great Outdoors right now? Of course, if you have questions about anything on the menu, or you would like to substitute something, just ask. The servers are all very knowledgeable and very accommodating. 

The 8 ounce filet is actually a lot of food!

The sauteed mushroom caps are a nice addition.

There are also an array of side dishes to choose from which are served a la carte, such as truffle macaroni and cheese ($9.00), caramelized onions in white balsamic and butter ($6.00), or the sauteed mushroom caps in garlic, cream and Cabernet wine sauce ($8.00), to name a few. I found the macaroni and cheese, which includes Reypenaer, to be overpowering with flavor and unpleasant to my taste buds, but the sauteed mushroom caps are exquisite. 

Each will be prepared any way you like it, from rare to well done. I always go for medium, which is pink with a warm center inside. I’ve found that regardless of what my wife and I order, the steak always comes out so tender that it barely takes any work for the knife to cut through the meat, and the flavor is “melt in your mouth” good. I also like that these aren’t particularly fatty cuts of beef; sometimes steakhouses will skimp on quality or deliver large portions that are really mostly fat, so I was glad to see this wasn’t the case here.

If you still have room after dinner for dessert (I never have), there is a limited dessert menu of choices ranging from a flourless chocolate cake to a creme brulee or an order of fresh berries. You also can get coffee, hot chocolate, and a variety of dessert wines or specialty coffee drinks to go with your meal. I will say looking at the sample dessert offerings, while they appear tasty, they also look rather small in size, though this may just be due to the fact that I’m making that comparison after having consumed a large quantity of meat. Still, I think I’d rather head over to the nearby Beaches and Cream and get an ice cream to satisfy my sweet tooth. 


Yachstman Steakhouse makes for a very enjoyable and satisfying meal, and it is definitely on the list of restaurants my wife and I eat at while visiting Walt Disney World. If there’s one area where this restaurant falls down, it’s in the area of consistency. This may be due to the number of chefs working in the kitchen each night preparing the food, but any good restaurant should do their best to ensure that the guest experience is close to the same each time. That is what keeps people coming back again and again. Several times, unfortunately, I’ve found that not to be the case. Once, my wife and I ate here twice in one week, the second time joined by friends. Because we loved what we had ordered earlier in the week, we ordered it again. My steak was over-seasoned, my wife’s under-seasoned, while our friends’ meals came out perfectly. 


Despite this, I consider this a small blemish on an otherwise excellent restaurant. If you are looking for good food and a great atmosphere in a beautiful resort during your trip, look no further than Yachtsman Steakhouse. Maybe I’ll see you there, and we can split that porterhouse. 

 

Quick Service Review: Casey’s Corner.

Mmmm… hot dogs. Photo courtesy of Flickr.

I confess, I love a good hot dog. Yes, I’ve heard what’s in them, but that’s never stopped me from eating them. When I was single, I probably ate them several times per week, a fact I’m sure my cardiologist will rub in my face in a few years as he’s scheduling my angioplasty. Regardless, the hot dog is to me the type of food that works anywhere -at sporting events, barbeques and of course, theme parks. They’re fast to cook, you can eat them on the run to your next attraction, and they come in a variety of tasty choices. 


Now, there are a few places around the Magic Kingdom you can find a hot dog, but for me, I have to get one at Casey’s Corner. Located on Main Street, you can’t miss it with the bright yellow paint job, the life size statute of a baseball player outside the entrance, and the amazing piano player outside laying down some  rag time tunes. Oh yea, the giant letter “C” on the front of the building is a good indicator, too, in case you miss all the other ones.


Casey’s has been around since the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971. It’s theme is baseball, so everywhere you look has some sort of relationship to baseball. The cast members outfits look like uniforms. The walls are adorned with pictures of old baseball teams, pennants (both for real and imaginary teams) and even a fake scoreboard. While table seating is limited outside, there are bleachers inside you can sit down to eat at while watching old black and white baseball cartoons. And remember the piano player I mentioned earlier? The music they play is from the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, the golden era of baseball. While I’ve never felt like I was at an actual baseball game while eating there, I will say that it is well themed, like most other dining destinations around Walt Disney World. 

