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Guest Review: Big River Grille and Brewing Works

Guest reviewer Bill Iadonisi is back with another great Disney World restaurant review! This time, Bill takes us to an actual working brewery on Disney property — Big River Grille and Brewing Works. Take it away, Bill!

Let’s move forward with a review of the Big River Grille & Brewing Works at Disney’s Boardwalk Resort before getting back to the counter-service restaurants in my next post. Disney’s Boardwalk Inn is one of my favorites, because it reminds me of summers spent on the boardwalks of New Jersey, Atlantic City or Seaside Heights.

Atmosphere

Disney’s Boardwalk Inn is a wonderful re-creation of a Boardwalk town with restaurants and snack shops lining the boardwalk. On Disney’s Boardwalk, you will find the Big River Grille & Brewing Works, the only working Micro-brewery pub on property. Owned by CraftWorks Restaurants & Breweries, Inc., the restaurant is located between Jellyrolls and Thimbles & Threads, a short walk from the resort’s lobby.

Big River Grille & Brewing Works

Upon entering the Grille, your first impression is that of a standard bar/lounge setup a la Chili’s or Logan’s Roadhouse. There are three distinct dining areas.

Bar at Big River Grille

The dining room on the right has tall, Pub-style, wooden chairs and tables with two large glass enclosures where you can see the brewing process taking place. Brewing kettles are in full view.

Brew Kettle, Big River Grille

Brewing Area, Big River Grille

The bar in the middle of the eatery is the main focal point. There is a smaller seating area in the middle of the restaurant and a larger seating area on the left side. The tables feel small at only about 35” square, so if you want a little more room, you would have to request two tables.

Seating Area to the Left, Big River Grille

Bar Area from Right Side Dining Area, Big River Grille

Our group was a little disappointed in the décor. Every Disney restaurant, even the non-Disney owned establishments, are themed in some way. The interior of Big River was just bland and unimposing. If you hadn’t just walked in from Disney’s Boardwalk, you would never know you were at Disney World!

The one feature we all loved was the large wall of windows in all the dining areas where you could watch the folks on the boardwalk and see the Yacht and Beach clubs in the distance.

Big River Grille's outdoor view

Eats

After my friend John, my wife Donna, and I were seated in the middle area, our waiter, Chris, was right there to take care of us. Even though it’s not Disney-owned, the staff at Big River Grille still has high standards, and Chris was wonderful. Throughout the meal, he took great care of us.

The menu offers primarily pub eats and casual fare:

Big River Grille Menu. Click photo for larger image.

Big River Grille Menu. Click photo for larger image.

We started out with a Beef Nachos appetizer ($11.99), it was a generous portion of tortilla chips, pepper jack cheese, sour cream (John asked for more sour cream and Chris brought him a big extra dish!), Pico de Gallo and sliced jalapenos. There was enough for all of us. The flavors were well balanced, but I would have liked a bit more beef on the plate.

Beef Nachos appetizer at Big River Grille

We also sampled the Beer Cheese Soup (Cup $4.50 and Bowl $5.50). This was outstanding, rich and creamy with just a hint of the Pale Ale beer used in the recipe. We all agreed on the soup!

Beer Cheese Soup at Big River Grille

My wife loves Quesadillas and ordered the Chicken Quesadilla appetizer ($9.99) for her main course. She was disappointed. The chicken in the Quesadillas was shredded, not chunks or pieces as one would expect; she said it lacked any taste. John and I sampled it, and it had a nice texture, but there was a lack of flavor, which I believe is because of the shredded chicken. It just blended in and got lost in the cheese.

Chicken Quesadilla, Big River Grille

For my lunch, I chose the Blackened Mahi Mahi Sandwich ($13.50). I enjoyed this offering. The roll was soft and bakery fresh. I like my Blackened Mahi Mahi extra spicy and crispy, and the chef did not disappoint! The fish was a nice sized cut; the spices were tangy, but did not overwhelm. This dish comes with a serving of Kettle Chips.

