Harmony and fun are earmarks of Disney, of course, and that carries through to its restaurant menus – which is nice, since even the most loving families don't see eye-to-eye on everything! For example, perhaps your group has a meat lover in its midst. If beef is what's for dinner, you won't go hungry at Orlando's Walt Disney World, dedicated purveyors of prime cuts – both Shula's and the Yachtsman Steakhouse may come to mind – abound. But what of the rest of your troupe: the seafood lovers, the vegetarians, the sushi fiends and the adventurous eaters always on the hunt for an exotic experience? Moreover, what about the little (or big) ones who want to dine in a castle? This is Disney World, after all. Well, fear not. Carnivores can find fantastic cuts – not to mention creative ones – all over the Kingdom. At the popular Polynesian-themed Kona Cafe, for example, pineapple-teriyaki glaze turns a typical New York strip into a trip to the Big Island. The Flying Fish Cafe is a seafood lover's paradise, but its take on the strip is so phenomenal, meat-lovers often make a special trip just to give it a try. And deep in the heart of new Fantasyland, the castle of the Beast is home to Be Our Guest, boasting three brilliantly-themed fairy tale dining rooms, French-inspired fare and a butter-laden steak fit for a prince.
Be Our Guest
Appropriately located in the Fantasyland realm of the Magic Kingdom, Be Our Guest brings diners inside the Beast's castle. Lunchtime here is a fast-service affair but come dinner, things become far more formal, with sit-down table service in three brilliantly themed rooms: the West Wing, Belle's beautiful book-lined library or the grand and regal ballroom where snow fall peppers the windows and cherubs soar amid the chandeliers. The menu, like the tale, is French-inspired with onion soup and charcuterie, chicken breast Provencal and thyme-scented rack pork chops, delicate ratatouille and – for steak lovers – a perfectly seared New York strip served with garlic butter and pommes frites (aka: steak fries). For Disney lovers in search of opulent themed venues, Be Our Guest is a natural match. (407-939-3463)
The Turf Club
Al fresco dining with sweeping golf course views and a comfortable clubhouse feel inside make the Turf Club Bar and Grill an excellent option for families looking for a fine array of steakhouse-style offerings alongside the Lake Buena Vista course. Nestled inside Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa, diners can relax with a beverage at their 19th (watering) hole, shoot pool and of course, enjoy a fine meal in a comfortably casual setting with an equestrian theme. Notable beef offerings include an excellent grilled New York strip with lobster fondue and a truly memorable prime rib served with a cherry-peppercorn sauce. Come hungry. ((407) 827-1100)
This Animal Kingdom Lodge restaurant is lauded by many as a hidden gem – and a "wild" one, at that. Diners are treated to views of free-roaming animals – giraffes, gazelle, zebra, kudu and more – as they enjoy an array of Indian- and African-inspired dishes. While delicious Indian breads, samosas, tandoori offerings and the like are expected, Sanaa offers less adventurous diners a gentle baptism in its grilled New York strip, served with Indian-style roasted potatoes, seasonal veggies and tomato-date chutney. Alongside unparalleled "savannah" views and rich ethnocentric décor, Sanaa makes for a seated safari both actual and culinary (with no fear of prowling lions). ((407) 938-3000)
The relaxed Polynesian vibe of the Kona Café permeates the ambiance at all three squares, leaving few dishes untouched – including its decidedly untraditional teriyaki-style New York strip. Pineapple glaze and sticky rice turn an old boys' club offering into something sweet, savory and entirely inventive. It's a surprising favorite among regular visitors, of which the Kona has many. In fact, some of them show up for breakfast, lunch and dinner despite Disney's myriad choices. (Some of its breakfast offerings could easily do double-duty on the dessert menu!) For fans of poultry, seafood and vegetables, there are options a'plenty, making the Kona Café a versatile choice. (407-939-3463)