 Photo courtesy of 52 weeks of Disney.
  • Barbecue Slaw Dog – Topped with pulled pork, cole slaw and barbeque sauce. Served with apple slices or french fries – $8.59  
  • Chicago Style Dog – Topped with tomato slices, dill pickles, Chicago style relish and banana peppers. Served with apple slices or french fries – $8.59  
  • Chili Cheese Dog – Topped with chili and shredded cheddar cheese. Served with apple slices or french fries – $8.59  
  • Hot Dog Meal -Served with apple slices or french fries – $7.69
  •  Corn Dog Nuggets – $4.49  
  •  Ball Park Nachos – $7.69 

There’s also a nice toppings bar with relish, sauerkraut and cheddar cheese sauce available.  Before Casey’s had all these signature dogs, I used to get just a plain hot dog meal and then top it with melted cheddar cheese and sauerkraut. These days, I get the chili cheese dog and do the same thing! While I’m still upset that Disney has done away with their all beef hot dogs, I’m happy to see that they finally ditched their short lived wheat buns – why anyone thought I would want to healthy when ordering a hot dog is beyond me. The buns now are a soft white bread that’s still firm enough to handle an array of toppings. I have noticed though that if you order late in the evening, you run the risk of getting a dried out bun. While the price has gone up on the dogs too, they’ve also gotten bigger. They’re now footlongs, and as a combo meal, more than enough food, though if you want dessert, you have your choice of cracker jacks, cotton candy, or a brownie. The usual coke products, milk, chocolate milk, coffee, and hot chocolate are also available.


While I’ve found a new favorite in the chili cheese dog, judging by what other guests are eating, the Chicago style dog seems to be the fan favorite, while most kids go for a plain hot dog (though younger kids may not be able to eat a whole one) or the corn nuggets. I’ve honestly never had the nachos, and, oddly enough, in hundreds of trips to the Magic Kingdom, have never seen anyone eating them. So, if you have, please share you thoughts on how they were, inquiring minds want to know! 

If there’s a downside to Casey’s, it’s the small size. On busy days in the park, standing in line makes me claustrophobic.  And as I mentioned, it suffers from a lack of seating. There are tables outside, but guests will often sit down and hog them for hours. This is especially true as it gets later in the evening, as if you are lucky enough to score a table between the trees, you’ll have a nice view of Wishes (but absolutely no view of the evening parade). I wish there was a way for Disney to add more seating; unfortunately, there’s no place to put it. My advice would be to try and go at an off time -either before or after the usual lunch or dinner times, and you should have better luck finding a place to sit. If all else fails, there’s always the curb!

I will say I’ve never had a bad hot dog at Casey’s, and now that the buns are good again (most of the time), it’s a must do for us on every visit. If you’re looking for something quick and tasty your next trip, and find yourself on Main Street, consider stopping in and giving Casey’s Corner a try. They are counted as a quick service meal on the Disney dining plan and are open daily from 11 a.m. until park close. Note that they get very busy right around the time of the parade and fireworks, so plan ahead.

Restaurant Review: The Plaza.

Deluxe cheeseburger and fries.

A lot of times when I’m in the parks, I want a quiet meal. It’s less about the food than just sitting down someplace where I don’t have to compete to get a table and where someone brings me my food.  Bonus points if it’s a litle quieter than Cosmic Rays.  The Plaza Restaurant fits that bill completely.

Located in the Magic Kingdom, the Plaza serves reliably good sandwiches and provides a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the Magic Kingdom.   Afterwards, you can also satisfy your sweet tooth with ice cream specialties and cheesecake. The decor continues the theme you’ll see all along Main Street USA:  Imagine an early 20th Century ice cream parlor, complete with windows decked out in sheer white curtains, white moulding, brass accents, and green chairs. The room is pretty without being fussy and the staff is friendly and attentive, as is the case in most Disney restaurants.

