Eating Around The World – Walt Disney World That Is

Back in the day a visit to Walt Disney World theme parks meant eating snacks or a variation of fast food with only a couple of sit down venues. Today it’s a whole different story. If you count food stands, bars and lounges, food trucks, cafes, family style restaurants and fine dining you could stay at Disney World for almost a year and never eat at the same place twice. While I wouldn’t characterize the food as inexpensive, I will sing the praises of the general variety and quality. If you are looking for an in-depth look at eating the “World” there are a number of web sites dedicated to supplying just that information. The official Disney web site offers a complete listing along with price ranges and online menus.  The best, in our opinion, is The Disney Food Blog with trust worthy reviews and suggestions.

Disney Springs

We also have a few of our own favorites from numerous visits over the years and many of our picks vary by if we are dining with children or are going out for a special occasion.

One of our favorite overall selections is Boma at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Our children have always liked this choice because all kids love a buffet and this features tastes of Africa. If the kids are picky eaters and won’t get into African fare there is also a section of kids usual favorites. If you are looking for a more formal atmosphere, again with a taste of Africa there is Jico, also in the Lodge. It features an extensive African wine list as well. If you are in the Animal Kingdom Park and are looking for a dinner choice Boma has a first cousin there called Tusker House with a similar menu but also often features Character dining.

Another buffet that’s a hit with the whole family is Cape May over at the Beach Club Resort in The Boardwalk area. It features all-you-can-eat seafood with a really good selection. Also in the Boardwalk neighborhood is the Big River Grill & Brewery, an independent restaurant featuring their own craft beers and American fare, like steaks, burgers and my favorite, meatloaf. Just a short walk away from the Boardwalk, in the Dolphin Hotel, is our number one pick for seafood at the World, Todd English’s Bluezoo. This is a pricey choice, but well worth the cost. While considering the Dolphin there is a low price gem tucked away in a corner of the hotel called Picabu Buffeteria. It is more of a snack bar than a restaurant but offers a selection of made-to-order tacos and burritos that are fantastic and surprisingly inexpensive.

A little hard to get to is Olivia’s Cafe, a casual restaurant in Disney’s Old Key West Resort. It offers comfort food dishes and a family atmosphere that feels relaxed and comfortable with a menu based around classic American fare. If you are lucky enough to be staying at Key West, don’t miss this gem.

Another upscale favorite of ours is Artist Point located in the Wilderness Lodge Resort. This restaurant features the food and flavors of the American Northwest. In our opinion, this is one of the most overlooked restaurants in the World. You can get to the Wilderness Lodge by catching a boat right outside the entrance to The Magic Kingdom which makes it easily reachable from the Contemporary, the Polynesian and the Grand Floridian resorts. If you are having last minute problems scoring a reservation at an upscale eatery, be sure and try this gem, it is usually available and you won’t be disappointed.

On the Boardwalk

A number of recent surveys have agreed on a few favorite restaurants inside Walt Disney World with the number one currently being Be Our Guest in The Magic Kingdom. Because of its popularity it is a very difficult reservation to get. Another top pick is ‘OHana at the Polynesian, offering pit cooked meats along with kid oriented entertainment. For pizza the winner is Via Napoli in Epcot’s Italy with its coal fired ovens. The number one dinner show for well over forty years is the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue at Fort Wilderness Resort campgrounds. It features classic barbeque with a great show along with a sing along.

Two areas of Disney World that deserve mentions on their own are Epcot and Disney Springs and we would refer you again over to the real experts .

Inside Epcot you can choose between over a dozen restaurants themed on foreign lands and we haven’t been disappointed yet. We have had great food at Norway, Japan, Germany, England and Mexico and haven’t scratched the surface. Our favorite pastries can be found down an alley at Les Halles Boulangerie Patisserie at the France pavilion at Epcot. We have also heard rumors that the best steak in “the World” can be found in Canada at Le Cellier Steakhouse, though we haven’t tried it and they have some stiff competition including Don Shula’s at the Dolfin and The Yachtman Steakhouse at Disney’s Yacht Club Resort.

In Disney Springs we have really enjoyed Morimoto Asia (not so much their street food outlet), House of Blues for good BBQ, Homecoming: Florida Kitchen and Wolfgang Pucks but that only scratches the surface in this area.

