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Guest Review: Garden Grill Restaurant

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!

Garden Grill Restaurant

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.

Chip and Dale's Harvest Feast

The Atmosphere
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).

View of Living with the Land From Garden Grill Restaurant

View of Living with the Land From Garden Grill Restaurant

View of Living With the Land From Garden Grill Pavilion

View of Living With the Land From Garden Grill Pavilion

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.

Dale and Friend at Garden Grill

Dale and Friend at Garden Grill

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.

Mickey Mouse!

Mickey Mouse!

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.

The Food
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.)

Garden Grill Food Menu -- Click for Larger Image

Garden Grill Food Menu -- Click for Larger Image

Garden Grill Drinks Menu -- Click for Larger Image

Garden Grill Drinks Menu -- Click for Larger Image

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.

Oatmeal Rolls

Oatmeal Rolls

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.

Garden Grill Salad

Garden Grill 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.

Garden Grill Main Courses

Garden Grill Main Courses

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.

Garden Grill Main Courses

Garden Grill Main Courses

The nightly dessert is a fresh fruit buckle (a variation on the cobbler, using a more cake-like batter).

Blueberry Buckle

Blueberry Buckle

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.

Blueberry Buckle

Blueberry Buckle

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.)

Final Thoughts
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!

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35 Comments

  1. Shayne says:

    On our last family vacation, our kids decided, once they saw Garden Grill, that they wanted to give this a try (they were intrigued by the rotating restaurant concept). We tried to get an ADR but were unsuccessful in doing so. It’s on our to do list for next time.

    I haven’t eaten there in quite a long time. After it switched over from Kraft to Nestle in the early 1990s, I never did care for the food as much and haven’t made it a priority to get back there.

  2. Chip says:

    We had a ADR for this restaurant but canceled it for a meal at San Angel Inn. Last time we ate here it was an ok meal but nowhere near the quality of a fine mexican meal.

  3. Janna says:

    I made ressies here for part of our Grand Gathering group last July. Those that ate there enjoyed it. (My group was eating at Sci-Fi – yum!)

    I think, for the salad alone, I may have to work this into our November trip. :0)

  4. Michele says:

    I went to Garden Grill for the first time in Dec 09 with a friend of mine & her mom. It was WONDERFUL!

    The charcter interaction was great and relaxed. They even came around about 3 times.

    The food, I thought, was excellent. I had no complaints about our service.

    The rotation I did not feel but I enjoyed highly seeing different scenes as we went around. I even found some hidden mickeys.

    I enjoyed this highly and it will definitely be on the list to go to again.

  5. AJ says:

    Shayne — I think it’s great fun for kids. I can remember being enthralled with the rotating restaurant thing when we visited EPCOT Center. It’s just one of those “things you can do at Disney that you can’t do (easily) anywhere else!” Good point about Nestle vs Kraft; I haven’t noticed a drop in quality, but I’ll check it out next time I’m there.

    Chip — Did you eat at Garden Grill, or at one of its predecessors?

    Janna — Doesn’t it look delicious?!

    Michele — Thank you for your review! I’m eagerly awaiting my chance to try this place; haven’t been there in ages.

  6. Shayne says:

    Re Kraft vs. Nestle, I don’t know that the quality is worse, it was just different. I loved it so much when we ate there the first time (circa 1991 when it was Kraft) and when we went back again around 1993, it was not what I remembered, so I was disappointed. I don’t think it was bad, just not the same.

    I do want to try Garden Grill the next time we’re there with our kids. The food looks delicious and crowd-pleasing!

  7. Stephanie says:

    We had an ADR for Garden Grill the first night of our Oct. 09 trip, but unfortunately our son was sick and we had to cancel. After reading this post, I am so much more bummed than I originally was! We had already decided to put it on our list for the next trip, but now I will most definitely make sure we go!

    Thank you! Fabulous blog you have here!!
    Stephanie

  8. AJ says:

    Shayne — I hear ya. We’ll have to both check it out and trade reviews. I miss the Kraft connection just because I miss Kitchen Kabaret so much, personally!

    Stephanie — I’m so sorry! Well, I’m sorry on behalf of Jeff, whose photos are gorgeous. Can’t wait to hear what you think after your next trip!

  9. AJ, I think Disney needs to build some sort of retro-land where we can see Kitchen Kabaret and Horizons etc. again. ;)

    Garden Grill has always been a favorite of ours when we want a change of pace. I love the gimmick of the restaurant itself and though I think the most recent change in menu (switched out from fish “fingers” to the filet and a couple of other things) is a bit of a disappointment, overall, it’s still a great spot. The characters are always great with interaction and that makes it worthwhile each time we go.

  10. AJ says:

    Thanks for the mom-view, Zanna! I wonder if you can still snag fish fingers if you ask for them or order in advance…

  11. gaylin says:

    It has been a couple of years since I ate at the Grill and I enjoyed it and I have food allergies. They have an entire gluten-free meal available, including dessert. Very good!

