Shula’s Steakhouse at the Disney World Dolphin (A coincidence? I think not.) came highly recommended, and even though I’m a Le Cellier and Yachtsman Steakhouse devotee, I knew I had to try this “dark horse” steakhouse on property.
Shula’s is a shrine to all things Don Shula and football. This would be fine with me, except that I’m a huge Buffalo Bills fan and just happened to grow up going to games in the midst of the fierce Dolphins/Bills rivalry — the games where even the nosebleed seats in Ralph Wilson Stadium were sold out and the real “entertainment” consisted of betting on how many fan fights in the stands would end with someone being hauled out of the place by force. So you can understand that I was a big reluctant to patronize this restaurant what with my fierce loyalty to Marv Levy. Regardless, in order to pit the three Disney World steakhouses against one another (which I’ll do in an upcoming post), I had to try this out for the sake of research.
We had a reservation for the restaurant’s opening time, and although we arrived on time, the restaurant opened about 15 minutes late and we weren’t seated until 20 minutes after our reservation time. I used the time to wander the restaurant and take some photos of the decor, which is all dark wood, white tablecloths, red wine, and humidors. This is clearly a “man cave” type of place, but it can be highly romantic if that’s what you’re looking for.
By the way, I need to mention that this place is dark. I mean really dark. We really wished we’d brought some sort of pen light or something, as we had a very difficult time seeing our food, reading the menus, etc. I even snagged a second candle from the (empty) table next to us so that I could see what utensil I was using. If you have a booklight, bring it.
Restaurant History and Background
Shula’s Steakhouse is one of five nationally branded restaurant chains run by Don Shula’s company; you can also dine at Shula’s 2 (a sports bar feel), Shula’s Grill and Wine Bar, Shula’s On the Beach, and Shula’s 347 Grill.
Shula’s meat comes from Angus cattle they own and raise via the Graham Angus Farm in Albany, Georgia, which has been in operation since the 1930′s. (The “Shula Cut,” according to the website, “is more discriminating and selective than USDA prime or choice.”) If you’re truly adventurous, you can aspire to join their 48 oz. club. Simply gobble up a whole 48 oz. porterhouse and you get your name engraved on a brass plaque and smacked up on the wall.
They’re serious about their food here — except, of course, for the football menu…
The football menu comes out of nowhere, and feels a bit out of place in the swanky atmosphere Shula’s has cultivated for the restaurant. But it does bring you back to reality when a big ol’ painted football is plopped down on your table.
On the football are printed the restaurant’s special cuts of meat. You get a real menu, too, of course, but this is a tradition in the place. In my opinion, even though the whimsy is a bit misplaced and forced, I think it’s kind of fun. Fancy-schmancy restaurants can sometimes take themselves too seriously; this ensures that they know it’s all just a “big game.”
While scoping out the menu, we were surprised to see the server wheeling over a butcher table cart. On it were raw steaks, lettuce, a giant tomato, and a massive potato. Hmm.
When he arrived, he began explaining the different cuts of meat and showing us the size of the veggies used in the meals so that we could gauge what we wanted to order. I thought this was a great touch — so few of us are truly educated on meat cuts and flavors. We were also glad to see the size of the potato, which ensured we ordered only one to share between us!
We decided to order the cowboy ribeye (my very favorite cut of meat ever) and the filet mignon. We added to the order a caesar salad, an order of asparagus with hollandaise, a hash brown, and a twice-baked potato. (This is NOT a place you go when you’re worried about clogged arteries, my friends.) Here’s what we received. And, yes, everything was served on plates as big as my head.
As you can see, this is not only a lot of food for normally-sized plates, this is a way lot of food for the giant plates on which it was served. I’m not kidding you when I say that hash brown was easily 8 inches in diameter and an inch thick. Many, many potatoes died for that thing, my friends. And the dish of asparagus could easily have served a family of four for two nights.
What you can’t see is how delicious everything was. The steaks were perfect; the vegetables were fresh and prepared with just the right spices and ingredient additions. This food was no-frills, which is what I, personally, like in a steakhouse. Simple dishes, big portions, well-prepared.
We also ordered a fantastic apple crisp for dessert that we, unfortunately, devoured before we remembered to take a photo. For those of you who head to Shula’s, I highly recommend that dessert.
Overall Analysis From a Buffalo Bills Fan
It’s a “different” atmosphere from what you’ll find at a Disney steakhouse. Servers are a little less happy than they are after they’ve had Disney training and the dark/romantic feel to the place could take some getting used to if you’re expecting Chef Mickey’s. But cozy surroundings and good service accompany some very tasty food, assuming you’re a steak-lover.
More analysis forthcoming when we post the “Steakhouse Throwdown,” pitting Le Cellier, Yachtsman Steakhouse, and Shula’s against one another in the ultimate Steakhouse battle!