Disney World Dining – I Love Appetizers!

Given the choice between appetizer and dessert, I’m choosing the appetizer every time.  That may be hard to imagine for those of you will a sweet tooth, but I’m all about the starter!  Be it soup, salad, cheese plate, or something more exotic, the way I kick off a Disney table service dinner makes all the difference to my meal enjoyment.

Disney World Dining – I Love Appetizers!

It doesn’t much matter where we go.  My eyes are drawn to the top of the menu and the appetizer section.  I tend to avoid heavy-sounding, fried items and favor more unusual choices.  I want to kick off a good meal while not completely ruining my appetite.  Sometimes Raymond and I order and appetizer or salad (or both) to share.  In cooler months, I’m a sucker for a soup or bisque.  The perfect appetizer takes the edge off my hunger while leaving me wanting more (and I’ll have room for my entrée!).

Here are some of my favorites…

The Wave (Disney’s Contemporary Resort) – Seasonal Soup.  When I last had the soup, it was a heavenly sausage, gnocchi, and spinach concoction with a cheese crust on top.  I reproduced it at home and have enjoyed it many times since.  My friend Gaylin recently told me about another Wave appetizer called “Bacon and Eggs” (“Maple-lacquered Pork Belly with Perfect Egg and Tillamook Smoked Cheddar Grits“) and now it’s on the top of my must-try list.  I hope it stays on the menu long enough for me to get there!

Shula’s Steak House (Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort) – Sure, everyone goes to Shula’s for the beef, but before I slice into that perfectly cooked filet, I’m opting for the “Barbequed Shrimp Stuffed with Basil” (“Stuffed with Basil, wrapped in Applewood Smoked Bacon tossed in a Tangy BBQ Sauce“).  Disney World Dining - I Love AppetizersIt’s the perfect combination of flavors and the sauce is fantastic.  Share it with a friend so you have room for that steak.  Check out the full menu here.

Jiko (Animal Kingdom Lodge) – Everything’s been delicious, but the soup is my favorite.  It’s currently “Curried Butternut Squash Bisque” with Duck Confit and Quince Marmalade and I know it’s 500-degress outside right now, but you should run try it before the menu changes.  It’s SO good!!!  And the presentation is fancy too.

So much to eat, so little time…

Kona Café (Polynesian Village Resort) – There are a couple of things we really like to kick off dinner at Kona.  The Sticky Wings and the Pot Stickers.  Both are tasty options, good for sharing, and not too filling.  If you love sushi, the menu offers a nice variety.  We generally enjoy sushi as a meal versus appetizer and I’m guessing that’s why we rarely order it at Kona.

Sanaa (Kidani Village) – The famous Indian-Style Bread Service!  It’s several different flavors of naan bread served with a variety of dipping sauces that range from savory to sweet to spicy.  Fresh, exotic, and delicious.  Disney World Dining - I Love Appetizers!I can totally see why lots of folks make a reservation just to enjoy the bread service as a snack or light meal all by itself.

Il Mulino (Walt Disney World Swan Resort) – My favorite restaurant for pre-runDisney event carbs!  Starters on the menu come in a huge variety from cheeses and meats to salads, clams and heavier fare.  The most delicious item to me is the Arancini, which is “Italian Rice Balls over Spicy Marinara Sauce”.  I never order it for myself because it’s a lot for an appetizer.  Those delicious servings of rice are fried and very filling.  However, if someone at my table is kind enough to share a bite or two with me, whoa momma!  Deeeelish!

Raglan Road (Disney Springs) – Considered by many to be overrated, Raglan Road has been the source of many a delicious family meal for us throughout the years.  Their menu has a ton of appetizer options.  I’ve tried several appetizers including the dicey-sounding Crock o’ Pate (cold chicken liver spread), which wasn’t bad, actually.  The best thing (to me) by far is the “Rack of Heaven” – “Slow roasted Guinness glazed full rack of baby back ribs.” (Plenty to share.)      THOSE babies are fantastic.  Even if I’m just in Raglan Road for a drink at the amazing bar, I’ll order those ribs.  They make me happy.

Boma (Animal Kingdom Lodge) – Don’t laugh, but there’s one simple salad on Boma’s extensive buffet that stays on my mind long after I’ve eaten there.  It’s the Watermelon Rind Salad.  Sounds potentially boring and awful, doesn’t it?  It’s bright, sweet and tangy, and absolutely perfect to start off a meal full of unusual flavors.  Fear not if you or anyone in your travel party is a picky eater, Boma has plenty of dishes to satisfy everyone.