The reuben sandwich is a favorite, with corned beef stacked high. If you’re a New Yorker, you might want to pass, but the rest of us will enjoy this spicy sandwich served with crispy fries.

Rueben Sandwich.

Vegetarians aren’t left out. In fact, if you forgo eating meat, the Plaza is a much better alternative than the veggie burgers and sandwiches you’ll find at quick-service locations in the parks.  At $10.99, this sandwich costs just slightly more than a quick-service meal and comes with mozzarella, hummus, pesto, cucumber, roasted red pepper, tomato, and lettuce on a freshly baked foccaccia   You also get a choice of broccoli slaw, chips, or fries.

Vegetarian Sandwich.

I really enjoyed the cheeseburger here. I’m sure it’s the same patty you get elsewhere in the Magic Kingdom, but it was fresher and the bun tasted better.  I’d go back just for it.  The fries that come with all these sandwiches are larger and crispier than those served at quick-service locations. You can also get thick-cut chips. Both are a nice choice, but I’m going to give an edge to the fries.

Part of a larger group?
As your server if you can push your tables together.

The Plaza is the type of restaurant where, if you stick with simple dishes, you’ll leave happy, but venture into the more complicated territory of pastas and (gasp) meatloaf and you’ll probably be disappointed.  Since entrees here cost only a bit more than your average quick-service meal, I recommend not using a table-service credit, especially if you’re not getting dessert.  Instead, just pay out of pocket.  Reservations are not difficult to get, but if you’d like to eat at peak times, make sure to make your reservations as far out as possible.

Restaurant Review: 50s Prime Time Cafe.

Stepping in from the hot Florida sun into 50s Prime Time Cafe is like stepping into your grandmother’s living room, if your grandmother’s house was decorated in a fun, 50s-style kitsch. Black and white televisions playing old favorites, formica, pinks, blues, and 50s futuristic touches, this restaurant is nostalgic fun for anyone, whether you lived through that era or just watched it on Nick at Night.

Fun waiting area/living room with 50s touches.

Your server here will call herself “mom” or perhaps “cousin” or even “uncle,” but they’ll all have one thing in common: Making sure you mind your manners. Think it’s okay to put your elbows on the table?  Mom has something to say about it. Didn’t finish your veggies? You better hide them because when your Cousin Sue comes back, she’s not going to like it. Some servers have the routine down better than others, especially the “mom” types. On our last visit, our server was friendly but brisk. Fortunately, the server for the table next to us had the entire room in stitches with her routine, as she went from table to table checking up on all of us, so we didn’t miss out on the fun.

Carousel of Progress or grandma’s kitchen?



As nice as it is to be entertained, you’re really here from the food and 50s Prime Time doesn’t disappoint. Think comfort food with a Southern touch, with standouts like fried chicken served with to-die-for greens, meatloaf, and chicken pot pie, but you can also try lighter fare like salads and poached salmon. Round that out with flavored sodas, like cherry coke, diner-style desserts, milk shakes, malts and even a few inventive mixed drinks for the grown ups, and you have an enjoyable, and fun, meal.

Black and white televisions are part of the decor.
Take in an old show while you eat.

 
I live in the south and I’m picky about my fried chicken, so I was pleasantly surprised at how good Prime Time’s is. Your crust shouldn’t shatter and fall to the table when you bite into it, but it shouldn’t be a soggy mess either. This chicken falls nicely in between, a lightly spiced, non-greasy piece of chicken with a delicious crust.  And there’s a lot of it, by the way, usually three to four pieces.

