the disney food blog Rotating Header Image

Review: Big River Grille and Brewing Works at the Boardwalk Inn Resort

Today, it’s high time that we share with you our thoughts about the one and only working microbrewery at Walt Disney World, Big River Grille & Brewing Works!

Located at Disney’s Boardwalk Inn Resort, the American pub-style restaurant features a primo location to see and be seen right on the Boardwalk. But, I’ll be right up front with you and tell you now that this has NOT been my favorite place to eat at Disney in the past.

However, we came to it with an open mind hoping to find some improvements on our last visit. We were rewarded with a much, much better experience than in times past! What did they do right on this visit? Read on…

Atmosphere

The entrance to the restaurant on the Boardwalk, beneath an awning bearing the restaurant’s name.

Big River Grille & Brewing Works

Once inside, you’ll notice that there are three distinct seating areas within the restaurant: the bar area to the right; the seating area to the left, a rather nondescript space; and a patio area offering great views of the Boardwalk, the lake, and the Yacht and Beach Club on the other side of water. (You may even see the tops of Illuminations fireworks from here.)

There are a few good reasons to head over to Big River Grille:
1.) It’s normally pretty easy to get into, so if you’re hungry and don’t have an advance dining reservation, or you’re at Epcot or Hollywood Studios and would like to skip out on the park crazy for a while, this can be a good place to come for a bite and a sip.

2.) As I mentioned above, it’s the only working microbrewery at Disney, and the beers are quite popular! (More on the beer a little later.) It’s also pretty cool to look around the interior and see just where your brew is being produced.

Brew Kettle, Big River Grille

3.) Finally, while I don’t love the inside dining room with its too-close-for-comfort tables…

Seating Area to the Left, Big River Grille

…that outdoor dining area is a great place to relax and people-watch while you’re enjoying your beer and meal. (Assuming it’s not 500 degrees in the shade in Orlando.)

Big River Grille's outdoor view

Beer and Eats

We visited during lunch time, and of course we had to sample some of the craft beers available.

Big River Grille Lunch Menu 1 - Click to Enlarge

Big River Grille Lunch Menu 2 - Click to Enlarge

In order to try the most variety, my friend opted for the sampler, which includes all four of the regular beers on tap as well as a sample of the seasonal beer.

Beers - click image for larger version

The Southern Flyer was a thinner, very drinkable lager. Light and refreshing on a hot day, but not necessarily one you’d want to cozy up to if you’re in the mood for a heavy, “chewy” beer.

The Gadzooks was another medium bodied Pilsner. Spicy sweet flavors made it stand out a bit, though it may not stick in your head as the most interesting beer you’ve had in Disney World.

Beer Menu - click image for larger version

The Steamboat Pale Ale was probably our least favorite. We’re not huge pale ale fans, and this one wasn’t memorable.

The Rocket Red Ale is pretty well-loved among Disney guests, and we liked it, too. Caramel-y and hoppy, this is a heavier beer than the previous two, but still drinkable in the hot Florida weather.

Next, the Sweet Magnolia American Brown Ale, the seasonal beer when we were there (in early Spring), was headier and heavier than we expected after drinking the others. There was good flavor to this, and a nice full-bodied feel. A decent chilly, Springtime beer.

Beer Flight

When it came time to order, we started with the Beer Cheese Soup. This is a guest favorite at Big River, and it lives up to its reputation. It was delicious and creamy, with that little bit of “beer tang” that you always want to taste in a beer/cheese soup. And the croutons were a great addition.

Beer Cheese Soup

We also tried the Beef Nachos. I know, “beef nachos” sounds kind of gross, but these are really delicious. The beef topping is nicely seasoned, and the white queso has just the right amount of heat.

The toppings on the side are also yummy, in case you’re sharing and someone isn’t a big fan of sour cream. (I don’t know people like this. But I know they must be out there. ;-) )

Beef Nachos

Once we finished with our appetizers, we were on to the entrees. My friend opted for the Big Brew Cheeseburger with Swiss cheese, which was served with kettle chips.

Big Brew Cheeseburger

While it was a nice portion and perfectly adequate, there was really nothing that made it stand out. He said it was fine, but not particularly memorable.

Big Brew Cheeseburger Close-Up

But my entree was in a whole other league! I opted for the Flame-Grilled Meatloaf, and it was quite good.

Three big, thick slices of meatloaf made from a combination of ground beef and Italian pork sausage were finished over a flame grill, and then topped with savory brown gravy. A garnish of onion made for even more flavor, and the garlic mashed potatoes and a colorful side of beans and carrots finished the plate.

Comfort food at its best.

Flame-Grilled Meatloaf

When it came time to choose desserts, there were only two on the menu — so that made it easy! We started with the New York Cheesecake served with raspberry sauce, which was quite good and very enjoyable.

New York Cheesecake

But the star here was the Chocolate Confusion, which has to be one of the BEST chocolate cakes I have ever had.

