House of Blues has long been a presence at Disney Springs (formerly known as Downtown Disney), and my husband and I have enjoyed dining there since its early days in the late ’90s. We have had date nights there, as well as taken visiting family and friends to its rollicking Gospel Brunch — all with a sense of adventure in the entertainment and satisfaction with our meals.
“The House of Blues grew out of founder Isaac Tigrett’s love for the unique American art form known as the ‘the Blues.’ Weaned on this music during his early childhood in Tennessee, one of Isaac’s goals was to introduce the world to the music of the rural south, including the Blues, Rhythm and Blues, Gospel, Jazz and Roots-based Rock & Roll,” according to the company website. “The very first House of Blues opened its doors in a converted historical house in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1992 and is home to live music, original folk art, and delta-inspired cuisine.”
The Orlando restaurant recently updated its menu, and I was invited to visit and sample new dishes and old favorites. Although I had made a reservation, the walk-up wait time was only about 20 minutes on a Saturday night. With the holiday season — and crowds — upon us, that’s definitely something to keep in mind if you’re visiting Disney Springs without a reservation. Many of the other restaurants cannot accommodate last-minute guests so quickly on busy nights.
My husband and I began the dinner by sipping on a Pride & Joy (made from Hornitos Black Barrel Tequila, St. Elder, lime and pineapple juice, agave nectar and sour) and a Rock Me Hurricane (made from Bacardi Superior rum, Bacardi Oakheart spiced rum, Amaretto Disaronno, orange and pineapple juices and a Bacardi Black rum float). The Hurricane had that familiar and refreshing fruit-and-rum taste, and the spiced rum was strong, sweet and abundant. My husband said his first Pride & Joy was delicious, too.
Our server, Calvin, was knowledgeable about the new menu and explained that many of the dishes had been revamped and others added in an effort to offer a dining experience more typical of the cuisine of the South. Still, repeat diners will find that the most popular dishes remain on the menu.
Knowing that the portions are huge, we decided to skip the appetizers at the beginning and focus on our meals. We ordered four dinners to share. My husband chose the Fried Chicken, which was a quarter bird drizzled with warm honey, slaw and mashed potatoes with gravy ($20). Calvin explained that the addition of the honey was new to this dish, and my husband said he enjoyed the flavor of the traditional southern staple. The Fried Chicken is one of the dishes on the menu earmarked by the House of Blues Music Forward Foundation, which donates $1 from its sale to the nonprofit dedicated to accelerating the real-life skills for youth using music as the bridge to successful careers. (You can read more at hobmusicforward.org)
My teenage son tried the BBQ Bacon Burger ($15), which was no surprise to the rest of us because he routinely orders bacon or barbecue burgers when we go out. Because of his preference and breadth of experience, I trust his opinion that the House of Blues burger was good, but it wasn’t his favorite at Disney Springs. The House of Blues burger was topped with cheddar cheese, Applewood-smoked bacon, crispy jalapenos, sautÃ©ed bourbon onions and Memphis BBQ sauce, and although it was perfectly fine, my son said he would not seek it out. Instead, he recommends the Barbecue Classic Burger (served with signature blend beef patty topped with a fried onion ring, smoked Gouda, bacon, barbecue sauce, grilled onions and lettuce) at D-Luxe Burger, a short walk away.
My daughter tried the New York Strip ($30), which is a 12-ounce grilled Angus steak, mashed potatoes and arugula salad. We all tasted the steak and agreed that it, unfortunately, did not have much flavor. It definitely was not something I would order again, especially knowing that plenty of other locations on Disney property have excellent steaks that I would make a special trip to enjoy. The mashed potatoes were delicious, however.
I decided to go with my old standby, the Jambalaya ($19), which is made with sautÃ©ed chicken, andouille sausage and trinity cooked in spicy red sauce. I opted to add the Cajun shrimp ($6), and I ordered the Jalapeno-Cheese Cornbread ($9), which is served in a skillet with honey butter. The Jambalaya perhaps was our biggest disappointment because I have ordered it almost every time I have dined at House of Blues during the last 20 years and this new version tastes nothing like that. It was quite bland and would have had little appeal without the shrimp add-on.
Overall, my family and I found the quality of the entrees we sampled at the various price points to be acceptable, but nothing to rave about. Unfortunately, when a meal for a family of four costs $125 or more, such as this one and many table-service meals at Walt Disney World do, “acceptable” isn’t enough to entice me to dine there again.
Food aside, the restaurant’s cool atmosphere and our enthusiastic server did make for a pleasant experience. And if you love the blues and rock music, clearly you’ll value the dining experience more and overlook some of the menu shortcomings. After all, music and folk art appreciation is perhaps half the reason many people keep coming back to HOB. I just wish we liked the new menu more so that I’d be singing a different song about the food.
DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of House of Blues to sample its new menu. This did not affect my story; my opinions are my own.