Affording incredible views of the Disney landscape from the 15th floor of Disney's Contemporary Resort, this fashionable, long-time favorite has undergone a recent "reimagining," and now features a design inspired by mid-century modern California and an updated menu with exciting additions – but retention of a few old faves, one of which is the sublime oak-fired filet of beef with heirloom tomato risotto, baby vine tomatoes, petite basil and tomato butter. Meat lovers will also find the 24-hour short rib "filet" a melt-in-your-mouth experience. With new floor-to-ceiling windows expanding its already sweeping 360-degree vistas, steak (and seafood, and sushi, and dessert, etc. and so forth ad nauseum) lovers will find a thousand things to enjoy at California Grill, from its menu to its atmosphere. (407-824-1576, 407-939-6244)
Walt Disney World's big, beautiful Boathouse venue can accommodate up to 600 seafood and steak lovers amid its nautically themed confines. Views of Lake Buena Vista beckon from throughout; in fact, you can drink and dine al fresco here, as well. Wine, craft beer and cocktails pair well with market-fresh catch and even caviar while diners watch the classic-car-themed amphicars sail past. A beautiful place for special-occasion lunches or dinners, the restaurant's three distinct dining spaces set a lovely tone; private rooms are available for functions, as well. Come hungry. You won't want to miss the wild-caught shrimp or decadent desserts. (407-939-2628)
Flying Fish Cafe
Hold up. Wait a minute. Isn't this called the Flying FISH Cafe? Yes. Yes, it is. But the power of the menu's lone selection – the char-crusted Angus New York Strip steak (served with roasted fingerling potatoes, red Bermuda onions, young carrots and haricot verts with classic sauce Foyot) – is so exceptional, it often lures aficionados with no love whatsoever for the fruits of the sea. In fact, some even say it surpasses the steaks served at EPCOT's Le Cellier and the Yachstman Steakhouse, two of Disney's best-known venues. Of course, you'll have to venture in to make that call for yourself. (407-939-2359)
Bull & Bear Steakhouse
Living up to its New York namesake's reputation, Orlando's version of Bull & Bear pulls out the stops with attentive service and a traditional, club-like steakhouse atmosphere with contemporary touches. Portions are hearty, beef is top-quality and the menu offers both traditional favorites and refreshing surprises; sometimes a melding of the two. Popular favorites include the Bull & Bear Shellfish Platter (the crab cocktail is a standout) and the formidable, Fred Flintstone-sized Tomahawk, a blockbuster, bone-in, 36-ounce cut of dry-aged Certified Angus Beef that is carved tableside and dressed with the velvety drippings of a beef-tallow candle. (407-597-5500)
Shula's Steak House
The '72 Dolphins may have gone undefeated, but your hunger will be down for the count before halftime, particularly if you partake in Coach Don's massive 48-ounce Porterhouse. Despite this lauded restaurant's NFL connection, its atmosphere is decidedly traditional. Team photos are displayed in grand, formal frames befitting a steakhouse, though the menu is printed on the side of a football – a playful touch for a beloved team. Located inside the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort, Shula's earns high marks from discriminating diners and critics. (407-934-1362)
Grain-fed. Aged in-house. Oak-fired. Is your mouth watering yet? These are some of the sexiest phrases in the realm of steak and all three apply at the upscale (but family-friendly) steakhouse inside Disney's Yacht Club Resort, where butches cut steaks by hand and you can even watch the process. Food voyeurism aside, the steaks at the Yachtsman are no joke. From the 8-oz. center cut filet mignon to the 12-oz. New York strip with peppercorn-brandy sauce to the hefty 17-oz. bone-in ribeye, it's a carnivore's delight from end-to-end. Delicious charcuterie and cheese, an excellent seafood selection (not to mention the truffle macaroni and cheese) will please the palates of those less beef-inclined. (407-939-3463)
About A.D. Thompson
A.D. Thompson has spent more than 20 years as a professional writer and roughly 15 as a Floridian. The words, she has found, come easier with bare feet and rum.
A roller coaster enthusiast, A.D. readily admits there is fun to be had amid the madness of the theme parks, but has found there is magic, as well, in the outer-lying reaches of Mickey’s long shadow. She is delighted to share with you the spoils of her adopted city.
Visit her colorful compendium at www.amydrewthompson.com.
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