Normally, I’m not so much about the chocolate-on-chocolate-on-chocolate combo. Call me crazy, but I like a little something to contrast and break up all that richness (Peanut Butter, I’m talking to you). But surprisingly, this was just perfect. I could totally have eaten the whole thing all by myself.

But the real magic happened when we combined the two, eating a fork full of a combo cheesecake/chocolate cake mix.

Chocolate Confusion

Overall

I can honestly say that, with this latest visit, Big River Grille is off my “it’s best not to go there” list. With a combination of fantastic service, interesting beers, and good to great food, we were both happy that we gave this spot another try. And if you go, by all means, get the meatloaf! You will not be sorry. :-)

Have you visited Big River Grille for the beer, the food, or both? What are your favorites there? Leave us a comment below and let us know all about your experience!

Other Posts You May Enjoy:

20 Comments

  1. Emma says:

    I HATE this restaurant! It’s on my “it’s best not to go there” list for LIFE. I’ve been a couple times and yeah, dining outside is okay, but inside… YIKES. I feel like they just shove as many people as possible in there because they’d rather make money than give you any breathing room. When I was there, the food wasn’t anything memorable either. I will say I ate it all simply because I was starving by the time it FINALLY got to my table. It took FOREVER, and it was probably because they had more customers crammed into the place than the kitchen could handle. This place needs to be bulldozed!

  2. Jason says:

    I’m a bit surprised at the hatred for this place. I make a point of going here every visit (since it opened basically) and I’ve never had a bad experience. Longest wait for a table? 2 minutes. Guaranteed friendly service. And the food is always good, consistent quality not being a trait of many of the kitchens on property. It’s a simple menu, obviously, but certainly adequate for a lunch or light dinner. I will admit that it’s a small space, and you’re very aware of just how close you are to other diners when you’re seated, but once you’re at your table and talking about the rest of your time at WDW… Well I rarely even notice the other guests. I’ve never tried the chocolate dessert, I’ve found the cheesecake to be one of the few kinds that I actually enjoy so I indulge in that, but now I’m certainly tempted to expand my options. Overall it’s not a bad experience at all, definitely recommended.

  3. Kathy Coppola says:

    We head here for dinner on arrival night every trip. It’s become one of our family traditions to sit outside, people watch, and have a nice leisurely dinner. The only thing that disappointed my husband last time was that some of the beers were out of stock. Therefore our server, being honest with us, recommended not getting the beer flight. I guess we had to appreciate his honesty, but it was still disappointing. Other than that, good food, nice location, easy to get in to without an ADR, makes for a winner in our book.

  4. Alan says:

    We all want to have unforgettable food, spectacular drinks and awesome decor for our Disney vacation meals. However, with this usually comes long waits, big crowds, being rushed and hard to get reservations. I feel there is a place for a restaurant like Big River, where you can just walk in during the afternoon without preplanning and have a decent meal, a fresh beer and a beautiful view of the boardwalk area. Their food is okay and while the beer isn’t really innovative it is always fresh. My only problem with them is that they do chips instead of fries. I never have been able to get a reason why from the wait staff that made any sense.

    Spend a peaceful afternoon sipping a beer or two on the boardwalk and this place will grow on you.

  5. Wendy says:

    I’ve never been tempted to visit the WDW version of this restaurant. I’m from Chattanooga, TN and we have 2 of these in town. I like to visit places I can’t go to at home while down in The World ;). But I will say that the honey dijon chicken sandwich is VERY tasty, at least here in Chatt.

  6. Galloping Gourmand says:

    I’m about to be blasphemous. I like the cheddar cheese soup here more than the version in Canada. It’s the tang from the beer that does it for me. However other than that the food was very unimpressive. I think they were attempting to sear it, but it was burned on the outside and undercooked on the inside.

    Now for my humiliating story. I’m eating here with friends and take a big spoonfull of the soup. I can feel it burning the top of my mouth and shot it out of my mouth spit-take style all over my friend. Burning hot soup went straight from my mouth across the table and right on her chest and tank top. Luckily, she still talks to me.

  7. AJ says:

    Emma — Yeah; we really didn’t like this spot when we first went a couple of years ago, and we never really felt a need to go back. Luckily, doing this blog forces us to go everywhere, so we were pleased to find a better experience. We went for an early lunch (before noon), and that seems to be a good time to go. Still quite a few people, but not overwhelming. And the service was snappy. Thanks for your review; I think a lot of people feel similarly.

    Jason — Thanks for your feedback! My experiences there have been more like yours in terms of waiting for tables — we usually don’t have much of a wait, but that may be because we habitually hit restaurants during “off” times. Do you have a favorite menu item? I noted that they do seem to switch out desserts fairly regularly!

