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ESPN Club Review: Preserving What We’ve Got

Editor’s Note: As of May 2013, hot dogs are no longer being offered and the nachos are served with BBQ Pork.

In light of the news that the Walt Disney Company has already closed or will be closing most of the existing ESPN Zone restaurants, I thought it was timely to pay homage to the ESPN Club in Walt Disney World. This place happens to be a favorite of ours here on Disney Food Blog, seeing as it’s one of the only places to get my favorite food: Buffalo Chicken Wings.

Atmosphere
Located on Disney World’s Boardwalk, the ESPN Club is more than a restaurant — it’s a sports fan’s dream come true. With televisions everywhere showcasing current ESPN sports, classic sports, and more; a live studio right in the restaurant; and a huge game arcade under the same roof, there’s really no reason to leave once you arrive! Speaking of arriving, be sure to do so EARLY on game days — this place fills up fast.

The Place Can Get Pretty Busy on Game Day

Once you enter the restaurant, you get to choose whether you’ll sit in the dining room or the bar area. How to choose? Easy: if you want the potential to watch Mike and Mike in the Morning do their ESPN show, sit in the Dining Room, which doubles as a studio. If you want to play computer games and have your own personal TV at your table, sit in the bar area. See? Easy!

Studio Area Dining Room

Stage in Studio Area Dining Room

Studio in Dining Area

Bar Dining Area

Booth and Video Game Console in Bar Area

But no matter where you sit, be sure to spend some time just walking around and gawking. There are jerseys, equipment, banners, and all manner of sports memorabilia scattered everywhere in the place — top to bottom. The broadcasting studio in the dining room is very cool to check out as well. This restaurant is an attraction in itself.

Sports Memorabilia Flanking the Studio Entrance

Studio Camera

Cushy Chairs in Front of the Stage

And don’t worry about how many refills you get on that soda pop — I promise you’ll never miss a moment of the game, no matter how many times you head to the restroom…

TVs in Restroom Stalls

Restroom Stall TV

By the way — another thing that’s pretty fun about the ESPN Club is that if you time your photography just right, it looks like the Illuminations fireworks go off from inside the restaurant. That’s neither here nor there, but I wanted to show off my picture.

Illuminations Over ESPN

Eats
So, I bet those of you who aren’t sports fans are wondering what’s in it for you. Not to worry. Unless you’ve got an extremely high-end palate, you’re sure to find something on the menu you’ll love.

Dinner Menu -- CLICK TO ENLARGE

ESPN Club serves pretty much standard American favorites — burgers, hot dogs, chicken wings, salads, ribs, sandwiches, chili, etc. The specialty drinks are fun to try, too. Let’s face it, while this place isn’t going to win any James Beard awards, it’s just about the best tailgating food you’d ever hope to try.

We usually arrive at ESPN Club when it first opens for lunch (we like to get a booth and beat the crowds), so we’re often starving when we get there. Luckily, that means more food pics!

For appetizers on this visit, we ordered “Patriot Clam Chowder,” and “Red Wings,” (get it? Like Detroit?) which can be served Medium, Hot, Flame, Teriyaki, or Barbecue, and are served with Celery and Blue Cheese Dressing. By way of review, the Clam Chowder boldly rivals that of Liberty Tree Tavern as far as my husband is concerned — which means it’s pretty dang good. The chicken wings are served whole — meaning you’ve gotta separate the wing from the drumstick yourself if you want to eat them one at a time. This threw me a bit, but they really do have great sauce, so I was game for the challenge. For those of you who LOVE chicken wings and don’t mind getting a little messy with your food, these will hit the spot.

ESPN Club Clam Chowder

ESPN Club Chicken Wings

I added to that order a pretty little Margarita. Doesn’t hold a candle to those at La Cava del Tequila, but it’s still pretty good!