  12. Liz says:

    I was at this very meal with Jeff and I have to give my two cents – the steak was definitely dry, but the turkey was pretty amazing and was served on top of a cornbread stuffing and cranberry relish that I couldn’t stop eating. The steak came with mashed (er, crushed) potatoes – basically it was like Thanksgiving heaven. So good.

    Also, I have turned into my Nana and we really do ask for extra rolls when we eat at places like this so we can snack on them for breakfast the next day. The only sad thing was that we couldn’t take the honey-butter with us (it was so delicious).

  13. Brad says:

    Jeff:

    Don’t know if you’re reading the comments or not, but I was curious about the settings you use to take your food photos. They look really great and I can never get mine to look close. Any advice?

  14. AJ says:

    Gaylin — Thank you for the update on the whole gluten-free menu!!

    Liz — Thank you for the review (and for being a co-producer of these amazing photos!). I was wondering about the honey-butter; I’m always pleased when the physical area taken up by the butter is equal to the physical area taken up by the rolls. I think that’s the best ratio.

    Brad — Hear hear. Would love to figure out how to make my photos look like Jeff’s!!!

  15. jeffk says:

    Thanks, Brad! I’m not really an expert, but I’ll do my best to pass along what I know.

    My number-one rule is to never use a flash. Having a good camera with a fast lens certainly helps there, but even if you’re just using a pocket-sized point-and-shoot, use your elbows to steady your camera and see what you can do in no-flash mode.

    If you have a DSLR (I was using a Canon T1i with the standard 18-55mm “kit” lens here), you have a lot more options. For close-up food photos, I usually stay zoomed out – I was at 18mm for most of these – and get the camera as close to the food as possible with the widest aperture setting I can use. That gives you a nice shallow depth of field and a tiny bit of “fish-eye” distortion, which lends a nice artsy-fartsy kind of look to the pics.

    Does that make sense?

  16. Brad says:

    Jeff:

    Thanks for the tips. Generally when I’m taking shots indoors I have really terrible light. Any advice on other settings to compensate on a point and shoot? Or is my best bet just to hold as steady as I can?

  17. jeffk says:

    Stillness is definitely going to be your best friend there, Brad – try to MacGyver yourself a tripod substitute whenever you can. Start setting your camera on ledges and railings and benches and stuff and you’ll get some great shots, even at places like the San Angel Inn where there’s relatively little lighting. Getting pics of the food itself in places like that will be tougher – I even struggled there with the SLR in the dim candlelight.

    Another little tip: When you take a picture, try to remember to keep the button depressed instead of pushing and then immediately releasing it. You’ll be surprised how much steadier your shots will be. If that’s still not enough, try out the auto-timer mode – set it for, say, a two-second delay and you can press the button and let go, then just worry about holding the camera in place.

  18. Shannon says:

    We tried and tried to book this last August (free dining time) but could not get in. My family loved Epcot so much I made it a priority for our next vacation.

  19. Carrie says:

    I’ve been on the fence for this one for a long time. This review just encouraged me to book. Even though we’re 90 days out I was still able to get the date I wanted. The time wasn’t perfect but we’ll manage.

  20. Avidchick says:

    My husband and I eat there frequently as a couple without children (my step-son prefers other resturants, so we don’t go there when he is staying with us). It is one of our favorite places- good food, cool location, relatively quiet character meet-n-greet. One little note- usually Chip and Dale are a little “handsy”. My husband always jokes that I have a great track record of being molested by chipmunks! We often seem to get just as much attention (and sometimes more) than the families around us. I think the characters find it a nice change…

  21. AJ says:

    JeffK — Thank you for the tips. I think I might start bringing my gorillapod around with us next time if we’re carrying a bag to put it in (we hate carrying bags around Disney…so much easier to just take the ticket and go). Also, great tip on the auto-timer mode. I’ve never thought of doing that!! :)

    Shannon — Looking forward to your review!

    Carrie — I feel the same way; I think it’s time to book this place now! Only 90 days til your trip — WOW! Have fun!

    Avidchick — Great point that the characters might consider it a nice change. We find that when we’re dining at character meals without kids, we either get a cursory wave or pat on the head, OR the characters actually spend more time with us. They’ve gotta get really good at intuiting what people want them to do, I think! Sorry about the handsy chipmunks — that’s hilarious, but unfortunate! ;-) I had a handsy Tigger once, but he was giving massages, so who am I to complain?

  22. Gray says:

    I second (or third, or thirteenth) that these are excellent, mouth-watering food photos. But I also want to say GREAT restaurant review, Jeff! I am embarrassed to say that in all the years I’ve heard about the Garden Grill, somehow it escaped my notice that it is a revolving restaurant! I had no idea. Given what you said about your experience as two adults without children, I’m not sure I’ll ever go there (unless I can wrangle a group together), but I’m so glad to have read more about what it’s like.

