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Guest Review: Hollywood Brown Derby

Guest blogger Shayne Newell shares a critical review and fabulous photos from the Hollywood Brown Derby at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Take it away, Shayne!

Brown Derby Entryway

In January 2010, my husband and I ate our first meal at Hollywood Brown Derby at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. We had a fabulous meal that literally made me want to lick my plate, and the service was outstanding. We recently found ourselves with a last-minute opportunity for a 2-night stay at Disney World over Valentine’s Day. We would be eating only 3 meals at the parks on this trip, and we quickly agreed that Hollywood Brown Derby should be at the top of our list.

We secured a 5:45 p.m. ADR for the first night of our trip. We arrived shortly after 5:30 and were seated promptly at 5:45 p.m. Our hostess told us that our server would be right with us. We waited about 10 minutes before our server arrived to take our drink order. When he finally came to our table, he seemed rushed and overly busy.

We are not really martini drinkers, but we ordered the martini flight because we thought it sounded like something fun and different. The flight included tasting portions of 3 different kinds of martinis in cute little martini glasses on a metal carousel, for lack of a better term. At the bottom, there was a description of each drink.

Martini Flight

Our favorite was the Dorma Nesmond, which was made from Ketel One Citron, pomegranate liqueur and cranberry juice. This was the sweetest of the 3 drinks and was similar to a Cosmopolitan. Our second favorite was the Shelby Mayer, a vodka martini made with Grey Goose. Finally, there was the Honey Darling made with Bombay Sapphire gin and the traditional olive. Martini lovers would probably enjoy the Honey Darling, but gin is just not my drink of choice!

While we sipped the martinis, we placed our order. Our appetizers arrived shortly after we finished our drinks. My husband had the blue lump crab cake. It is served with a green cabbage slaw, cognac mustard sauce and remoulade. Of course, I had to try some.

The crunchy potato crust gave way to a meaty crab cake. The cool, firm crunch of the cabbage slaw was the perfect texture compliment to the crab cake, and the mustard and remoulade sauces added a nice little kick.

Blue Lump Crab Cake

I ordered the cremini mushroom chevre tortelloni with tomato-fennel sauce and shaved parmigiano-reggiano. I’m generally ambivalent about mushrooms, but love goat cheese, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from this appetizer.

The mushroom and cheese blend made for a deliciously mild and creamy filling to the tortelloni. I would have preferred for the pasta to have been a bit more al dente, but it was still delicious. The tomato-fennel sauce added a pleasing richness to the dish.

Cremini Mushroom Chevre Tortelloni

At this point, the meal started to take a decidedly negative turn. While we ate our appetizers, we had asked to see the wine list again so that we could order wine to go with our entrees. We each ordered a glass of the same Cabernet.

It took longer than it should have for our server to clear our appetizer plates and the empty martini glasses. We then waited an unusually long time for our meals to arrive. I was not paying close attention to my watch because I was enjoying the atmosphere of the restaurant and spending time with my husband. But you know how, as time wears on, you slowly become aware that you’ve been waiting for a really long time? That’s what happened to us.

Finally, our entrees arrived along with two empty wine glasses. My husband ordered the char-grilled filet of beef with truffle whipped potatoes, mushroom ragout, Cippolini onions and a red wine reduction. I chose the pork chop with smoked gouda and apricot preserves served over a Napa cabbage, bacon and potato hash with an apple cider jus.

We hoped that our wine would be served with our meal, but it was not, and there was no acknowledgment from our server that our drinks were still missing. We tried to wait for the wine to arrive, but did not want our food to get cold, so we started to eat. Several minutes later, our server appeared and opened a new bottle of wine to pour our two glasses. At least we knew the wine — one of our favorites, Sequoia Grove — would be good!

My husband said his filet was good. It was perhaps a bit undercooked, but nothing egregious enough for him to complain. He was hungry, so I didn’t get a bite, but I did try the truffle whipped potatoes, which were creamy and delicious. I’m a sucker for mashed potatoes, so my husband knows my fork will be digging into any mashed, whipped or similar potato that lands on his plate.

Chargrilled Filet of Beef

The pork chop, however, was a different story. I had high hopes for the flavor combination of the pork, smoked gouda and apricot preserves. Plus, the accompanying side dish had bacon in it and, honestly, how can you go wrong with bacon?