You’ll get it serving of mashed potatoes with gravy that are perfectly fine, but the real star of this dish is the greens that come with it. Spicy and, somewhat shocking to this southern cook, not not at all soggy, these greens are delicious. Of course I know you can make greens so they still have a nice bite to them, but I cook them the way I was taught: Until they’re mushy. If you’ve been turned off by greens before because of the texture, give these a try.
The roast beef is good too.  Tender roast beef braised with tomato juice, it’s served in an unnecessarily complicated mound of mashed potatoes and julienned carrots and celery.  I generally don’t care for pot roast that’s been cooked with tomato juice and I probably wouldn’t get this again because of it, but that’s more of a personal thing preference rather than a problem with the preparation and overall taste.  Overall, it’s a good, solid dish and I liked how the carrots and celery were still slightly crispy.  If you’d debating between this dish and the fried chicken, give the sampler platter a try. It comes with both plus meatloaf for $19.99.

Kids meals are the usual fare with the addition of a grilled fish option. My daughter really enjoyed the macaroni with marinara sauce. 

I really liked that there was a substantial portion of fresh fruit offered instead of a dessert option. This is when having the dining plan comes in handy and it’s why I like it so much. You’ll pay $15.02 per child (ages 3 -8) for the plan. This meal costs $8.59.  Add a snack and a quick-service option and it’s easy to come out ahead with children.
Most table-service restaurants at Disney have excellent desserts and 50s Prime Time is no exception.  I loved Dad’s Brownie Sundae with hot fudge and caramel topping. You could also try the delicious S’mores, with their caramelized outside, warm gooey inside, all covered in chocolate sauce. I’m not a marshmallow fan, but I always say yes to these.  I mean, it’s the polite thing to do!
Photo courtesy of Chip and Company.
50s Prime Time Cafe is a new favorite of mine. I love the food and the atmosphere–where else can you watch old TV shows while you eat?  It’s going to be a must-do every trip.

Tutto Italia: A Restaurant Review



The inside of Tutto Italia Restaurant



I recently had the opportunity to eat at Tutto Italia, which is located in Epcot’s Italy Pavilion. Being Italian, I was a little apprehensive about eating here, because the food never seems to measure up at Italian restaurants for me. What can I say, I lived in Italy, and my parents were both Italian (my father actually came over from Sicily), so I grew up spoiled on good, authentic food. I’d also taken it as a “last resort” choice, when nothing else that I wanted was available. Still, a good friend had also eaten here recently and raved about it, so I thought I’d give it a try, and am I ever glad I did! 
While my party of four was unable to secure a dinner reservation on New Year’s Eve (silly me, I should have made my ADR back in July like everyone else, and not waited until December to look for something), we did get a lunch reservation for 11:30. My father-in-law was initially concerned that this was too early to eat; as it turns out, it was perfect. After checking in, we were seated almost immediately, and because this was the first seating, the few tables dining had the full attention of the kitchen and waitstaff before the restaurant really began to fill up. This meant we were able to get through most of our lunch service with ease.
After being seated, I took notice of the surroundings. I’m still not sure if I think the décor in the restaurant is stylish or tacky. I think it’s a little of both, unfortunately. The darker woods and comfortable seating are very inviting, and the high tray ceiling with the wood inlay is a nice touch. However, the carpet is reminiscent of something you would see in a Las Vegas casino, and the murals on the wall, featuring various Italian scenes, looked like something I would find in an Olive Garden. The chandeliers hanging from the ceiling gave the impression of a quiet meal, but they also appeared to be of a cheaper quality and reminded me of an old woman’s house. Plus, once the restaurant fills up, it’s anything BUT quiet. 



Murals like this adorn the walls inside. Tacky?



