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Eating Hearty -- The Best of All You Can Eat Dining at WDW
by Pete Saroufim
ALL EARS® Feature Writer
This article appeared in the December 17, 2002 Issue #169 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
My father always said, "Don't put all your eggs in one basket." Figuring this was just one of those silly parental clichés, I decided to store it in a mental folder along with the "don't eat gum off the floor" advice. However, when I stepped into Disney's Cape May Café for my very first time, the wise man's words finally made sense. I understood: your first dish is for your eggs, hash browns and waffles; the next for eggs, bacon, and sausage; this all followed by pancakes with four kinds of syrup and maybe a bit more egg; and the last for your fruit and that big bowl of grits. This may very well have been my first childhood epiphany.
Over the years, buffets have become my friend. More importantly though, buffets have become my parents' friend. Feeding three boys with a collective weight of 634 pounds is a daunting task. The Brown Derby might have a great Cobb Salad, but three of those constitute an appetizer for me alone, and the bill for feeding all of us in such a place ranks up there with the Tower of Terror for hair-raising ability. On our numerous Disney trips I've eaten at almost every buffet or "all you can eat" meal -- maybe 20 times each -- and I'd like to offer my opinion on where to get the best eats on property.
In my opinion, there are three key ingredients to a great buffet or "all you can eat" meal that must be examined before you can make the right choice for your Disney dining experience. The first ingredient is variety, the ability to satisfy people of differing tastes. My brothers and I, for instance, although family, still have differing impressions of food. My oldest brother's most common line is, "What's the date on this? Is it still good?" while the middle brother is more apt to say, "That looks gross. Can I try some?" I'm more of an "Are you gonna finish that?" kind of kid. Whatever your tastes may be, fussy or adventurous, "everything on top" or "don't let those touch!", an "all you can eat" meal should suit your needs.
The second of my big three criteria is entertainment value. You can go to any old local buffet, but it takes something special to make you say, "Forget Denny's, I've found my place!" That's the entertainment. The ability to have the customer enjoy his food and at the same time enjoy himself. Walt Disney World buffets are top of the line when it comes to having fun, and whether you enjoy sharp-shooting cowboys or the classic Disney characters, you'll find something you like.
The last ingredient, and possibly the most important, is price. I can dine with the Queen of England herself, but if it's going to make my wallet that much lighter, I'd rather have a TV dinner. Nothing in Disney comes too cheap, so you can't be looking for $7.95 all-you-can-eats. Still, keep in mind that this does take into account the drinks (in most but not all cases), appetizer, salad, soup, unlimited main courses, dessert after dessert, and for me, another main course. The question you have to ask yourself is, "Is it worth the money?" Some are, and some aren't. I can tell you off the bat that all the places I've picked to list are worth it, or else I simply wouldn't bother writing about them... If it's not worth the money, it's not Disney.
May Café (at the Beach Club)
Variety: 10 (on a scale of 1 to 10)
Entertainment: 9 (on a scale of 1 to 10)
There's no better place to start than the Beach Club's Cape May Café, which offers both breakfast and dinner. Easily the top WDW breakfast, Cape May offers omelets, eggs, biscuits and gravy, pancakes, French toast, Mickey waffles, bacon, sausage, seasoned potatoes, oatmeal, grits, hot and cold cereals, bread pudding with vanilla sauce, muffins, Danish, doughnuts, fresh seasonal fruit, coffee, tea, and juice selection. As you can see, there's something for everyone, and the quality of the food is unbeatable. Aunt Jemima herself couldn't match these pancakes.
Of course, if you're not morning people, you can stop in for dinner, which includes steamed clams and mussels, Caesar and assorted salads, shrimp, New England Clam Chowder (as a Bostonian I can tell you that it ranks up there with the best of them), soup, fresh fish, barbecue pork ribs, a chef's selection of chicken or beef, and great desserts.
A nice beach atmosphere surrounds you in Cape May Café, and at breakfast Disney characters wander around. Definitely a must-do buffet, breakfast and dinner.
Mickey's (at the Contemporary)
In all the times I've been to this acclaimed buffet, it's never been for breakfast. I can tell you, though, that the dinner is unbeatable. Salad bar, peel-and-eat shrimp, oven-roasted prime rib, seasonal vegetables, a chef's selection of carved meats and seasonal entrées, and potato and rice selections. Calling them "potato selections" does not do them justice. The Parmesan mashed potatoes at Chef Mickey's can more appropriately be described as "mmmmmm." They're unmatched, simply unmatched. Oh, and there's more good stuff after dinner. All the kids, and even the adults (those willing to admit it), will have a blast decorating cupcakes and topping their sundaes with Goofy. Like most WDW buffets, Chef Mickey's offers chicken fingers, hot dogs, mac and cheese, and mini pizzas for the kids.
Only two buffets on this list get a 10 for entertainment in my book, and Chef Mickey's is an easy choice. All the classic Disney characters will stop by as you dine, and every half-hour Mickey's got a little party for you. As in most WDW restaurants, your servers are terrific. One server named Annie, possibly my favorite Cast Member, has made it her duty to keep up with the amounts of chocolate milk I consume. Chef Mickey's is one of those places that gives you the feeling that you can't get anywhere but Disney.