My pork chop was well seasoned, but it was overcooked and too dry. The smoked gouda and apricot preserves paired nicely together. But when I cut into my meat, the gouda, which was melted on top of the pork chop, slid off in one solid piece, making it difficult to experience all the flavors in one bite. The cabbage, bacon and potato hash didn’t really make an impression on me; it wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t memorable either.

Pork Chop with Smoked Gouda

We should have known better, but we ordered dessert and dessert wine/port. Another 15 or 20 minutes passed before we were served our creme brulee and slice of grapefruit cake. Both of these desserts should have been pre-made, so I’m unsure why it would take so long to bring them to the table. Once again, in the meantime, our empty wine glasses and the bread basket and bread plates sat on the table for too long.

The creme brulee was good and the huge chocolate-dipped biscotti was a nice addition to it.

Creme Brulee

The Hollywood Brown Derby is famous for their grapefruit cake. I’m generally a chocolate girl, but I was in the mood for something lighter to end the meal, and the cake fit the bill. I thought the presentation, with a big slice of dried grapefruit, was interesting. The cake was moist and the frosting was not too tart or too sweet.

Grapefruit Cake

After our first experience at Hollywood Brown Derby in 2010, I sang the praises of this restaurant and was convinced that it was absolutely worth 2 table service credits on the Disney Dining Plan. Now, I’m less sure about that recommendation. We’ll definitely try it again, as I know every place can have an off night, but I’m disappointed, to say the least, in the difference between our first meal at Hollywood Brown Derby and this one.

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23 Comments

  1. gaylin says:

    I have eaten there twice as well. The first time was Lunch with an Imagineer. We were all having such a good time talking I can’t tell you if the service was slow, the food, company, the whole idea of Lunch with an Imagineer was great.

    Our second time was a dinner and yep, the service was a bit slow, friendly but slow. Maybe that is the whole idea with ‘fine’ dining – does that mean slow dining? Neither of us drink alcohol so we didn’t have to wait for drink/wine orders.

    I did like the meal but maybe not quite enough to go again for the 2 credits.

  2. Jan says:

    We’ve eaten at the Brown Derby at least 5 or 6 times. Each time was fairly consistent with having good service and good food. Only once were we disappointed with the food and that was the last time we ate there. Filets were overcooked and barely warm. The grapefruit cake I had was dry and tasted stale. We figured that it was just an off day. I would give it another chance. Two table services on the Dinner Plan is a stretch. I don’t think they can compare to some of the other Signature restaurants.

  3. Dave says:

    Excellent review, and spot on with my recent experience. We’ve been to Brown Derby every year for the past 6 years. While the food quality has declined slightly over that time, the service has become decidedly “absentminded.” Management of the wait staff is almost always the culprit. We won’t be booking Brown Derby again until we hear of improvement.

    One other tell-tale sign of no joy in Brown Derbyville: in December I went to the podium to ask if there was anything available for the rest of the day and was told no, nothing, sorry. I called Disney dining as I walked out the door and had an ADR for 4 for an hour later.

  4. I had my first experience at Brown Derby for lunch a couple weeks ago. I too was going to write a review, but decided it was all quite ordinary and wasn’t worth the effort. The service was good, but the food was just Ok…

  5. I’m of the opinion no restaurant is worth 2 table service credits in terms of value for the dollar. I agree slow service always agitates me as well, but at the Brown Derby, I’d expect to take a while for the meal given the swankiness of the place.

    I thought the delay in serving your wine was definitely an issue and agree that shouldn’t have happened.

    The martini flight looks great, thanks for the review. I had tried the margarita flight which was also good but glad to hear the martini flight is worth trying!

  6. Erin says:

    I ate at the Brown Derby in February. The food was great, but we also had issues with slow service, particularly with drinks at the beginning and getting the check at the end. Also, we showed up about 1/2 an hour early for our ADR and they would not seat us until our exact time even though we could see more than a dozen empty tables in the room and no one else was waiting.

    I hope they get their service issues worked out because the food is really yum.

