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Sleeping Beauty Castle - 24 Hour Event - 2015

Special Menu Items Available at The Lunching Pad at Magic Kingdom Park

posted on May 22nd, 2015 by Pam Brandon, Disney Parks Food Writer


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Are you having fun kicking off the Coolest Summer Ever at Magic Kingdom Park? Why not take a break to refuel at The Lunching Pad. What’s on the menu? A specialty hot dog topped with pulled pork and slaw, refreshing watermelon lemonade and a crisped rice treat adorably shaped like a flip-flop.

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Where to Find Special ‘Frozen’-Themed Treats at Magic Kingdom Park Today

posted on May 22nd, 2015 by Pam Brandon, Disney Parks Food Writer


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Some of our favorite food and beverage offerings have turned blue today – like the cotton candy and lemonade – to help us kick off the “Coolest Summer Ever.” Don’t forget to try the specialty cupcake, topped with blue buttercream and the 24-Hour Kickoff to Summer logo, available at Main Street Bakery and Gaston’s Tavern. Guests love the Olaf-shaped sipper, too!

‘Frozen’-Themed Treats at Magic Kingdom Park for the 24-Hour Kickoff to Summer Event ‘Frozen’-Themed Treats at Magic Kingdom Park for the 24-Hour Kickoff to Summer Event

What treats are you looking forward to trying today?

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Favorite Recipe from New Harambe Market at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on May 19th, 2015 by Pam Brandon, Disney Parks Food Writer


Harambe Market opens May 23 at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and if you can’t be here for the debut, we’re sharing one of our favorite recipes from the new location.

This chickpea salad, which will be served with the Karubi Ribs from Harambe Market, features distinctive African flavors like tamarind paste and chaat masala. Give the dish plenty of time to marinate before serving.

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Chickpea Salad
Serves 8 as a side dish or appetizer

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1/2 small jalapeno pepper, seeds removed, minced
1 teaspoon tamarind paste, dissolved in 3 tablespoons of water
1/4 teaspoon chaat masala, optional
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
2 (14.5-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, divided
Coarse salt, freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 large tomato, seeds removed, diced
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
1/2 bunch cilantro, stems removed, minced

  1. Heat oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add garlic, ginger and jalapeno; cook until garlic is lightly golden. Set aside until mixture is room temperature. Whisk in tamarind paste and chaat masala. Stir in onion. Refrigerate until cold.
  2. Add chilled spice mixture to chickpeas, tossing to coat. Add 2 tablespoons lime juice and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  3. Just before serving, add cucumber, tomato and cilantro. Add remaining 1 tablespoon lime juice, if desired. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Cook’s notes: Tamarind paste has a distinctive, tart flavor. It can be purchased in Asian and Latin-American grocery stores or online. Chaat masala is a spice blend available in specialty food stores and some grocery stores or online.

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California Grill Celebrates 20 Years at the Top at Disney’s Contemporary Resort

posted on May 15th, 2015 by Pam Brandon, Disney Parks Food Writer


Has it really been 20 years since California Grill put Walt Disney World Resort dining on the culinary map? May 15, 1995, the date that the beautiful space was unveiled on the top floor of Disney’s Contemporary Resort with stellar cuisine and an equally spectacular bird’s-eye view of Magic Kingdom Park and Walt Disney World Resort. Reimagined in 2013 with new interiors and a new onstage kitchen and menu, the restaurant has not rested on its laurels.

View of Magic Kingdom Park from California Grill at Disney's Contemporary Resort California Grill at Disney's Contemporary Resort

While there’s no big ta-dah planned for the turning 20, Chef Brian Piasecki focuses on beautiful produce, so spring is one of his favorite times of the year. “Soft shell crabs, local heirloom tomatoes, Delta asparagus, spring onions, West Coast halibut, morel mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns, baby artichokes, Zellwood corn, fava beans, English peas,” says Chef Brian, ticking off the list of amazing ingredients he’s working with in the kitchen for the 20th anniversary.

Copper River Salmon at California Grill at Disney's Contemporary Resort Chocolate Pudding Cake at California Grill at Disney's Contemporary Resort

“And don’t forget Copper River salmon season opens May 12,” he says. “We’re serving the salmon ‘a la plancha’ [grilled on a metal plate] with Zellwood sweet corn yeast cakes, baby shiitake mushrooms, fiddlehead ferns and pickled ramps, topped with spiked milk-stout maple syrup.”

Then there’s more fresh seafood, the BLT heirloom tomato flatbread with house-smoked bacon, and more local sweet corn, says Chef Brian, who has been at the helm at California Grill since 2009.

“To create the wow experience is the greatest feeling,” he says. “I have the opportunity to create amazing food with an incredible team.”