Grill (in Epcot's Land pavilion)
A revolving restaurant? I thought they only made them in New York! Well, I thought wrong. The Garden Grill is like a big, slow, merry-go-round with tables, Disney characters, good food -- you can even look down into a Disney ride as you devour your Yukon potatoes. Although it moves slowly, the motion of the restaurant entertains the kids, and that, along with the roaming Farmer Mickey and friends, is what earned the Garden Grill a 9. When it comes to food, Garden Grill has never really left my mind boggling. It gets the job done, though. Brought to your table and served family-style, there's garden fresh salad (featuring produce harvested from Epcot's Land greenhouses), grilled flank steak, herb rotisserie chicken, plantain crusted fried catfish, seasonal vegetables, cornbread stuffing, those Yukon smashed potatoes, sunflower bread with honey butter, and Walt's caramel apple bread pudding. And the best part, Worms and Dirt (pudding with crumbled Oreos and Gummi worms) for dessert!
& Vine (in Disney-MGM Studios)
Disney-MGM Studios' finest buffet -- as well as its only buffet -- Hollywood and Vine is a great place to eat for a nice, casual meal. It also gives you the chance to take advantage of Fantasmic! priority seating. I haven't had the opportunity to try the breakfast, but the lunch and dinner buffet includes rotisserie turkey, marinated grilled flank steak, citrus chicken, fresh catch, fresh pasta creations, sausage and peppers, fresh vegetables, rice, mashed potatoes, mixed greens salad, assorted cold salads, assorted breads, roasted potatoes, and fresh cut fruit. Let me tell you, that's not a bad meal, and you can top it off with the dessert bar, featuring a make-your-own sundae station. Recently remodeled, Hollywood & Vine's breakfast and lunch feature Disney characters. At dinner there's not much entertainment except members of your party -- and sometimes that's all you want.
(in the Animal Kingdom Lodge)
Located on the lower level of Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge, Boma ranks at the top of my list for atmosphere. I wonder if Africa itself feels this African? Your appreciation of the food of Boma all depends on what you're willing to try. If you have what it takes to pile your plate up with the delights of Africa, then Boma is a wonderful place to eat. If you're not that daring, but you are interested in the African design, go anyway. There's a station with delicious roasted meats and the kid's menu has chicken fingers and hot dogs. Whichever type of person you are, don't skip the dessert bar -- you won't regret making a stop there.
(at the Polynesian)
'Ohana offers great barbecued food along with a pleasant Hawaiian theme, including a humorous fellow playing a nice (though sometimes annoying) ukulele in the background. Though not a buffet, 'Ohana offers an "all you can eat" dinner brought to your table consisting of Pacific Rim salads, 'Ohana Island Bread, fire-grilled beef, seafood, poultry, and pork, fresh stir-fried vegetables and fried rice, and fresh pineapple and caramel sauce. If you do decide to give 'Ohana a try, wrap up some sausage and take it home with you because it's so good, you will be missing it in a few hours.
Canyon Café (at the Wilderness Lodge)
That's right -- 11 out of 10! I saved the best for last. Take my word for it; this is the best restaurant at Walt Disney World.
If you like pistol-carrying, loud-yelling, adult-embarrassing, rowdy servers along with a complete Western theme and a great wooden horse race for the kids every hour or so, Whispering Canyon Café is your place. Even if you don't like that stuff, you'll love Whispering Canyon anyway!
You can choose from an impressive variety of food from a large menu, but if you're smart you'll go with the All-You-Can-Eat Skillet, which includes St. Louis-style smoked spare ribs, herb garlic chicken, roasted potatoes, canyon pork sausage, beef stew, barbecue beans, and corn on the cob. Of course, you also get drinks, salad, corn bread, and biscuits. And yes, this is as good as it sounds!
And as far as entertainment goes, you won't have this much fun on Space Mountain! Sometime during your dinner the patriarch of your crowd may have to give the whole restaurant a special rendition of "My Little Buttercup" with all the other big guys, and, as I mentioned, the kids get to run around on wooden stick horses. That's where the fun starts. You'll make your own memories here, memories no one else has had there. In my trips to the Canyon, I've seen kids get tied down to chairs and fathers force-fed their dinner. In my own family, my eldest brother pulled a cap gun out of the server's holster and held up the restaurant for ketchup. Some friends in my party were forced to sing Happy Birthday to a teenage girl at a nearby table, and once I was forced to ride around the Wilderness Lodge lobby on one of those wooden horses singing Happy Birthday to myself. I was 10 -- and I haven't ridden a wooden horse since. Trust me though -- no Disney trip is complete without the Whispering Canyon Café. Whether you're with 20 teenagers, three young ones of your own, or just with your fiancée, don't skip out on the Canyon. It's a great experience.
I've done my best to prep you for the dangerous world of WDW buffets and "all you can eat" meals. It can get rough out there -- so many choices, so little time.
But if you get nothing else from my recommendations, please, always remember -- don't eat the gum off the floor.
Pete is a high school sophomore from Boston, Massachusetts, who began traveling to Walt Disney World at the age of 5, and has visited nearly 20 times since. When not in WDW, he spends his time playing basketball, soccer and volleyball, writing, creating web pages, and conquering demons with PlayStation2. If you'd like to contact Pete, his email is TheLebageek@aol.com
You can enjoy Pete's other ALL EARS columns in the Writer's Corner
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