Regardless of what my impressions of the décor were, I needn’t have been concerned about the food. Tutto Italia is run by the same company that operates Via Napoli, the newer Italian pizzeria within the Italy Pavilion located right “next door.” And as anyone who has eaten there can tell you, the food is, in a word, awesome. It should come as no surprise then that our meals were just as good. Our amazing waitress started us off with a big basket of fresh sliced bread and olive oil. She also brought over a couple of small dishes filled with different types of large olives -red, black and green. These were so tasty, and each had such a distinct flavor, that we asked for more. Okay, I asked for more. Twice.
We skipped antipasti (appetizers) and decided to dig right in. For the main course, each member of my party got something different. The presentation is very average, but the quality is there. The gnocchi pasta with prosciutto, ham, peas and a parmesan cream sauce featured a light pasta with a very flavorful cream that wasn’t overly dense. I do wish the gnocchi had been bigger though. For people that don’t want pasta, the Cotoletta Di Pollo, a breaded chicken cutlet with Pomodoro sauce, mozzarella, potatoes and vegetable was a nice alternative. This isn’t your mamma’s chicken parmigiana featuring sauce out of a can. The sauce was fresh, the cutlet was generous in size, and the potatoes and vegetables were seasoned perfectly. My father-in-law can be a picky eater, and he ate everything on that plate. I enjoyed the traditional Lasagna al Forno with meat ragu, bechamel and parmesan. Again, both the pasta and sauce were fresh and extremely tasty, but I think the chef may have forgotten to include the bechamel sauce because the dish was a little lacking in the middle. If it was included, then it was very sparse.
Gnocchi pasta in a parmesan cream sauce. Delicious!
Italians love to eat, and no good meal is complete without dessert. Once again, each member of my group decided to try something different, and once again, Tutto Italia did not disappoint. From the gianduja – chocolate torta, a chocolate and hazelnut torte with whipped cream and raspberry sauce, to the mocha tiramisu, featuring mascarpone cheese, espresso coffee, savoiardi biscuits and chocolate, each bite tantalized the taste buds. If you don’t like chocolate or cake (and if you don’t, what the heck is wrong with you??), the sorbets, offered in a number of flavors including a delicious and refreshing lemon and a sugar free raspberry that was made with such sweet berries, you wouldn’t know it was sugar free, are nice alternatives. To top the meal off, the waitstaff surprised my mother-in-law, who was celebrating her birthday, with a small dessert cup filled with fluffy chocolate mousse. They also sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to her in Italian. And, since all of the waitstaff is actually from Italy, they got the words AND the pronunciation right. 
Chocolate torta with raspberry sauce

This mocha tiramisu didn’t disappoint!
Speaking of the waiters and waitresses, I cannot say enough good things. Our waitress was so friendly and outgoing, and very attentive to our every need and request. I saw the same thing at every other table as well. Plus, since I speak a little Italian myself, it was fun to have a little friendly banter back and forth. It also impressed my wife, which is enough of a reason for me to go back.
Tutto Italia is a wonderful restaurant; I almost hate to share how good it is because it’s probably going to get even harder to get an ADR now! The food is all fresh, and you can definitely taste that in the cooking. I also liked the fact that despite eating pasta dishes, we didn’t leave feeling overly full or bloated. The service is top notch, as I mentioned, and the desserts are so good, had they let me, I would have stayed there most of the day eating more of them.
Some last minute things you should know before you go – ADR’s are strongly recommended, so make sure to do that or you may not have any luck just walking in and getting a table. While I’m not much of a drinker, the restaurant does feature an extensive list of fine wines and spirits as well as after dinner drinks, coffees, and espresso. Tutto Italia is on the Disney dining plan, and they also accept the Tables in Wonderland card.
Buon appetito! 
Bob is a Disney travel agent and Central Florida local. You can follow his exploits here and on Facebook.  Email him at Bob@PixieVacations.com or call him at 407-810-2528 for free concierge-level help in planning your next Disney vacation.

Restaurant Review: Breakfast at Kona Cafe.

There’s a lot of food for your money, but is it worth it?

I’d heard a lot of good things about breakfast at Kona Cafe, so I’ve been wanting to try it for a while.  Of course the big debate is whether you go for the macadamia nut pancakes or the Tonga Toast, both of which are the stuff of Disney breakfast dreams. Being the undecided types, our large group decided to try both and because we’re extra greedy, we threw in a Big Kahuna Platter for good measure. 

Kona Cafe is located on the second floor of the Polynesian Lobby. You’re literally steps away from the monorail, so it’s incredibly convenient to get here.  It’s decorated in browns, dark oranges, and yellows that compliment the lobby, which is open to the restaurant.  You’ll do well to make a dining reservation here, as at most Disney restaurants, but during less busy times of the year walk-ups are an option. We got our 7:40 reservation about a week in advance, so it’s a much easier location to book than say Ohana, which is also at the Poly.