Blackened Mahi-Mahi Sandwich at Big River Grille

John ordered the Honey Dijon Chicken Sandwich ($10.99). This is a grilled Chicken Breast, which is basted in honey Dijon mustard and is topped off with several slices of smoked bacon and Swiss cheese. Again, I am sad to report that John also thought the sandwich lacked any “flavor”. The bacon was tasty, and the bun was soft and fresh. The chicken breast was moist, but, like the Quesadillas, just seemed void of spices. John also said the Swiss was not even melted.

Honey Dijon Chicken Sandwich, Big River Grille

Big River has a full service bar with everything from Specialty Cocktails, Mojitos, and Martinis to a very impressive wine list. But since this is a working Micro-Brewery, their flagship offerings are the handcrafted beer made on premises. Signature Lagers and Ales such as Gadzooks Pilsner and Steamboat Pale Ale are offered. For the non-drinkers, a large selection of non-alcoholic beverages is available.

Also, a children’s menu called “Jungle Grub” is available, and homemade Root Beer can be ordered.

Desserts offered are “Chocolate Confusion,” which is a chocolate Mousse layered between Oreo brownie cakes with chocolate chips and icing ($6.50); and a New York Cheesecake with raspberry sauce ($6.50).

Overall

Now, just because everything was not 100% with our meal does not mean we will not return. Sometimes even the best of us have an off day. The restaurant has a nice lunch and dinner menu and offers beautiful views of the boardwalk atmosphere. Their handcrafted beers and extensive cocktail and wine lists are a plus. You can also order a Beer Sampler for a taste of their homemade brews. In addition, the service was friendly and quick, and we did not have to look far for our waiter, he was always available.

One of the negative aspects of this restaurant is the modest dining areas with small tables. If you have a large group, you will be pressed for space, especially during busy times. Another point, and of course this is my personal observation, is the lack of a “magical feel,” probably due to the lack of “Disney decor.”

The eatery takes the 10% DVC discount (Disney vacation Club) and the 20% Tables in Wonderland discount. Reservations are not accepted, so to get in during the busy summer/holiday seasons will be hit or miss, depending on the crowds.

If you have fond memories of dining on the Boardwalk at the Jersey Shore, the Big River Grille is just the place to take you back.

Have you dined — or have plans to dine — at Big River Grille and Brewing Works? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!

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25 Comments

  1. Sarah says:

    Matt & I love the Asiago Artichoke & Crab Dip as well as the Beer Cheese Soup. I’ve had the Hickory Bacon Burger and was not impressed as the burger came out overcooked and dry, but the kettle chips were fine. Their beers are delicious – I like them all, but typically order the Gadzooks Pilsner or Steamboat Pale Ale. We sit at the bar area, and the service is always great.

  2. joe m says:

    But… but… how is the beer?

    The food sounds like a step up from ESPN Club, but the main feature is the beer and I wish it was covered. Oh well, this is on the list of things for next trip!

  3. Dana says:

    Living just 15 minutes from Seaside, NJ, I have to say that the Boardwalk is one of my favorite places as well! (I just wish Seaside in real life looked liked Disney’s Boardwalk…)
    That cheese soup looks to die for! I’d go in and just order that for my meal!

  4. AJ says:

    Sarah — Thanks for the beer review! The last time I was here, I ordered some great nachos — I hope they still have the same queso!

    Joe — I know! We’ll get it covered for you! For what it’s worth — everyone I know absolutely LOVES the micro-brews here. EVen if they don’t enjoy the food, they’ll still go for the beer. Let us know what you think when you go!

  5. JulFromMD says:

    My husband and I went there for a dinner a couple years ago, and I agree with the comments above about the food lacking flavor. I had the hazelnut-crusted chicken, and it had no flavor whatsoever (partially because they left off the cherry sauce, but it took so long to get the food–and I was so hungry by that time–that I didn’t want to try and either send it back or see if they could bring out the sauce on the side). I don’t remember what my husband had, but neither of us were inspired by the meal. I think if you are going to go there, maybe just go for beer and appetizers or desserts–skip the meal.