Are YOU an appetizer or a dessert fan?  Both?  Neither?  What’s your favorite part of Disney dining?  What’s your favorite dish?



WDW Park Counter Service – Family Favorites

Baked Goods in Starring Rolls CafeChoosing a restaurant is tough!  At Disney World, it can be downright confusing.  When you want a meal in a hurry (no reservations or major time commitment required) the choices are everywhere!  While you’re looking around, you’re probably thinking things like:  What will my picky eater like?  What’s a good value?  Where will we sit?  Is there any chance at all I can get something healthy?  Can I get a beer with that? (Okay, you may not be thinking that last one, but I sure am!)

Here are our family favorite counter service restaurants by park (and why we like them):

Liberty SquareMagic Kingdom (No, you cannot have a beer with any counter-service food there, but you CAN have a great meal.)

Columbia Harbor House – Head on over to this great eatery centrally located in Liberty Square – across the way from Haunted Mansion.  Why we love it:  Options include chicken, fish, and vegetarian.  Healthy or hearty – you’ll find it here.  Me?  I just like the tuna sandwich, but even the pickiest eater among us (Hi, Joseph!) finds something to be happy about.  There’s loads of seating – go upstairs and it’s quieter with the strong possibility of a really great view.

Gaston’s Tavern – if you haven’t been here before to hear me wax poetic about the Roasted Gaston's Tavern Roasted Pork Shank and LeFou's BrewPork Shank, consider this yet another glowing endorsement!  You can pair that with a LeFou’s Brew (a family friendly and completely delicious beverage) and some pretty darned healthy options like hummus and pretzel chips, apple slices and caramel dip, veggies and dip, fruit cup, and WAIT…don’t panic…there’s a chocolate croissant and warm cinnamon roll on the menu as well!

Casey’s Corner – If you’ve just GOT to eat in the very middle of all the action, you’ll find hotdogs, Polish sausage, nachos, corndog nuggets, and fries – basic fare, but decently tasty and reasonably priced.  Stake out a parade seat and send someone to Casey’s for some chow!


Quick service excellence – this park’s got the best offerings on property!Epcot's Sunshine Seasons

Sunshine Seasons – In Future World’s Land Pavilion – this place has a humongous menu with absolutely something for everyone.  If you can’t find something to satisfy at Sunshine Seasons, you’re not hungry (check out the lunch menu here).  I do love the chocolate croissant for breakfast or a snack.  The indoor setting is a bonus during warm or rainy weather.

Yorkshire County Fish Shop – World Showcase / United Kingdom.  There are several awesome quick-service restaurants scattered throughout the World Showcase.  Why do we always eat at Yorkshire County Fish Shop?  It’s simple, reasonably priced, not too much to eat, and very tasty.  Plus – a beer cart nearby for the perfect complimentary beverage.

Honorable Mention:  La Cantina de San Angel in the Mexico Pavilion – Great selection, tastes great.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios:

Starring Rolls Cafe / Disney's Hollywood StudiosWhile this is the least likely place we’d like to find ourselves in need of a quick bite, there are a couple of places we do recommend (Luckily, all serve adult refreshments if one is thirsty):

Starring Rolls Café:  Home of the very delicious Butterfinger and Red Velvet Cupcakes (and the Darth Vader and Yoda cupcakes) – there’s enough on the menu to keep our bellies from protesting.  We like this as a brunch or afternoon snack stop – great if you’re pacing your appetite for a special table service meal.

Catalina Eddie’s, Rosie’s All American Café, or Fairfax Fare – they’re all close together Catalina Eddie's in Disney's Hollywood Studiosand located near Rock’n’ Roller Coaster and the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.  These three counter service options are (to us) the most likely places to find something both quick and edible at lunchtime.  Divide and conquer if you need to – there’s central outdoor (shaded) seating nearby.  Do NOT under any circumstances eat at Pizza Planet (back behind MuppetVision3D)…just trust me on this one.

Honorable mention:  Min & Bill’s Dockside Diner’s a great place for a cold beer on a hot day.

Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom's Flame Tree BarbequeFlame Tree Barbeque – When in doubt, stick with something simple.  Chicken, ribs, pulled pork, turkey and the expected sides (slaw, beans, onion rings, fries) – it’s easy to find something satisfying and the seating is among the best on property for quick service dining.