  7. Adhi says:

    I ate at the Brown Derby for the first time in July 2010. As with most of the comments and the review, I found service a little slow, but nothing that I would consider inexcusable. The food (I had the pork chop and grapefruit cake as well) I thought was quite good, so I’m not sure if they have since altered the preparation, or if they were just lapse for the review. I also like the beer list here, they have some nice microbrews (unibroue, among others) that I didnt expect to find. I enjoyed the entire experience a fair bit and was looking to book an ADR for the Brown Derby for this June, but due to time constraints, we have to choose between the Brown Derby and the Flying Fish Cafe. After reading this today, now I am unsure if going back to the Brown Derby is worth sacrificing what seems to be a great seafood menu at the Flying Fish, but It is hard to say no to that grapefruit cake.

  8. John Grigas says:

    Wow . . . your review reminded me a lot of our last time eating at Brown Derby. Things were more or less great through the appetizer course (I really liked the crab cake), but took a drift downward as the meal progressed.

    We skipped dessert, though . . . would you recommend a quick visit for the Grapefruit Cake?

  9. Shayne says:

    @Gaylin–I would love to participate in the Dine with an Imagineer some day. Glad to hear you loved it! Yes, fine dining means a slower paced meal, but to me, that’s not the same as poor service.

    @Jan–Sorry your last experience was less than great also. I agree that every place can have an off night (including our local regular haunts that we patronize because the service is so good!), so I’m willing to try HBD again, but it’s just not as high on my list of priorities among the many wonderful restaurants at Disney.

    @Dave–All I can say is, “Oh my!” I have no idea how that could have happened?!?

    @World of Deej–I’m curious what you ordered? I think that some dishes (like the fish I had last year) are outstanding while others are just ok (like my pork chop).

    @Matt–I agree that a meal served in a restaurant with HBD’s atmopshere is most definitely not a hurry-up experience. But our meal dragged on for over 2 hours. We had hoped to ride Rock N Rollercoaster again before leaving the park for evening EMH at Magic Kingdom, but by the time we finished eating, the park was closing. Definitely try the martini flight, we enjoyed and have put the margarita flight on our “to do” list for next time!

    @Erin–Sorry you couldn’t get seated early. The only thing I can think is perhaps there were not enough servers on duty at the time to be able to seat you before your ADR time (hence the empty tables)?

    @Adhi–Thanks for the input on the beers. We are not big beer drinkers, but we have friends who are, so we’ll be sure to point this out to them on their next trip!

    @John–The grapefruit cake was pretty darn good. I had heard all the buzz about it for quite some time and wasn’t sure it would live up to the hype. I tried it mostly just to say that I had eaten the signature dessert at the restaurant. Like I said, I’m generally a chocolate lover and not so much a grapefruit lover, so I didn’t expect to like it, but I was very pleasantly surprised! If you have the time and can get a table, I think HBD would be a great stop for dessert.

  10. AJ says:

    Shayne — Muchas Gracias for trying the martini flight!! I really do want to try the Martini and Margarita flights. I had a great experience at HBD the last time I was there, but I have definitely heard mixed reviews since. My pork entree was actually slightly rare (see photo here), but still very good.

    Matt — How was the marg flight? Do you have a review up on your blog I can check out?

  11. John B says:

    I have been to HBD on almost every WDW trip. I think it’s the best in-park dining experience there is. While some meals have been better than others, I’ve never regretted going. Service is a bit slow, esp at dinner, but I’m told that’s part of “fine dining.” I esp like their new onion soup and filet, and the grapefruit cake is a personal fav. I will def be going back.

  12. Kim says:

    John B- I love the grapefruit cake! I’m tempted to just go for dessert on our next WDW vacation.

  13. Andrew says:

    We had lunch at the Brown Derby last October while on our honeymoon. We thought the food was okay, but not enough to justify the slow service. I see several comments here justifying the slow service as part of the “fine dining” experience, but I don’t agree with that here.

    For one thing, my wife is a former pastry chef who has worked at some genuine fine dining establishments in Las Vegas and elsewhere. The Brown Derby is definitely more upscale than, say, the 50s Prime Time Cafe or the Sci-Fi Drive In Restaurant, but it’s still in a theme park. If we want to spend a couple of hours leisurely enjoying a fine meal, we’ll go to one of the hotels. When we’re in the park, we want good food, but we also want to finish up and get back to the rides or shows.