  6. Beth says:

    My husband LOVES the beer (and he’s quite the beer snob since we live near Dogfish Head) but we never eat the food.

  7. Tony says:

    I have been here twice and I have to say its not a favorite for me. The service is a little slow and the food is not that great, at best its average. The only good thing they have going for them is the beer. There are other better places right near here that i visit more often If your looking for bar food go to ESPN down the boardwalk.

  8. Alan says:

    I’ve eaten here over twenty times. It is one of my favorite restaurants at WDW for both the beers and the outdoor patio. It is great to eat outside on the boardwalk or spend a quiet afternoon with friends having a bunch of beers looking out at the Beach and Yacht Clubs and the lagoon. Also, you can usually walk in and get a table during the afternoon and early evening. The food is generally pretty good with plenty of choices but is sometimes hit and miss with the seasonings and spices. Another oddity is that they do not serve french fries with sandwiches and burgers. I have asked why several times and gotten different reasons none of which made much sense to me.

    The beers are very good, better than most small independent brew pubs. The seasonal beers are almost always really good. They have won a few awards ( they are owned by a company that also owns Gordon Biersch, Rock Bottom and Old Chicago) so you would expect quality. My only caveat is that the beers are sort of generic most of the year, a brown ale, a red ale, a pale ale etc. A lot of beer lovers go to brew pubs to see the envelope pushed a bit more.

    They are very accommodating – my wife ordered meat loaf and asked for an extra plate to share with her mother (who didn’t eat much) and they brought out what looked to me to be two full plates.

  9. Howard says:

    Big River Grille originated out of Chattanooga, TN. It is one my favorite places to get beer. They don’t bottle their beer (as far as I know), so you have to get it fresh from them. All their beers are really good. The food on the other hand isn’t that great. It’s just pretty standard food you would get from any chain restaurant.

  10. Nancy says:

    My husband and I ate there in September 2010 with our toddler. My husband liked his meal and I actually wound up taking my meal back. It was terrible! And I NEVER return food! The service was really great and they were really accommodating which I really appreciated. They gave us a free dessert and it totally made up for the yucky meal! One of the best pictures I have from that trip is the total mess that my then 15 month old made eating that chocolate cake!

  11. Lisa says:

    Did not like the food-and will not return. I did not find your pictures wanting me to do so either.
    ( not that you don’t take a gd picture-your pictures were very well taken). Your subjects just were
    not appetizing

  12. Ashli says:

    We love Big River Grille! It is always on my husband’s list of top places to go back to when we head to WDW. They have some seriously delicious meatloaf (plated or sandwich variety!). It surprised me how bland you said the chicken all seemed, because the meatloaf has some great flavors. We’ve only ever gotten beef dishes there though. I am not a beer drinker, but my husband is and his favorite beer (ever, of all time – and this man knows beer!) is BRG’s special Octoberfest beer. He said it is just out of this world. Unfortunately, it is only seasonal, but fortunately for us, we go every October! :)

  13. Galloping Gourmand says:

    I love the beer here. Love it. I think its the only working brewery on WDW property.

    Funny story. I ate at BRG about four hears ago. Upon receiving the cheese soup, I took a spoonfull, choked, and sprayed it all over my friend “d.” It was like a fine mist. They comped us on the soup, but D still hasn’t forgiven me for staining her new shirt and having to walk around with cheese in her hair for an hour and a half in the middle of summer.

  14. Watch Me Eat says:

    I ate here once or twice over the years. Food on the visits was forgettable. Not bad, but nothing that I’ll be rushing back for…

  15. Darren says:

    I ate here with my wife in January just prior to the WDW Marathon. While there was nothing particuarly wrong with the dinner, it was probably the most unmemorable meal of the trip (1 week on the DDP). The seating area was small and cramped but the service was well executed. I honestly can’t even remember what my wife or I had. I think it was steak for me?

