Urban lore has it that theme park food is both expensive and underwhelming. In all the years I've gone to theme parks, I've never once paid attention to park cuisine. Especially at Disneyland. Disneyland, at least in Southern California, is the most expensive of the parks, and the prices are so inflated that something as small as a churro or a box of popcorn can cost upwards of 7 dollars. To put that in perspective, I can buy two churros for a dollar at most eateries, and a large popcorn at my local multiplex is about 4 dollars 50 cents, *and* I get as many refills as I want.
Sometimes, since I am a bit of a gourmand, I actually don't mind paying a little more as long as what I'm eating is up to snuff. Unfortunately, most of what I've eaten in the past at Disneyland has been rubbery (Tomorrowland Terrace burgers, I'm looking at you), bland (oh hai, Rancho del Zocalo entrees!), bland *and* somehow offensively spicy (why oh why did I order the Jambalaya at Blue Bayou?), and just plain awful (cold, greasy, slimy, and underdone ribs and chicken at the post-renovation Big Thunder Ranch BBQ).
And yet, somehow, while planning my latest trip to the Mouse House, I was inspired to seek out some good eats in-house. I think it might have been the fact that one of the friends I was going with
forced us all at gunpoint insisted that we watch the 9:00 pm showing of Fantasmic, and so I ended up making reservations at a waterfront restaurant in order to get us a decent spot to watch the show (more on that later). In researching seating and restaurant options, I came across various Disney-oriented food blogs and started making notes of certain things to try. Here's what I ate:
CINNAMON BUNS (JOLLY HOLIDAY CAFE AND BAKERY)
My first indulgence was actually a familiar treat. One of the few things I have eaten and enjoyed in-house in the past are the delicious cinnamon, and pecan, buns sold at the Blue Ribbon Bakery on Main Street. At the end of the night, my mom and sisters would hit the Emporium, while my dad and I would get ourselves buns and coffee. The Blue Ribbon, sadly, is no longer there, and the eatery that has taken its place is actually now a cafeteria-service place with increased savory options and more limited bakery options (R.I.P. pecan bun, you will be missed).
To my surprise, this was better than I remembered. While tasty, the Blue Ribbon's cinnamon buns were served straight from the pastry case cold. These ones are kept toasty in the kitchen and the glaze is creamy, with a mellow sweetness to it that's not unlike the taste of condensed milk.
FRENCH DIP (THE FRENCH MARKET)
So this is one of those treats that everyone and their mama knows and loves, much like the chimichangas and turkey legs. In fact, the park stopped serving it for a while and the outcry was so huge, the Powers that Be brought it back. Why I'd never heard of it until now, I don't know. Maybe because it's a French Market thing, and I don't exactly have fond memories of that place — I ate a Shrimp Louie Salad there once that was just nasty.
Did it live up to the hype? Kinda. I loved the cajun chips that came with more than I did the sandwich. The meat itself was okay, nothing special, but something magical happens when you combine the meat with the au jus that comes with. That broth is amazing. I could swim in it, even. Everything tastes better when you dip it in that jus; even the already tasty cajun chips. And those crispy onion straws that top the sandwich are so yummy.
I should note that I'm a medium rare to rare steak kinda gal, so for my particular tastes, the meat was overcooked. If you like your steak well done, you're gonna like this.
CORN DOG (THE STAGE DOOR CAFE)
This was AH-MAZING. The coating was crispy on the outside, fluffy on the inside, and the sausage was savory without being too salty. They're not pictured, but this actually came with a couple of baggies of apple slices (I'd stuffed them in my backpack to nosh on later, at this point). Of course, you could also opt for fries. It normally doesn't come with a dipping sauce, but we asked for some, and the lady at the counter gave them to us at no extra cost. It's honey mustard, which (for me at least) complimented the corn dog nicely (my friend thought it was too sweet).
At the risk of blaspheming, I actually liked this better than the French Dip. (And it was less expensive: 8 bucks, versus 14 bucks.)
DOLE WHIP FLOAT (THE ENCHANTED TIKI, TIKI, TIKI, TIKI, TIKI ROOM)
It was 83 degrees out that day, so this DEFINITELY hit the spot. This is pineapple flavored, soft serve floating atop pineapple juice. It's tart, tangy, and sweet without feeling overpowering. Overall, the perfect snack to cool off with. And, if you don't finish it before the show starts, you have the option of hanging out in the Tiki Room courtyard or taking it inside with you. We stayed outdoors, mesmerized by the animated Dole Pineapple commercial playing in the background.
DINNER AT CAFE ORLEANS
Around 7-ish, we made our way to Cafe Orleans where I'd made reservations to watch Fantasmic. This turned out to be a bad idea because all of the Cafe's riverfront tables are obstructed by this raised planter thing that people like to climb on during the show in order to get a better view. We were able to get a decent view after moving away from our table, toward the corner of the cafe facing the Riverbelle Terrace, but myself and another friend ended up missing the first 7 minutes of the show as we packed up our leftovers and collected our stuff.
As for the food...
HOUSE SALAD WITH RASPBERRY VINAIGRETTE AND CHEVRE
Forgive the quality of the pictures; my crappy camera phone does not have flash, and this is the best resolution setting for nighttime pictures that my phone has.
This was quite tasty. The vinaigrette was sweet and tangy without feeling too acidic, as is the case with some vinegar-based dressings. The creamy chevre and the candied walnuts gave the bed of mixed greens a nice texture and crunch. I could have eaten two plates of this.
CHICKEN, SAUSAGE, AND HAM GUMBO WITH DIRTY RICE
My exact words after finishing this: "Please stop me from licking the bowl cuz I'm this close to doing just that." It was creamy and spicy, but not too spicy, the rice was the perfect texture (not too gummy, not underdone), and the chunks of sausage, chicken, and ham are generously sized.
Note: this is not the same as the gumbo served at Royal Street Veranda, which is a steak gumbo.
POMMES FRITES WITH SPICY CAJUN REMOULADE
Hands down, the best friggin' garlic fries I've ever had in my life. Most garlic fries are greasy because they're simply tossed in garlic butter or garlic-infused oil, but not these fries. These fries looked and tasted as if they were tossed in roasted garlic and parsley and topped off with big chunks of cheese crumbles. And they were soooo crispy! Nothing burns my biscuits more than soggy, limp, flaccid fries.
The remoulade was good, but after a while, it can start to feel too indulgent.
THE WORLD-FAMOUS DISNEYLAND MONTE CRISTO
My friends split this, while I had the salad and gumbo, and we all noshed on the garlic fries and still had plenty leftover. (Those fries were still great the next day.)
This is easily one of the best, if not the best, Monte Cristo sandwiches around (my other favorite is the one served at Pea Soup Andersen's in Buellton). And if you get it here, rather than at the Blue Bayou, you can actually enjoy it for dinner instead of lunch, and you won't pay a King's ransom for it.
Hands down, this was the best culinary experience I've had at Disneyland in decades. I'm really glad I did my homework on food options, and I can't wait to knock off all the other stuff on my list I didn't get a chance to try.