    When we were at the Brown Derby, we thought we had allowed enough time to eat lunch and then go to the automobile stunt show. We hadn’t counted on the overly-slow service, and that hurt our enjoyment of the second half of our meal, as we kept anxiously checking the time while waiting extended periods for our dessert and our bill.

  14. John B says:

    @Andrew: I totally agree service at HBD is too slow for my tasts. I think you hit the nail on the head when you point out the difference that it’s in a park, not a resort. The problem is, HBD wants to be one of those long, drawn out signature experiences, even though it is in a park. There seems to be a disconnect between what HBD wants to be and what its diners want it to be (just look at how people dress at HBD compared to resort signatures — but again, it’s in a park, what do they expect?)

    If you want a 3 course meal at HBD, budget in 90 mins. I find this to be the average time for a 3 course meal at most signatures, except Cindy’s where you will be rushed out with the food in your mouth.

  15. Lura says:

    I just have to chime in here about the service. I have been in the fine dining industry for 10 years and I can tell you that slow service is NOT part of fine dining. The job of the waitstaff at a fine dining establishment is to provide you with what you want almost before you know you want it. If you want to eat slowly or quickly, your server should be able to adjust his or her timing accordingly. Remember, you are paying a great deal of money to dine here, you should expect to be treated as such! It always makes me blow a gasket when I see “fine dining” restaurants taking advantage of people who are unfamiliar with or intimidated by fine dining by sending out sub-par food and understaffing the restaurant enough so that each guest is not given enough personal attention. Any restaurant worth their salt knows that its THEIR privilege to have YOU there, not the other way around!

  16. Shayne says:

    @Lura, I couldn’t agree with you more! And, there’s a difference between a leisurely meal where the service is attentive and a meal where you feel that you are being forgotten by your server. The meal described in my review definitely fell into the latter category. I noticed that the table of 4 or 5 people near us was getting much more attention from our waiter. We adjusted our tip accordingly.

  17. Galloping Gourmand says:

    Sounds like some of the problem with the food was due to the slow service. While there is no excuse for over or undercooked meal, the pork chop sounds like it was sitting under heat lamps for a while. The cheese completely solidifying is a sure sign of that it waited too long. There is a possibility that heat lamps might have dried the food out, which is a serving issue. It’s also possible that the timing of both dishes coming out the kitchen was off, causing one to be overcooked and one underdone.

    Either way, no excuse. Especially for the wine. Any sommelier would collapse in a faint. (gracefully, of course)

  18. Brooke says:

    Great review, Shayne! A couple of observations: we had the same martini flight in January, but the garnishes were swapped on the Vodka and Gin martinis – the lemon twist was in the Gin, the olive in the Vodka. Wonder which was right? We loved all, with my mom preferring the Vodka, while I preferred the Gin.

    Also, I’m wondering if that Cab should have been opened for a bit before they served it? I’m assuming it’s a pretty big wine. Such an expensive restaurant ought to know that.

    We usually go to the HBD once a year or so for our annual tradition of “Ladies who Lunch” – we order martinis, Cobb Salads, and grapefruit cake, and pretend we are old Hollywood Elite :-) Service has always been a little uneven, sort of like your experience, but never horrible. Thank you for the insight on a dinner visit. Here’s hoping the service improves for your next trip.

  19. Heather says:

    We are having lunch tomorrow at HBD–I’ll be sure to report back tomorrow afternoon!

  20. Nate says:

    Thanks for the BD review. There can never be enough info on this wonderful oasis in the Hollywood Studios.

    Did they still have duck on the menu? I had a great entree there a few years ago which was “Duck Three Ways.” The cobb salad is also delicious, as well as their deep drink menu. I was underwhelmed by the grapefruit cake, and I’m not sure why. Possibly because I had high, high expectations for the thing because of my ridiculous love of grapefruit! :)

  21. Shayne says:

    @Nate–According to allears.net, there is still duck on the menu, but now it’s only served “two ways” :)

    Duck Two Ways – Poached Duck Magret wrapped in Swiss Chard, Mushroom Vegetable Couscous, and a crispy Leg Confit Spring Roll with spicy Onion Jam

  22. Nate says:

    Ha! Thanks, Shayne! That’s totally different, but glad to know they are still offering duck.

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