Dining Out and About:
Turf Club Bar & Grill
By Jack Spence, ALL EARS® Guest Columnist
This article appeared in the October 24, 2006, Issue #370 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
I had the honor of being the very first party to eat at Disney's newest restaurant, the Turf Club Bar & Grill at Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa. For those of you who don't already know, Saratoga Springs is Disney's latest Vacation Club and is located on the site of the former Disney Institute and Villas. The circa 1970s villas were razed to make room for this new resort that has the feel of upstate New York's horse racing tracks around the 1800s. The newer Disney Institute buildings still remain and this is where you can find The Turf Club Bar & Grill.
In a way the Turf Club Bar & Grill is actually two entities. The bar (lounge) is located immediately outside of the restaurant. This is a comfortable area with couches and tables to relax, watch TV, and play games. Families are welcome and a pool table invites. The bar is actually just an opening in the wall and does not feature a traditional counter at which to sit. Drink service begins at 5 p.m.
The restaurant is off of the lounge and runs along the back of the building and is flanked by a beautiful, covered patio that overlooks the Sassagoula River. Dark mahogany paneling, beige walls, and green upholstery blend together to create a warm, comfortable feel. Bridles, stirrups, and other horse racing paraphernalia have been framed in shadow boxes and the carpet sports jockeys riding their steeds. Light classical music plays in the background.
The adjoining patio is covered by a large awning. Because of this, the restaurant is always shaded from the sun, so there are no annoying shades that must be lowered in the late afternoon to spoil your view. Because the restaurant opened at the beginning of summer, it's been too hot to use the patio for table service, but as soon as it begins to cool down, this area will also be used for dining.
Since my first visit was on opening day, every server was scheduled to work and a half-dozen managers were milling around to make sure everything went smoothly. We were soon approached by Shelly, who introduced herself and welcomed us to the Turf Club.
As of the writing of this article, I have eaten here four times -- three for lunch and once for dinner. Shelly has been my server for three of these meals, and on each occasion she has shown herself to be the epitome of a Disney cast member. She is friendly, outgoing, and knowledgeable about her product.
One of the first things Shelly recommended to me and my dining companion was the Blackberry Lemonade and Sour Apple Freeze. We took her advice and each ordered one. Both were excellent and I would recommend them. However, if you're like me and drink more than one glass of "whatever" when you have a meal, this could get expensive, since refills are not included on these items. I switched to Diet Coke afterwards.
OK, onto the bad news...
Both the lunch and dinner menu are lacking in selection. Like so many other restaurants at Walt Disney World of late, the Turf Club Bar & Grill has a scaled-back menu that features the same old standbys: steak, penne pasta, Reuben sandwich, hamburger, spare ribs, and roasted chicken. What has happened to Disney's famous imagination? But there is a bright side here. Even though the Turf Club Bar & Grill serves the same fare, they do try to add their own distinctive flair, and I feel they have succeeded where other Disney restaurants have failed.
On my first visit, I asked if the appetizer of Steamed Mussels was enough for an entree. Shelly assured me it was and also told me that the broth that they are served in was wonderful. She was right on both counts. There were 18 mussels and the broth would have made an excellent soup. I told Shelly that I wished that I had some bread to sop up the broth with. Moments later, three slices of extremely good sourdough bread appeared at my table. I found out the bread is automatically served with dinner, but only on request at lunch.
Another example of how the Turf Club Bar & Grill tries to take standard fare and turn it into something special is the Caesar Salad. Instead of your typical chopped romaine lettuce with dressing, the chef takes whole leaves and grills them. Large shavings of parmesan cheese are sprinkled on top. Besides being visually appealing, the grilling gives the salad a distinctive flavor and it's really quite good.
For lunch, I've also tried the Spiced Salmon Salad and the Angus Chuck Cheeseburger. Both were good.
I have also tried the Crab Cake Bites with Dipping Sauces. I thought that $10.49 was rather steep for an appetizer so I asked if there was enough food to share. The answer is no. You get six, 3/4-inch diameter crab balls with three sauces: Papaya Ginger, Sun Dried Tomato Pesto, and Garlic Olive. There is enough of each sauce for all six crab balls. I don't like ginger, so I didn't even try the Papaya Ginger option, but the other two were quite tasty. In fact, I kept my Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto to spread on my sourdough bread. The crab balls are good and contain no fillers, but they are expensive.
For my one dinner experience, I tried the Grilled Top Sirloin Steak. With this meal you have a choice of crab meat and grain mustard sauce or blue cheese, Portobello mushrooms and balsamic glaze. I chose the latter. Shelly warned me that the blue cheese that is used is extremely strong and she suggested that I request a scaled-back portion. I told her that I wanted to try it as the chef suggests. Shelly was right. The blue cheese is extremely overpowering and I scraped most of it off. Next time, I'll believe Shelly when she makes a suggestion. The balsamic glaze that the steak sits on was very tasty.
I requested my steak rare, but it came out medium. Shelly watched me cut into it and insisted on taking it back even though I said it wasn't necessary. Later, Chef Daniel came to my table to personally apologize for any inconvenience they had caused me.
My dining companion tried the Herb Roasted Half Chicken and said it's probably the best chicken served at Disney World. Chef Daniel told us that the chicken is marinated three days before cooking.
Someone at an adjoining table ordered the Barbecued Spare Ribs. They looked good and meaty. Chef Daniel told us that the ribs are coated with sugar and spices and slowly baked at a low temperature. The BBQ glaze is added toward the end of the process.
For those of you who try to eat healthy, steamed vegetables can be substituted for chips on any of the meals. Mango tea is also available upon request.
Now that I've heaped all of this praise on the Turf Club Bar & Grill, I'm going to take a little back.
Florida residents and Annual Passholders can buy a Disney Dining Experience Card. This entitles the bearer to 20 percent off of food and alcoholic beverages at most Disney table service restaurants. I have one of these cards.
For dinner, we had three cocktails, one ice tea, one appetizer, two entrees and two desserts. After subtracting 20 percent and then tipping 20 percent, the bill came to $93. When I left the restaurant, I somehow felt I didn't get my money's worth, but I'm not sure why I felt that way. The food was good, the atmosphere pleasant, and Shelly gave us excellent service. But something was missing. After a lot of thought, I think it comes down to the menu selections. There are very few and they're mundane. The chefs at the Turf Club Bar & Grill have tried hard to raise these selections above the norm, but when I spend this kind of money, I want more choices and more imagination.
Saratoga Springs and the Turf Club Bar & Grill can be found off of Vacation Club Way. When entering the complex you will be on Broadway and will be stopped by a security guard who will ask for identification. Continue on Broadway until you come to Golf Drive and turn right. A short distance ahead you will find the parking lot. The Turf Club Bar & Grill is hidden behind the Artist's Palette food court. Note, the restrooms are located a long way away from the restaurant. I'd suggest stopping there before or after your meal.
Reservations can be made by calling 407-WDW-DINE.
Lunch: Noon-5 p.m.
Dinner: 5-9 p.m.
Other reviews by Jack Spence: http://allears.net/btp/jacks.htm
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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.