Well, there you go.  There are lots of great counter service choices at Disney World – I’ve just narrowed the list down to a few that our family recommends.  These are the places we’ve tended to return to for their taste, reliability, and value.

Which Disney World counter service restaurants would you recommend?



Disney Dining – Olivia’s Cafe at Old Key West

Relaxed Dining at Olivia's Cafe / Old Key West / Walt Disney World“All in all, we found Olivia’s Café an unexpected, hidden treasure.  Our experience there seemed pixie-dusted since it was a spur-of-the-moment restaurant choice and the evening turned out to be one of the loveliest of our trip.” – Me, once again channeling my inner restaurant critic.

While Staying at Old Key West, we found ourselves with an open evening – no reservations booked, no major plans.  Our vacation was winding down and we returned to the resort after a long day that had started at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and ended in the Magic Kingdom.  We had intentions of making sure our transportation on the Magical Express to the airport the next morning had been arranged, scheduling someone to collect our luggage from our room then returning to the parks for a last night out at Walt Disney World.

We’d just gotten off the bus at Old Key West’s Hospitality House to check on our morning Dining room at Olivia's Cafe / Old Key West Resortdeparture schedule (sad, so sad) and we realized we were starving!  That’s when I remembered having heard good things about Olivia’s Café and suggested we stop in and see if any tables were available.  We checked, a table was immediately available, and we had a fantastic dinner with delicious food and terrific service!

The atmosphere in Olivia’s is laid-back and very old-fashioned-Florida-Keys.  It’s open and airy as one would expect, yet homey and comfortable – very welcoming.  You can dress very casually here and be yourself.

One thing you can count on at Olivia’s (I’ve read this over and over and our own experience Olivia's Tomato-Mozzarella Saladconfirms it) is outstanding service.  It felt to us as if, knowing they’re a bit out of the way for many Walt Disney World guests, the staff at Olivia’s goes above and beyond normal Disney service.  They seemed genuinely appreciative of having us there.  Our server was Moe – super friendly and attentive (without hovering).  Moe started us off by bringing us some bread and butter.  Fans of ‘Ohana over at the Polynesian will recognize Olivia’s delicious pineapple-coconut bread.  SO unexpectedly scrumptious!  Even the super-picky one among us enjoyed it.

Olivia’s menu is made up of “home-style American cuisine with a Caribbean twist” (as Olivia's Cafe / Conch Chowderdescribed by Disney World’s web site) and is full of abundant choices sure to satisfy any diner (view the entire dinner menu here).  Raymond started off with the tomato-mozzarella (with mixed greens and balsamic syrup) while I had the Conch Chowder (reminded me of Manhattan-style clam chowder) which was hearty and delicious.  I don’t recall if either of our children had an appetizer – I believe I may have been too busy enjoying the bread and the chowder!

Main courses for the four of us were:  Raymond and Megan both had Shrimp and Grits (“Sautéed Shrimp with Vegetables, Tasso Ham, and fresh Herbs served over Olivia’s Famous Shrimp and Grits at Olivia's Cafe / Old Key WestGrits”) while Joseph and I both ordered burgers.  His was plain, mine…not so much.  I ordered what has to be one of the most delicious, extravagant, decadent burgers in all the World – The Duval Street Burger.  This behemoth burger described as being “topped with Grilled Shrimp, Pepper Jack Cheese, Avocado, and Pico de Gallo on our Pineapple-Coconut Roll” was unbelievable and I’m sorry to say I could not do it justice – I managed to finish about half.  The burgers were served with fries, coleslaw, or chips.  Joseph and I both chose the fries which were nicely crisp on the outside.  Old Key West, Olivia's Cafe / Duval Street Burger

Full as we could be, we excused Megan and Joseph so they could hit the parks for their last night of vacation.  Raymond and I lingered a while over coffees (mine of the “Irish” variety) and were a little bit sad that we had no room for dessert.  The Banana Bread Pudding Sundae and Mascarpone Cheesecake sure looked tempting.  For our last meal at Walt Disney World, we couldn’t have asked for a more enjoyable one.

Olivia’s accepts the Tables in Wonderland discount card and is one table service credit on the Disney Dining Plan.

Have you eaten at Olivia’s?  What was your favorite part of the meal?