  23. AJ says:

    Gray — I agree this would be a weird solo experience. I look forward to the time when we’re both there at the same time; we’ll go together.

  24. TraciLeigh says:

    We ate at the Garden Grill in September 2007 and loved it. The characters visited our table twice during our dinner – and Chip (or maybe Dale?) actually sat with my oldest daughter (who was 3 at the time) while she enjoyed her cupcake dessert. That was magical.

    The food was wonderful. My daughter still talks about getting that “decorate it yourself” cupcake for her dessert. When they brought it to the table she looked at me and my husband and said “is it my birthday?!?” Such a great memory.

    I am putting the GG on my list for next year’s ADRs. :)

  25. AJ says:

    Traci — So cute! I can’t believe she asked if it was her birthday! :-)

  26. Cynthia says:

    Hey! Love the review and photos, but we totally disagree about the Garden Grille being unsuitable for adults. We enjoy character dining, and it is easily our favorite option. The issue may be when you went, and where you were seated. If you have ADRs for 7:45 or 8 and request to be seated in the booths on the lower tier, it is fabulous. You are shielded from any families with kids as you are nestled into your isolated booth, and the characters always play with us, take photos, and generally are a lot of fun. Also, because it’s late (we think) the handlers ALWAYS come by to see if each character visited and if we want them to stop by again before they head out for the evening. This is the only place where cast members do this, and it’s a nice touch. Last time, Mickey tried to convince me to run off with him. :-) Highly recommended for adults later in the evening… we have been many, many times and never had a bad experience. Miss the Mickey shaped cucumber slice, though! I also think the food is better when it’s not busy. There’s not a huge crowd later in the evening, and in fact, it tends to really clear out. Plus, we always tell our server that we are not trying to get out in time for Illuminations and then just hang out and relax and try to miss the rush out of the park, this is why 8:00 is our preferred time. Hope you get a chance to go back and test out our method, and if you follow up, tell us when you went. The Garden Grille set-up compared to other character dining can’t be beat, as you get great characters yet a pleasant adult dining experience due to how it’s set up.

  27. AJ says:

    Cynthia — Great idea to head over there right at closing time! I’ll have to try that one! Thank you so much for this great review/comment.

  28. brian says:

    it was my girlfriends bday and we had no reservations but the staff were very helpful in getting us in..we were really impressed that the whole restaurant rotated ..the scenery was amazing…the food was incredible, by far i loved the maple butter with the rolls..overall experience was very memorable…chip loved my girlfriend he kept sitting at our table an entertaining us..i aggree this wasnt just for people with kids they were all welcoming to adults just the same..this was our first character dining and deffinately will do it again.

  29. AJ says:

    Brian — Thanks for your review! The maple butter looks AMAZING. I look forward to hitting this spot next time I head to Future World :-)

  30. CHRISSY says:

    After reading all of the comments on this blog I am more excited than ever about my ressies for GG in Dec. I managed to get the Candlelight processional dinner package with 5:00 reservations at GG and the 8:15 Show, which I think gives us more than enough time to enjoy the meal and then wander slowly over to the American pavilion. I do have 2 questions that I am hopping someone is able to answer for me:
    1. I am a vegetarian and the rest of my family are carnivores; if I call in advance and order a vegetarian meal for myself will BOTH options be brought to the table? If so I think that this would be a good idea for everyone, twice the options for the same price.
    2. Is it a good idea to request a booth if I want one? I have looked at the pictures (I agree with everyone else – they are lovely), I would much rather sit in a booth than at one of the 4 top tables. There are only 4 in my party, 2 adults and 2 children, but I would prefer the bit of privacy that the booths seem to offer.

    Can’t wait to go there, thanks again for the great review and the delicious pictures.

  31. AJ says:

    Chrissy — Definitely request a booth if you want one! :-) Also, call at least 2 weeks in advance or email SpecialDiets@DisneyWorld.com and have them prepare a vegetarian plate for you. They probably won’t bring out vegetarian options for everyone. What will likely happen is your family will get the regular food, and you’ll get a special vegetarian plate for yourself. :-) Good luck!

  32. CHRISSY says:

    Thanks AJ, I appreciate the info. Does anyone know what the vegetarian options are? I have been checking online but I can’t find a menu anywhere.

  33. chrissy says:

    I have reservations for the 7th, I will let you know what the Vegetarian Meal is.

  34. chrissy says:

    In case anyone wants to know the vegitarian option on the night that I was there was a wonderful veggie pot pie. It was filling and delicious, sorry I didn’t take a picture, I was so busy eating that I forgot!

  35. AJ says:

    Chrissy — Awesome!!! Thank you so much for the info! Glad it was delicious!

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