ESPN Club Margarita

For our entrees, we went standard: bacon cheeseburger and chili cheese hot dog. As you know, the cheese dog made it into my top three dogs in Disney World post, so it’s quite good indeed; really one of those “crunch when you bite it” kind of dogs. The burger is quite good as well. While it doesn’t top the Le Cellier or Liberty Tree Tavern versions, it might give Beaches and Cream a run for its money… .

Bacon Cheeseburger at ESPN Club

Chili Cheese Dog at ESPN Club

OH, and I forgot a VERY important detail. ESPN Club has hot melty cheese. It’s not the same hot melty cheese that you get in Disney counter-service spots, but it’s hot melty cheese nonetheless.

Melty Cheese

And, of course, we HAD to order dessert. Usually we skip it when we come here, because we’d prefer to just go grab ice cream at Beaches and Cream or a cupcake at the Boardwalk Bakery, but these days, dessert is research! We chose the Boston Cream Pie to split and it was…uneventful…bland…pretty boring. Looking at the dessert menu now, I should have chosen just about anything else. Hopefully someone out there will make a comment and refute my less-than-stellar review of the Boston Cream Pie; I hate it when I don’t like my Disney food.

Boston Cream Pie

Dessert Menu -- CLICK TO ENLARGE

Overall
Like I said, I really do enjoy the ESPN Club. I’ve had the luck of seeing Mike and Mike in the Morning broadcast their show, and it’s really quite cool to see and take part in!

You see, I’m really not all that hard to please — a great burger, some chicken wings, a margarita, and a personal TV in my bathroom stall pretty much does it for me!

What are your thoughts about the ESPN Club, or about other ESPN Zones around the country? Will you be missing yours if they’re closing it? Anyone near Disneyland want to chime in about the Disneyland ESPN Zone? Would love to hear your comments below.

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18 Comments

  1. Rich T. says:

    That doesn’t look like any Boston Cream Pie I’ve ever seen… It looks more plastic than the cheese. And why are there hard things on top of it?

  2. Liz says:

    I’ve never eaten at the ESPN Club, and from your review I’ll probably pass on it. The food likes very “meh” from the pictures. Though the clam chowder looks like it might be worth a shot.

  3. Kelly says:

    Another tip: the seating in the bar area is first come, first serve. So if there’s a few people waiting for a table, have a look around the bar area and see if you can grab a seat there!

  4. Cody says:

    Great Review AJ As Always! I’ve eaten here several times, and each time the food/service were always different. The first time it was great, the second time service was horrendous, then third time food was bleh… So i think it just depends WHEN You go.

    Though i do have to say, the experience/atmostphere is great, and i am NOT a sports person…. It’d be a good thing to try once, and even if the food isnt good, i go back for the experience.

  5. AJ says:

    Rich — Ha! Yep — it’ wasn’t great. Maybe I was just full from all of the other food, but it wasn’t my favorite dessert from the trip. The hard things on top are crumbled chocolate-covered toffee, which was the best part of the dessert IMHO.

    Liz — Hmm…maybe we should have gotten some better choices for our entrees to entice you more! :-) I really do like the place, and the menu is varied — even though we went with the standards.

    Kelly — Great tip! I didn’t know that at all! We always go when they first open, so we can pretty much take whatever table we want. Good to know!

    Cody — You know, I haven’t ever had a problem with the service here, but, again, that might be because of when we go. I agree that the atmosphere is fun — even if there’s a game that you’re not interested in, the energy in the place is great.

  6. Kelly says:

    Oh…and we tried to go one year during the Super Bowl…worst idea ever. Line very early in the morning, before they even opened!

  7. James (Disneynorth) says:

    We ate at ESPN last year by chance. We weren’t able to get to Wolfgang Puck’s for dinner due to bus issues from the Boardwalk (that’s another story…..), so we headed down to the Boardwalk and checked out the restaurants. ESPN was the quietest of the lot and gave it a try. It was a pleasant surprise! Overall a good meal.

    I do recommend the nachos to share as an appetizer, on top of the ones AJ recommended.

