Kidding Around:
A Young Person's Look at Fine Dining

by Alex Koma
AllEars® Kid Columnist

Feature Article

This article appeared in the August 10, 2004 Issue #255 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)


EDITOR'S NOTE: We all know that Walt Disney World caters to kids. Even the fanciest of its restaurants welcome all ages, with the notable exception of Victoria & Albert's at the Grand Floridian. Yet many of us get in a restaurant rut when we vacation, sticking to the counter service spots that serve burgers, fries, and the ever-popular hot dogs. Perhaps we occasionally venture to a "special" sit-down meal –- a character breakfast, a dinner show like the Hoop Dee Doo Revue, or even a whimsical spot with guest interaction like the Whispering Canyon Café in the Wilderness Lodge, or the Prime Time '50s Diner in the Disney-MGM Studios.

But what if you’re ready to take the next step and have a really "nice" meal with your kids? Say you have an occasion to celebrate, or you just can't possibly stand another slice of pizza –- you need a steak, or a piece of broiled fish. You can't take Junior and his sister to a finer restaurant, can you? They'll be bored, they won't find anything to eat on the menu, they'll create a scene. It will be a nightmare.

Or will it?

Our 12-year-old Kid Korrespondent, Alex, has broadened his eating horizons at a number of the finer restaurants at Walt Disney World over the last few years. Here he shares his perspective on dining around the World.

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CALIFORNIA GRILL
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While most kids may think that this place is strictly for fancy adults, I discovered that the California Grill, located on the 15th floor of Walt Disney World's Contemporary Resort, offers great food, breathtaking views and a relaxed atmosphere for all ages.

I'm not saying that the California Grill isn't high-class at all, just that it's fancy while still being kid-friendly. In fact, when I was there, there were lots of other kids around, too, who seemed to be having a good time.

When we went there last month, I shared an appetizer of three-cheese flatbread with my parents, and had an entree of beef with potatoes gratin (with cheese) and green beans. I decided I didn't want the barbecue sauce that went with the beef, and our server, Mike, was so great about it -– he made sure the chef left it off. Everything, my whole meal, was excellent. The flatbread was crispy, the beef was done perfectly and the green beans were crunchy. The dessert was even better! I had chocolate torte with blackberries and raspberries. It was delicious! Overall, the food was wonderful.

Besides the excellent food, the California Grill has one of the best views in Walt Disney World. Seeing Cinderella Castle with rays of sunshine upon it was truly magical. Being able to look DOWN on the monorail was equally impressive. The view adds a lot to the excellence of the California Grill.

The sort of retro atmosphere of the restaurant pulls the experience together. At times, it feels like you're in the '70s (hearing Stevie Wonder music in the background helps that along), but it still feels like you're in the present time, too (the music of Enya helps that). Overall, the decor was what my mom called very "contemporary," blending the styles of different times with the present time.

The fantastic food, view, and atmosphere make the California Grill a great place that everyone can enjoy.

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RESTAURANT AKERSHUS
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Most people, kids especially, would be put off by the thought of pickled herring and smoked mackerel. However, if they were, they'd miss out on Restaurant Akershus, a tasty cultural break from burgers and fries found in the Norway Pavilion of Epcot's World Showcase. Akershus offers great authentic Norwegian food and a uniquely Norse atmosphere.

Akershus has a unique way of presenting its many dishes to you. How? Your server lets you order from a menu of freshly prepared dishes, like poached cod and golden chicken, and while you are waiting you can get things from the cold bar, which offers things like smoked fish, salad, and goat cheese.

My hot choice was golden breast of chicken in cranberry sauce, which was moist and sweet. I tried the peppered mackerel and smoked salmon from the "koldtbordt," which weren't the best, but still pretty good. There were lots of different cheeses that I liked, and there were salads and cold, sliced meats like turkey and roast beef. They offered several types of bread, too, like crackerbread and a rolled up Norwegian flatbread. All of the breads were great -- I went for seconds!

Akershus also had a "Little Vikings" menu for kids who aren't feeling adventurous, with things like burgers and hot dogs. I saw lots of little kids getting those instead of trying the cold buffet, but that was OK, too.

One thing that I especially enjoyed at Akershus was the ability to get some of their specialty drinks without alcohol. I got one made of raspberry and mango. Yum. Overall, Akershus food doesn't disappoint.

The other good thing about Akershus was the Norse atmosphere. When you walk in, you see several troll figures and walls that look like they're straight from a small cottage in Norway. The servers are all Norwegian and you can hear Norwegian-style music being played in the background. It all came together and really made you feel like you could be in Norway.

All in all, Akershus was a great getaway from the normal American food and fast-food atmosphere.

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HOLLYWOOD BROWN DERBY
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Is your family looking for a nicer in-park dining experience? Then the Brown Derby in the Disney-MGM Studios is perfect for you! A remake of the original restaurant in California, the Brown Derby serves great food in a fun Hollywood atmosphere.

The star of the restaurant is the food. It's not so high-class that kids can't enjoy it, but still pretty fancy. I had grilled salmon with polenta (a side-dish made of corn meal). They were both excellent. The salmon was tender and the polenta was creamy.

Besides having wonderful food, the Brown Derby lets you enjoy an atmosphere that's casual and not too stuffy. It feels just like you're in California. Caricatures of famous stars line the walls, even in the restrooms –- I spotted a few of the Marx Brothers and William Powell from the old Thin Man movies, which I love! If you live far from California, the Brown Derby is almost like visiting Hollywood, or as close as you can get.

For a high-class lunch or dinner without leaving the theme park, choose the Brown Derby, where, like it says on the menu, food takes "Center Stage."

As you can see, a fancier restaurant doesn't automatically mean "kid UN-friendly." I hope I've convinced you that you should venture to take your WHOLE family, including the kids, to try something a little more than fast-food burgers and dogs on your next Walt Disney World vacation!

(EDITOR'S, aka Mom's, ADDITIONAL NOTE: We can't promise you that taking your kids to some of these restaurants is wallet-friendly, however. If your little ones are under 12, they can still order from a children's menu, with most prices around $5 for a hot dog or hamburger entree. At 12, though, Alex's appetite is leading him to choose entrees from the ADULT menu, which means adult prices. Ouch! Budget accordingly!)

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Related Links:

Read other restaurant reviews by Alex HERE.

Read other restaurant reviews by adults HERE.

California Grill Dinner Menu
Hollywood Brown Derby Dinner Menu
Restaurant Akershus Dinner Menu