    I would go to Big River Grille again if I was staying at the Boardwalk and didn’t have either reservations elsewhere or the motivation to walk to one of the other Cresent Lake restaurants.

  16. Dan says:

    My wife and I went here a few weeks ago, and I have to say it was one of the few mediocre meals we had on the trip. The restaurant is cramped and loud, and the food was really standard. I did enjoy the beer, but it’s not so exceptional to make up for bland food. Even my daughter’s mac and cheese was worse than the standard Disney theme park version. I’d suggest skipping it unless you’re a beer fanatic.

  17. Bill Iadonisi says:

    Again my thanks for all of your comments! And I do apologize for no review of the beer, especially since it is a brew house, but no one in our group drinks beer! In fact, we never gave it a thought until my wife asked…”Is anyone going to taste the Beer?’ But rest assured, the next review of a similar establishment will include at least one beer drinker! Stay tuned for the next review, in a week or two! Bill

  18. Bruce says:

    Bill,
    Great review and Pics as usual. I can tell you form experince the Beer is good. I like the Rocket Red, it is smooth Amber Ale that is very well made. We eat at Big River most of our trips to WDW, Teh Mahi-Mahi is very good as you stated, but I usually stick with the Burgers. A brew Pub Burger is always good.

  19. Kim says:

    Agree with everyone–average to below average! And I suspect (having been in food service) that the reason for the bland flavors and lack of fries is that they don’t have a full kitchen. Big River is a chain and I believe their food is pre-cooked at a central kitchen and simply heated either by microwave or griddle. You also can’t order a burger cooked less than medium. Some will say its a policy/law etc (raw meat…) but you can order a steak just a few buildings away rare. Again, I suspect their burgers are already cooked, frozen, and re-heated.

  20. Catie says:

    Went there on our honeymoon and we loved it, my husband had a beer flight which he loved and the beer soup, hazelnut chicken, burger, and chocolate cake were all amazing. And of course the setting of the Boardwalk is beautiful, we will definitely be returning!!

  21. Jeremy says:

    The hazelnut crusted chicken is phenomenal! One of the best flavored entrees I’ve ever had!

  22. Emma says:

    I don’t know if I went during a particularly busy time or what, but I hate, hate, HATED this restaurant. The food was nothing to write home about but what really struck me was the chaos inside. They had shoved FAR too many tables into the space. I was in a room off to the side and my table was literally RIGHT in front of the door. It must have been an emergency exit door because nobody was using it, but my table was on top of the door mat. There was also a closet off to the side that was cracked open and had a tube snaking out shooting cold air into the room. The waiter took FOREVER as well. I will never go back!

  23. Liz says:

    Kim,
    I have also worked in food service and have also actually seen the kitchen for Big River. There is no “central kitchen” that ships off frozen foods. The majority of their food (save for the chips, cakes, and dressing) are made there daily on site, from scratch. The reason they don’t have fries is because the kitchen does not have a fryer.

    It’s true that you cannot order a burger less than medium at Big River, but you can defiantly get your steaks rare or medium rare if you want. It’s company policy, not because the burgers are precooked, then frozen, then recooked. That doesn’t make any sense. The reason a lot of restaurants will not allow a rare burger is basic food safety. The food borne pathogens that live on beef live on the outside of the cut of meat. So, when you order a steak rare, the outside of the steak, where all the germs live, is cooked properly. However, when the beef is ground, any germs that may have been on the outside are now mixed throughout the patty therefore the entirety of the patty must be heated properly.

  24. AJ says:

    Thanks for the info, Liz!!

  25. Mike says:

    Big River what can you say// The beer has always been great we are from Michigan the great beer state we have many micro brewery here so we enjoy beer. Kent at Big River is a very good brewer / The flag ship beers have always been good but where he shines is the specialty beers he makes on occasion // His IPA is one of the best I have had the Stout is extreme We have been to the Brewery over 50 times as we are Disney Nuts. Will be back next week again for 11 days. Now the food always good never a bad meal but remember this is a brew pub not a 5 star restaurant The service has always been outstanding.

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