One of our favorites at Disney Springs is Cooke’s of Dublin where you can get great fish n’ chips. Cooke’s is attached to Raglan Road which is more upscale but you can get a beer at the outside courtyard and go and order fish ‘n chips from Cooke’s and have it brought to you.

If you are a Florida Resident, Disney Vacation Club members or Annual Passholder you might consider Tables in Wonderland. It is a membership program with annual fees and each card is good for up to 10 guests with 20% off of all food and beverage purchases at participating Disney restaurants. That includes all Disney operated locations (except Victoria & Albert at the Grand Floridian) and most other on-property establishments but not all. Check out the current listing HERE. At 20% off it makes the cost of eating at Disney World a bit less outrageous.

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A Hotdog in Vienna

Street Food Is Sometimes A Good Option

We became”pen pals” with an Austrian couple after cruising with them a while back. In one of many e-mail exchanges, we told them we would be visiting Vienna which prompted them to send us a list of things to do while there. High on the list was a hot dog stand behind the State Opera House. Being too intriguing to pass up, as soon as we got into the center of Vienna, with cell phone in hand to navigate, we headed off in search of Bitzingers, the famous hotdog stand.

Arriving shortly after noon there was a line already formed. The customer directly in front of us was a member of the Polizei, the Austrian police. He provided inspiration for our selection choice as the proprietor was filling a carry away bag with a large number of different varieties of hot dogs/sausages/toppings.

Being unable to read the German menu, when it was our turn we very simply asked for two hot dogs, one plain and one with mustard. The preparation process involves having an end sliced, at an angle from what can best be described as a small baguette. The baguette is than pushed down on a stainless spike to make a hole for the hotdog. A squirt of mustard goes into the hole followed by a really good hotdog and than wrapped by a square of foil.

Simple, fast and remarkably tasty. Sometimes following the advice of locals is the best bet. Later while walking around Vienna we passed a couple of other Bitzingers stands, so this isn’t a one-off operation. However, most new visitors to this city are drown to the city center with its palaces, museums, cathedrals and blocks of shops and cafes so knowing the downtown location of Bitzingers could come in handy. It is right behind the State Opera House which is an easy landmark to navigate towards. Also within a few blocks of the Opera House quick a search on your phone with Google Maps should provide a precise directions.

Eating the Florida Keys (Part 3)

Part Three – Restaurants in the Keys

The Florida Keys
The Florida Keys

Coming to the Keys most people are looking for Sun, sand and water with fresh seafood being a good expectation. Our suggestion is to approach Keys seafood with a simple rule – “the simpler, the better”. Florida’s waters are famous for Florida lobsters (also called spiny lobster or Caribbean lobster) crab, shrimp, grouper and dolphin, and on and on. No it is not the Flipper kind of dolphin but a name for a popular fish. Because of the name issue you will probably find it more often referred to by the Hawaiian name mahi-mahi but whatever you call it it is a beautiful mild-flavored white meat fish.  Most locals have favorite hangouts often with picnic tables on docks or decks, cold beer and fresh-caught fish on the grill. Maybe throw a lobster on the grill too or a bucket of peel-n-eat shrimp.

One problem is you will find a lot of good places to eat but unfortunately there are probably more mediocre to bad restaurants around. In the past we had come to believe that one of the problems is the tourist character of this chain of islands. With an estimated number of visitors to just Key West exceeding 2.5 million and a local population of under twenty-five thousand it isn’t hard to see where the foundation of the economy is. Generally, in the past, restaurants in the Keys were high priced with little dependence on return customers which is a terrible combination. Over the years we had developed our list of favorites with the majority being local places and a few with long histories and reputations.

On returning after over a decade we were hopeful that the internet had helped to fix this restaurant problem. In this modern age it is very difficult for even small restaurants to escape the comments of thousands of online reviewers. After a week of reading reviews and eating around the Keys we decided that, unfortunately, not much has changed. While you can find great seafood still you really need to know where to look, read reviews and ask locals for advice.

Here are a few of our favorites:

Lorilei’sa bar in Key West in Islamorada is another institution in the Keys and a favorite for watching sunsets.