  8. Shayne says:

    We almost ventured into ESPN Club on our last trip, but decided on something else at the last minute. We are sports fans and we were there during NFL playoffs, so now I kind of regret that we chose to watch the Pats game in our room (Hey, the Texans have never made it to the playoffs, so we have to cheer for SOMEONE!).

    The burger and dog look yummy, but several of the other less traditional menu items (like the turkey & brie sandwich) sound good as well. My husband likes wings, burgers, sports and video games, so I think this will be a must-do for us on our next trip!

  9. Griffin says:

    My wife and I went to an ESPN Zone restaurant in Las Vegas years back. We met a friend of my wife’s and they chatted the whole time about their college friends and their work now. I sat there and ate some ribs and watched tv. It was alot of fun! Something everyone should try at least once.

  10. Josh says:

    We used to have an ESPN Zone up here but it closed in June of 2010. It’s not as big as the ESPN Club but it did have a bar, game room, and a dining area with a Giant Screen and several surrounding screens. What surprises most people is when they need to use the restroom and find out there are televisions in the stalls and such (also little screens in front of the urinels). The game prices are a bit steep as you have to buy a sort of rechargeable card and all the games of course, are sports themed in one way or another.

  11. Cara V. says:

    we’ve been there twice, and I got the Dinger Sandwich both times. We loved our food, and we love the atmosphere!

  12. robin says:

    i can’t believe they have tv’s in the bathroom! wow. that’s hardcore.

    that chili dog looks pretty darn good, but i’m having a heart attack just looking at it. :P

  13. Jeff W. says:

    Not a fan *at all* of sports bars (especially that ubiquitous sports bar staple, buffalo wings), and the pics of the food (and surroundings) remind me why I’m not.

    I do admit, however, that if sports, sports bars, and sports fans were even close to being my bag baby, it’d be cool to watch a radio show being produced right before your very eyes whilst you eat.

    Now, if only Howard Stern would start broadcasting from a theme park restaurant…

  14. JoAnn says:

    How early is early? I’m thinking of making some changes to my Sunday plans which include having lunch here to catch the Steelers game.

  15. JoAnn says:

    I had lunch here two weeks ago. I got to sit in one of the recliners.

  16. Joan Morales says:

    My family dined at the ESPN Boardwalk restaurant for lunch and the food was terrible. Overpriced and poor quality. Would not recommend.

  17. Taylor Buckley says:

    My family ate here on our trip in early April since all of the other restaurants on the Boardwalk had ridiculous waits. Like everyone else said, the atmosphere was a lot nicer than any other sports bar I’ve been to, but the service was ridiculous. 30 minutes rolled by (my friend and I even went to explore some of the shops on the Boardwalk) and there was no sign of our food. My father asked our server if he knew what was going on and he simply said “it will be out when it comes out”. We were all taken aback! We then had to wait another 30 minutes until our food finally came out, but by that time our moods had been soured and our food was lukewarm. The manager came to our table and simply offered us one of the desserts for free, but we refused since none of them seemed too appetizing. All in all our experience at ESPN club was our worst dining experience on Disney property, and we’ve been coming to the World since 1994. The sad thing is that this experience doesn’t seem too uncommon : /

  18. James says:

    My wife and I eat here every year when we head down, and amazingly the experience is very consistent. Service is never really on par with disney standards, but we’re there for the food! We both order the same thing every year: my wife, the macho-nachos to enjoy as an entree (she can never finish them, it’s a HUGE plate), and I rock the bacon cheeseburger. The nachos are always awesome, my burger is always cooked perfectly and you can tell it’s fresh beef. As mentioned, they won’t win any culinary awards, but that’s not what they’re going for here I think. As for the atmosphere, yeah, it’s awesome, but none of the bells and whistles would matter much to us if our food wasn’t always super yummy, and consistently so. Consistency is key to the biz, but consistently awesome means you can’t go wrong.

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