The most-ordered dish on the menu is the fork tender, oak-grilled filet of beef, right now paired with heirloom tomato risotto, a rich tomato-butter sauce, micro basil and a dash of aged balsamic vinegar. But if you ask Chef Brian for his favorite dish has says he’s partial to the tempura-fried soft shell crab with an espelette (red pepper) aioli and local red watercress salad.

And the beverages are as finely tuned as the food, thanks to area manager Michael Scheifler, who keeps a close eye on trends. “For spring and summer was are rolling out a seasonal beer menu, including the new Napa Smith Cool Brew from the only brewery in Napa Valley” says Michael. “We’re also adding a ‘Super Premium Spirit Page’ with offerings such as Bunnahabhain Single Malt Scotch, Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon and Hennessy Richard.”

So raise a glass. Happy 20th, California Grill, cheers to 20 more!

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Chef Mickey’s Opens for Brunch Starting May 31 at Disney’s Contemporary Resort

posted on May 15th, 2015 by Pam Brandon, Disney Parks Food Writer


Reservations open May 22 for what promises to be a popular new addition to Walt Disney World Resort dining – mid-day brunch daily at Chef Mickey’s at Disney’s Contemporary Resort.

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The popular restaurant, with the Monorail breezing by overhead, has been open for breakfast and dinner, and is one of the very best spots for an audience with Chef Mickey and his pals, who make a stop at each table during dining service.

For brunch, the menu of breakfast favorites expands with soup; salads including Caesar; seafood, fresh broccoli, antipasto, chicken and Caprese, and hot dishes such as barbecued ribs, seafood étouffée and baked salmon. (And, yes, the famous Mickey waffles are on the brunch menu.) The ice cream bar and Contemporary bakery sweets also will be part of the expansive buffet.

Hours for brunch are 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. (Breakfast is still 7-11:30 a.m. and dinner 5-9:30 p.m.) Meals are one table-service entitlement on the Disney Dining Plan. For reservations, visit www.disneyworld.com/dine or call 407-WDW-DINE.

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Top 10 Disney Salads, Coast to Coast

posted on May 6th, 2015 by Pam Brandon, Disney Parks Food Writer


May is National Salad Month (who knew?). One of our favorite ways to eat is with a big bowl of deliciousness that doesn’t always involve romaine.

Here are 10 of our favorite salads from the Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort. Salad bars don’t count – we love the ways the chefs create a taste sensation with a little bit of this and that.

The Caesar Salad at Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante at Disneyland Park 'Smiling Tiger Salad' at Napa Rose at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa

At Disneyland Resort:

  1. “Smiling Tiger Salad” at Napa Rose at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. What’s not to love about Chef Andrew Sutton’s tempura fried lobster, spicy beef, Asian greens and a drizzle of coconut-lime vinaigrette?
  2. Relax over lunch with the Roasted Chicken and Strawberry Salad at Carthay Circle Restaurant in Disney California Adventure park, a mélange of warm asparagus, avocado, arugula, toasted ancient grains and roasted chicken breast filled with strawberry butter.
  3. Also at Disney California Adventure park, we discovered the Greek Salad at Paradise Garden Grill – grab a seat in the shade and dig in to this generous bowl of greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, pepperoncinis, marinated olive and feta flavored with a lemon-oregano dressing and pita bread for scooping. You might want to share.
  4. Over at Disneyland park, a longtime favorite is the Caesar at Rancho del Zocalo Restaurante. This is the real deal, as the Caesar was invented in Mexico City – though a staple in Italian restaurants, the Caesar generally is attributed to Caesar Cardini, an Italian who created the salad at his restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico, where it became a hit with Hollywood stars. Rancho serves the Hacienda Caesar, romaine tossed, sweet peppers and cotija cheese in housemade dressing with pepitas seeds, radishes and crisp tortilla chips. Top it with grilled chicken or carne asada.
The Power Salad at Sunshine Seasons at Epcot The Cobb Salad at The Hollywood Brown Derby at Disney's Hollywood Studios

At Walt Disney World Resort:

  1. Heading to the East Coast, The Plaza Restaurant in Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World Resort has an entrée salad that’s never left the menu – the chicken strawberry salad with greens, grilled chicken breast, cucumbers, fresh strawberries and gorgonzola tossed in a lightly sweet white zinfandel vinaigrette. A classic.
  2. Over at Sunshine Seasons at Epcot, try the trendy Power Salad – a bowlful of protein with quinoa, oak-fired chicken, almonds and honey vinaigrette. You’ll have plenty of energy to power walk World Showcase Promenade.
  3. Quinoa is the star of another favorite at ABC Commissary at Disney’s Hollywood Studios – the Couscous Quinoa & Arugula Salad, tossed to order. We top it with grilled salmon for extra protein and Omega 3s.
  4. Also at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, who doesn’t love the Cobb Salad at The Hollywood Brown Derby? Chopped delightfully small and tossed tableside, it’s a classic with ham, bacon, turkey breast, egg, tomatoes, blue cheese, avocado and chives, all mixed with dressing still made from the original recipe when the salad was invented in Hollywood in the 1930s.
  5. Delightfully different is the Jiko Salad at Jiko—The Cooking Place at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge. A lovely plate of poached pears, heirloom spinach, kabocha squash in a pear vinaigrette topped with a brittle of pumpkin seeds and black lentils. Instagram worthy.
  6. And finally, another longtime favorite we always have to order: the Crispy Rock Shrimp Salad at California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. This one stays on the menu, though Chef Brian Piasecki may mix up the ingredients. Right now it’s crispy rock shrimp (a Florida delicacy) with spicy baby greens, Subarashii pear, red onions, soy reduction and addictive wasabi cream. You won’t want to share this one.
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Fun New Tastes at Harambe Market at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

posted on April 30th, 2015 by Pam Brandon, Disney Parks Food Writer


The much-anticipated Harambe Market opens late May at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, where food plays a starring role with African-inspired street food at four walk-up windows and plenty of shaded seating – 200+ seats.

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Built around a Colonial-era train depot design complete with a 1960s water tower, the marketplace re-creates a bustling center of commerce where guests are welcomed from around the world who have come to visit the little seaside town and venture out to the reserve to observe Africa’s animals.

Chef Lenny DeGeorge led the Food and Beverage concept development team, and tells us it’s the sort of food you’d find in a street market in Africa. “The menus reflect the unique personalities of the establishments’ owners,” says Chef Lenny.

New Harambe Market at Disney’s Animal Kingdom

“Kitamu Grill” offers skewered chicken and a kabob flatbread sandwich. “Famous Sausages” features a corn dog, inspired by a South African sausage called a boerewors, dipped in curry-infused corn batter. “Chef Mwanga’s” serves a spice-rubbed karubi rib with green papaya-carrot slaw.

“With three meaty ribs, the karubi rib is our version of the giant turkey legs served in the Disney theme parks,” says DeGeorge. We give two thumbs up to the curry corn dog, made with a special spiced sausage inspired by the traditional boerewors.

A fourth window, called Wanjohi Refreshments (“wanjohi” means “brewer” in Swahili) offers beverages including six South African wines by the glass; Safari Amber Lager and Orlando Brewing I-4 IPA on draft; red sangria with Van der Hum tangerine liqueur from South Africa; The Starr of Harambe, a frozen drink with Starr African rum with mango puree in a souvenir mug; non-alcoholic tangerine lemonade, and fountain beverages including Sparberry from Zimbabwe and Bibo from South Africa.

With shaded tables and merchandise shops, the new market, together with the recently opened Harambe Theatre (home to “Festival of the Lion King”) doubles the size of the original Harambe Village.

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Copper River Salmon is Back on Menus at Artist Point, Flying Fish Cafe and California Grill at Walt Disney World Resort

posted on April 29th, 2015 by Pam Brandon, Disney Parks Food Writer


One of our favorite times of year – Copper River Salmon has made its way back to menus at three Walt Disney World Resort restaurants: Artist Point at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Flying Fish Café at Disney’s Boardwalk area.

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It’s so special because this prized salmon is available for a very short window of time – mid-May to mid-June. Every year those beauties travel up the Copper River in South Central Alaska, covering a distance of about 3,200 miles to their spawning ground. All that hard work means fish that is flavorful and full of goodness. The Alaskans call them Chinook or Tyees, and the largest on record is a whopping 126 pounds.

Keep an eye on the menus, but the best way to serve Copper River Salmon is simply grilled. Artist Point used cedar planks, and California Grill is planning “a la plancha” style, or grilled on a metal plate. Chef Brian Piasecki at California Grill says he’s hoping that local Zellwood corn will accompany in some form or fashion. And we’ll wait to see what the chefs at Flying Fish Cafe create.

Make your reservations now – 407-WDW-DINE.

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Behind the Scenes: Inside the Bakery at Epcot’s France Pavilion

posted on April 28th, 2015 by Pam Brandon, Disney Parks Food Writer


You smell it before you see it – that unmistakable aroma of freshly baked bread hot from the oven. As you enter Les Halles Boulangerie Patisserie in the France Pavilion at Epcot, all five senses are awakened when you smell the bread, see the beautiful pastries, hear the lilting sound of French, touch, then taste your favorite. Maybe a crisp baguette or buttery croissant. Or a Napoleon or macaron or éclair … maybe a jambon beurre sandwich or quiche Lorraine. So many choices, so little time.