Tonga Toast.

Kona Cafe’s Tonga Toast has some of the most ardent fans of any dish at Disney World and with good reason. It’s simply delicious. They take sourdough bread and stuff it with bananas and then roll it in cinnamon sugar. It’s then fried and served with a fresh-tasting strawberry compote.  You’ll also get your choice of ham, bacon, or sausage. At $12.99, it’s a pretty good deal and filling enough that you’ll happily pass by the snacks in the park later that morning. Trust me, this is a good thing no matter how much you love Mickey bars, considering that Tonga Toast is essentially a large donut filled with bananas!  A large, very tasty donut.

By the way, if you’re on a budget or can’t get into Kona Cafe, you can get the same Tonga Toast at Captain Cook’s quick service for $5.99, minus the bacon.

Next up, we tried the Big Kahuna Platter, pictured above. It comes with French toast, pancakes topped with pineapple sauce and macadamia nut butter, two eggs cooked the way you like, home fried potatoes, ham, bacon, and sausage. At $11.99, it’s a huge amount of food, but other than the pancakes, there’s nothing out of the ordinary here.  It’s basically the same breakfast platter you’d get at Denny’s or Shoney’s and like any of those places, the French toast is dry and a little bland, the eggs and sausage are, well, they’re eggs and sausage.  Perfectly acceptable, nothing to write home about.  Definitely try it if you have a big appetite or even consider spitting it and adding a side of toast. It’s a lot of food.

The macadamia nut pancakes are a nod to the Hawaiian theme of the resort.  They come with a large scoop of macadamia nut butter and a chunky pineapple sauce, as well as your choice of bacon, sausage or ham.  At just $9.99, this is a very economical breakfast.  The pancakes are light and fluffy, but also somewhat bland. That’s probably forgivable, since pancakes basically exist to support the toppings you put on them, but I was expecting more flavor after all the rave reviews I’d heard.  Add the macadamia nut butter and their taste improves, but I would have been hard-pressed to find nuts in with the butter.  The pineapple sauce was good and added something to the pancakes, but at this point, I would have preferred maple syrup.  Overall, I was not impressed with this dish.

There are a lot of great breakfast locations in Disney World. Sadly, I would probably put Kona at the bottom of my list of table service locations.  It’s passable and the price is good, but other than the Tonga Toast, there’s nothing on the menu that really stands out.  When you contrast this breakfast with a buffet like Crystal Palace or even some of the more inventive items at Grand Floridian Cafe (lobster eggs Benedict) it falls short.  Our server offered the type of  Disney service we usually expect, which is to say, she was great. I rarely find Disney servers lacking and she was no exception. Everything we asked for was brought as quickly as possible, our eggs were cooked to our liking, and she was friendly and helpful.  If you’re staying in the Poly or you’re on the monorail and want to try something nearby, definitely consider adding it to your reservation list.  But don’t go out of your way for Kona.

Kona Cafe is one of the more reasonably priced table-service locations available on property but this also poses a problem for those on the dining plan.  By no means should you use a table-service credit here. It’s simply not worth it if you do the math. That’s not to say it’s not a decent breakfast, but for the price, consider paying out of pocket unless you’re on the Deluxe Dining Plan (which gives you three table service credits a day) and you need to burn up credits.

Getting there:  Transportation at Disney World can be complicated since there are no resort to resort buses.  If you’re driving, it’s simple. Just park at the Poly; the guard at the gate will likely ask for your confirmation number during busier times of the year.  If you’re going from your resort by bus, you’ll want to take the bus to the Magic Kingdom and then the monorail (or Poly resort launch) to the resort.  If you’re coming from one of the other parks, just take the Poly bus to the resort.  You can also catch a Poly bus from Downtown Disney.  Cabs are also available at your resort and can be a good solution to early morning dining reservations.

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