Sid & Roxy’s Green Turtle Inn located in Islamorada has been a Keys institution forever. Sid and Roxy bought the place in 1947 and the current owners work hard at keeping up the reputation. The originator of Key Lime pie.

Herbie’s in Marathon has been in business forever and is a favorite with locals. There have been new owners for a few years but everyone says they’re doing a good job of keeping up the reputation. And don’t get put off by the outside appearance.

Hurricane HoleHurricane Hole bar & grill Key west is just north across the bridge going out of Key West on Stock Island. This is a typical Keys place on a marina with lots of outdoor tables. The food is fresh and good and the prices very friendly.

Ship Wreck Bar & Grill in Key Largo is a little off the beaten path but worth the look. Again this place is a solid favorite with locals and while a little unrefined serves good, fresh Keys seafood and cold beer. Enough said.

In Marathon is Sweet Savannah’s a bakery and ice cream shop. If you are looking for a great slice of Key Lime pie – this is the place. An award winner for five years. 8919 Overseas Hwy, Marathon, FL 33050

Island Fish CompanyIsland Fish Company in Marathon was just an open-air Tiki Hut on the water a decade or so ago. Even then they grilled up some good, fresh seafood at reasonable prices and featured live music in the evenings. We were amazed how they had grown since our last visit. You can’t do that unless you’re doing something right.

Islamorada Fish Company

Islamorada Fish Company, like the Island Fish Company started out by just open-air grilling fresh seafood out on the docks. A while ago the got a new neighbor, Outdoor World, that started bringing in traffic and their business exploded. Now they are all grown-up, were taken over by Outdoor World and have over a dozen locations around the country. They still serve solid seafood.

Sloppy JoesKey West is ground zero for good restaurants in the Keys and you could spend a couple of weeks eating out and still have more to try. Like the Keys in general, some of the best food in Key West is served thru a window and enjoyed at a picnic table so keep that in mind as you decide where to eat.

Conch Republic SeafoodConch Republic Seafood Company in Key West is a good choice for seafood and at a good price. While it is a favorite with the tourists and the waterfront location offers good scenery it is still a solid choice.  Tip: The happy hour buy one get one beer tokens don’t have to be used on the same day.

Tony’s in Cedar Key, Florida

If you travel west on Florida State Road 24 from Gainesville to where the road literally ends, you find yourself in a bit of old Florida. Out in the middle of nowhere on Florida’s northwest coast is the little village of Cedar Key with its’ population of around 700. At the corner of D and 2nd is Tony’s Seafood Restaurant  which is home to what many claim is the world’s best clam chowder.

The Great Chowder Cook-Off is an annual event that has been held at the Newport Yachting Center in Newport, Rhode Island, for thirty-three years. It ranks right up there with the Terlingua International Championship Chili Cookoff or the Texas Championship BBQ Cookoff. All these American classic foods have passionate followers by the millions, hero’s by the score with reputations to protect and profit from.

On Saturday June 6, 2009 Tony’s Cedar Key Clam Chowder won the 28th Annual Great Chowder Cook-off and claimed the title, Clam Chowder World Champion.

Back for another title hunt in New England, Tony’s took to the field again on June 5, 2010 and for the second consecutive year won the 29th Annual Great Chowder Cook-off claiming another Clam Chowder World Championship.

At stake on June 4, 2011 was a third title and a chance for the recipe to be retired into the Cook-Off Hall of Fame. Not even a Grand Champion Chowder from New Jersey could deny Tony’s a third world championship. For the third year in a row Tony’s Cedar Key Clam Chowder captured the title and did so with impressive style in another landslide victory.

With Tony’s third title in three years and the recipe retired into the Great Chowder Cook-off Hall of Fame, the future is still bright for what many fans call the “King of Chowder”.

On our visit to Cedar Key that was where we went for our first meal and we were not disappointed. Some people come to this tiny town for the fishing and some come for the art galleries and crafts shops but we came for the chowder and all I can offer is it was worth the drive. If you are looking for white tablecloths and atmosphere you’re probably going to be disappointed but you won’t be in the food and specifically their world champion chowder.

If out of the way Cedar Key is too far to go for a bowl of chowder you can mail order some, as they have a very successful canning and shipping operation as well.