Every single item in the bakery case is made by hand – in the on-stage bread ovens or in the bustling upstairs bakery where the crew arrives before daybreak to make buttery croissants, dense quiche Florentine and parfaits almost too pretty to eat. You’ll be hungry just looking at these delicious photos by Disney photographer Matt Stroshane.

We got a special behind-the-scenes peek at the expansive upstairs bakery that’s as big as Les Halles below, with cooks busy making crème brûlèe, slicing fresh Napoleon, piping éclairs and putting the finishing touches on chocolate mousse and strawberry tarts. A tray of freshly baguettes with ham and cheese with Dijon mustard butter, a classic Parisian sandwich, was readied for the first guests of the day. Freshly made macarons in jewel tones, light as a feather, were gently placed in little boxes.

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Les Halles Boulangerie Patisserie opens at 9 a.m., ahead of World Showcase, and is a wonderful little hideaway for breakfast. The pastry team of 30, under the direction of Pastry Chef Olivier Saintemarie, starts their day at 5 a.m. and rotates throughout the day until 11 p.m. to make sure guests have the freshest taste of France.

We headed back downstairs to chat with Chef Baker Matthieu Cabon from Brittany, France, who, with his team of six, turns out 700 to 800 baguettes every single day, along with specialty breads such as brioche and croissants. He started baking at age 15, and studied only bread making for four years – “I mastered bread the old-school way … no shortcuts,” he says. It was the aroma that determined his career, he says, as well as the quiet of early-morning hours when bakers do their best work.

“Bread is limitless, it just takes imagination,” says Matthieu.

And, really, it’s just four ingredients: flour, yeast, salt and water, but you must add “know how,” says the chef. Everything at Les Halles is made from scratch, and it takes two days, start to finish, to produce a perfect baguette. His bakers make all the breads for Les Halles Boulangerie Patisserie, Chefs de France, Monsieur Paul and brioche for the pavilion’s ice-cream shop.

“For baguettes, day one is slow fermentation, then the dough sits overnight in a cooler to coax out the flavor,” says Matthieu. “Day two we divide it, shape it and bake. That’s it.”

But it’s the artisan touch that makes a perfect baguette. “Bread is all about feeling, but the real boss is the dough, which can be temperamental with temperature, weather and humidity,” he says. “Dough follows nature, and a good baker knows just by touching whether it’s right.”

For a perfectly flaky croissant, the chef explains that the folding process is a science. “It takes six hours to shape, then it’s baked the next day,” he explains.

And for tartines, which Americans call “open-faced sandwiches,” the bakery makes a rustic loaf with blistered, rugged crust and tangy soft inside – Chef Matthieu knocks on the crust and knows by the sound if it’s perfect.

All told, they turn out eight different kinds of bread: baguettes, croissants, tartines, whole-grain loaves, pain de mie (a type of sliced bread), brioche, focaccia and walnut-raisin bread.

He and his team also make exquisite, smaller breads for Monsieur Paul: whole-grain loaves, rustic baguettes, poppy seed “epis” (a type of artisan French bread) and a mushroom, bacon and cheese bread that’s a guest favorite.

Matthieu deftly inserts a shovel-like peel into the hot oven and slides out a dozen or so crackly loaves. From the hint of a smile on his face, you know it’s a good morning.

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Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto Officially Opens Today at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort

posted on April 27th, 2015 by Pam Brandon, Disney Parks Food Writer


The collectible souvenir mugs are in at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, and the doors officially open today.

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Those coveted cups include the Uh-Oa!, Krakatoa Punch, Nautilus, Polynesian Pearl, HippopotoMai-Tai, Rum Flight shot glasses in the three colors and the Shrunken Zombie Head – all available only at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto.

It’s a pretty popular spot, with waits some evenings up to two hours at peak times as guests ooh and ah over more than 1,200 pieces of memorabilia and have a good time with the staff. The handcrafted cocktails are delicious, and just order an Uh-Oa! and see what happens with the special effects.

If you want a table and there’s a wait, Trader Sam’s Tiki Terrace is almost as cool as the lounge, with a lava rock waterfall and live Hawai’ian-themed entertainment every night with the gorgeous backdrop of Seven Seas Lagoon and a seat for the Magic Kingdom Park fireworks.

Walt Disney Parks & Resorts recently won a VIBE VISTA Award in the category of “Best Spirits Program in Hotels.” The award represents “exemplary creativity, execution and results in an extremely competitive field,” as judged by the faculty at Johnson & Wales University. And Trader Sam’s helped land the prestigious award.

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