Jeff Kocan, an incredible writer and blogger over at www.CigarettesandCoffee.com (he was the evil photographer of this little ditty — don’t look if you’re hungry), kindly penned and photographed this review of the Garden Grill Restaurant in Epcot’s The Land. This rotating restaurant is in many of our childhood memories, but these days, it’s got a new “spin.” (Couldn’t help it.) Take it away, Jeff!
For too many Walt Disney World visitors, The Land pavilion on the east side of Epcot’s Future World is probably best known as the building you rush through twice per visit – once to get Soarin’ Fastpasses and once to redeem them. It’s worth spending a little extra time here, though, as the building also houses an above-average food court, a more-fun-than-it-sounds agricultural boat ride, and one of the park’s most unique restaurants, the revolving Garden Grill.
The Garden Grill has been around since Epcot’s (or, if you will, EPCOT Center’s) opening day on October 1, 1982. Back then it was known as the Good Turn Restaurant; it became the Land Grille Room in 1986 before taking its current name in ’93. Lunch service here ended in 2008, and the restaurant now exclusively hosts Chip and Dale’s Harvest Feast, a family-style character dinner.
I tend to think of the Garden Grill as one of Disney World’s “forgotten” character meals — it certainly isn’t mentioned as frequently as, say, Chef Mickey’s or Cinderella’s Royal Table. That said, during our Sunday-night visit, the restaurant was full and the adjacent waiting area was packed with diners waiting for their buzzers to buzz. Said waiting area is essentially a vacant corner near the public restrooms, and aside from a couple benches, the ground is the only available seating. Germophobes may prefer to stand.
Once you’re in the restaurant itself, you’re treated to an experience unlike any other in the parks: the Garden Grill is Walt Disney World’s only revolving restaurant. The circular dining room turns ever-so-slowly around the center kitchen area, and the peripheral scenery includes a large mural, scenes from the Living with the Land boat ride, and the interior of the Land pavilion itself (admittedly the least interesting view).
Guests concerned about motion sickness shouldn’t have too much to worry about, although you definitely notice the movement of the room from time to time. If you’re a little woozy from a pre-dinner Mission:SPACE or Soarin’ ride, the effect may be a little more pronounced. Still, the movement is very gentle — depending on how much time you spend at the restaurant and how many courses you make it through, you may not even see a full revolution during your visit (we made it about two-thirds of the way around).
Parents who aren’t crazy about the noise and gleeful chaos normally associated with character dining — kids, after all, can’t be expected to contain themselves when Mickey is standing right there — may want to give the Garden Grill a second look. The room’s relatively tight quarters don’t really encourage a lot of running around, and noise doesn’t carry quite as much from table to table thanks to the ring-shaped layout.
The premise of the meal is that Chip and Dale prepare a nightly feast for their guests – Dale himself explained this during a visit to our table — and the beloved chipmunks, along with Mickey and Pluto, make the rounds throughout the evening, stopping at each table to meet kids, pose for pictures, and have a little fun. It’s a relaxed setting, and it allows kids plenty of one-on-one time with the characters.
That said, this is kind of a weird place for adults to dine without children. I ate here in early February with my girlfriend, and we didn’t see many other solo couples around – and that’s probably not an accident. I do think we probably provided a welcome break for a couple of the characters, although Pluto just gave us a quick wave and kept on walking. Maybe we didn’t look like the types to ask for autographs.
Everything at the Garden Grill is served family-style — once you enter, you take your seats, order drinks, and your work is done, as the courses from the set menu begin coming out out almost immediately. Non-alcoholic beverages are included with your meal, and beer and wine are also available. (In keeping with the pavilion’s theme, several certified organic brands are on the menu.)
First out of the kitchen were the crispy oatmeal cluster rolls and honey butter. These were delicious, if not quite up to the standard of Kona Cafe and ‘Ohana’s offerings — though we were still compelled to smuggle a serving or two back to our room. As good as the rolls may be, though, remember that they exist purely to occupy valuable tummy real estate — this is an all-you-care-to-eat meal, so be strong. Prioritize.
I’m going to say something now, and even I can’t quite believe it: The Land Greenhouse Salad was one of the highlights of the meal, and one of the best things I ate during our entire trip. Most, if not all, of the vegetables in the salad are grown right inside The Land pavilion itself, so urban-farming locavores will be delighted. Every bite was crispy and full of flavor, each ingredient was almost impossibly fresh, and the bacon vinaigrette – just pause for a moment to appreciate that phrase – is my new favorite dressing. I actually considered requesting a second salad.
The main course consisted of three meats — a salt-and-pepper flank steak with mashed potatoes, roasted turkey breast with stuffing and cranberry-orange relish, and a sustainable fish of the day (we had mahi-mahi) with Florida citrus-crumb vegetables. All three arrive at once on the same platter. That may be convenient, but it also means that nothing is made to order; the entrees are basically plated in the kitchen and lined up to wait. Ours had definitely spent more than a few minutes under the heat lamps, which is surprising, considering the volume of food they must have been going through.
The result was a meal that was generally tasty but not particularly fresh — the steak was pink inside with a perfectly seared crust, but it had long since lost any moisture and tenderness it may have had. The fish fared better and was quite tasty, and the accompanying veggies were seasoned and cooked perfectly. The turkey was probably the best of the three, and would have done any Thanksgiving table proud. Honestly, the meal would have been much better if the staff had simply been able to serve it more quickly. This could have been an anomaly, but it’s something to keep in mind.
The nightly dessert is a fresh fruit buckle (a variation on the cobbler, using a more cake-like batter).
The fruit itself varies depending on what’s available and fresh, and we were treated to a fantastic blueberry version. The berries were fresh and tart, the crust was thick and crunchy, and the fresh whipped cream made the dish — it had some extra density and sweetness, almost like a whipped cream/ice cream hybrid. A fine end to the meal.
Of course, a kids’ menu is also offered here, consisting of chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese, served with potatoes and vegetables (french fries are available by request), plus a kids’ dessert. The staff is also willing to work with guests who have special dietary needs, although it’s probably a good idea to call ahead and let them know what you’ll require. (Editor’s Note: See our Special Diets info on our References Page.)
At $31 for adults and $15 for kids 9 and under, the Harvest Feast is either a fair value or a bargain, depending on how much you can eat. Pricing here is on par with both ‘Ohana and Boma, although there is considerably less variety on offer here, particularly compared with Boma’s vast buffet. Adults dining without children will almost certainly want to head elsewhere.
Really, though, the Garden Grill is all about giving kids a chance to meet some of their favorite characters while giving their parents a relatively headache-free setting to enjoy a good meal and some unique scenery. On those counts, it’s a success.
In my experience, walk-ups here don’t succeed very often, so an ADR is definitely recommended. Dinner service begins daily at 4:30; final seating times vary depending on park hours.
Thanks again to Jeff for the review and gorgeous photos! Have you been to Garden Grill recently? What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments section below!