    Kathy Coppola — I love hearing about Disney food traditions! This one sounds like a very relaxing one! :-)

    Alan — YES! I really do NOT understand the restaurants that do chips/crisps vs. fries. We have a local restaurant here that does that, and I’m tempted to bring my own potato to the place and ask them to chop it up and fry it for me. ;-)

    Wendy — Thanks for the review and recommendation, Wendy! I was reading some reviews of the Chatt locations and they are beloved, to be sure! Something tells me they’re slightly better there since they get a bit more attention from corporate.

    GG — Ha ha ha! You tell the BEST stories. ;-) I need to do a “most embarrassing WDW food stories” post at some point. Thanks for the review of the burger, too. Ours wasn’t bad, but it definitely wasn’t one of the best in WDW.

  8. Glad to hear some better things about Big River. I haven’t been in a couple years, but for me, the place always had kind of an unfulfilled potential about it. I’d love to see the current management focus more on the food and beer and try to take things to the next level.

    Of course, I love, love, love just spending time on the Boardwalk, so I’m always eager to see more dining options there. :)

  9. V says:

    Oh EM GEE. More details/pictures of the Chocolate Confusion sometime in the future pretty pretty please with chocolate sauce on top?!

  10. Alex says:

    Did you say Grilled Meatloaf? What? That, on its own, sounds like a brilliant concept! And I agree with some of the other posters. I’m not going to go somewhere that’s awful, but sometimes we all settle for the “okay” places because they’re fast, accessible and easy when out and about in the parks. Plus, the Boardwalk really is a nice place to spend time!

  11. Catie says:

    Have been twice and have no desire to go back – we went mostly for the beer both times. While I agree the chocolate cake and beer cheese soup are good, as was the hazelnut chicken, I didn’t care much for the burger and the dining room seating was tight and not appealing. Will be skipping this in favor of restaurants with better food. But I must say they do beer well here that’s for sure!!

  12. Sara Beth says:

    I’m from Chattanooga too–it’s too bad they don’t have the fish tacos or the shrimp and grits on the WDW menu (at least I didn’t see them) –they’re pretty fantastic. But I wouldn’t go there on vacation either! I can get much better food and atmosphere from them here in town.

  13. Mandi says:

    Had a long day at HS- obviously, not a ton of food options there! Planned on catching Illuminations but had already done a full Epcot eating day earlier in the trip. stopped at BRG on our nice long walk between the parks. It was a busy Friday night, but we were told the wait would only be about 20 minutes. Took the pager, and then noticed a few empty seats at the bar! Headed in and sat down, had our drinks within a minute or two, and took a look at the menu. HAD to try the beer cheese soup, and it did not disappoint! I am not a soup lover at all but this was incredible. Also had a the steak- cooked a little too Pink as I ordered it medium rare, but a lot of non-steakhouses do this so I’m willing to overlook that. Overall, great atmosphere as we met a lot of other vacationing 20-30 year olds to chat with and the food was excellent quality. I must also add that the bartenders are very knowledgeable, especially about. The beer that they serve. My boyfriend did the beer flight and the bartender was able to describe each and very one!

  14. chantel says:

    Our home resort is BWV, so we’ve often had a “checkout” day lunch @ BRG. The hazelnut chicken is absolutely delish! And indeed, a meal can be made of the nachos. On early nights back from the parks, we’ve also gotten “takeout” nachos to bring up to the room (like a certain Superbowl Sunday I recall…). Food has been definitely improving over the years, and it’s a nice quiet spot for a lunch or dinner!

  15. Amber says:

    I went recently with friends for lunch on a Sunday afternoon; we sat in the empty bar and enjoyed the mahi sandwich. Pretty decent [although clearly frozen] with a cold beer on a hot day! Not a favorite by any means, but we’d probably go back for lunch sometime.

  16. Audrey says:

    Not a fan. Went two years ago and was disappointed. I believe I had a steak entree and it was so bland and tough. And yes, crowded and uncomfortable. I am a beer drinker so I was very much looking forward to this place. I was also a bit disappointed in the beers. Nothing really grabbed me as memorable. I was sad we spent dining credits here. I’m staying at the BW in August but I will not be visiting here…unless it’s not crowded…for beer only…not likely though!

  17. Sarah says:

    We visit every time we go to WDW on the day we arrive. It has several advantages for us.
    1) It has DELICIOUS ribs. You cannot get good US style ribs in the UK and we need our fix when we land. Yes there are others better in the world but these are lovely.
    2) It is close to the resort. We stay at the Beach Club and can walk there in 10 minutes. Great for getting food quickly and getting home quickly to fall into bed.
    3) We don’t need a reservation. An absolute must since transatlantic flight schedules are not good at taking dinner plans into account.
    4) We get seated and served quickly. We usually roll up about 5 pm Florida time but as that is 10 pm to us and we’ve been up since the crack of dawn, this is crucial.

  18. Joe B says:

    Great review AJ. We used to visit BRG during every stay in WDW but have skipped it for the past two years due to the fact that my wife isn’t crazy about the food. I agree that the outside seating is much better especially when the sun begins to set & it’s much cooler out. Surprisingly one of my most memorable meals in WDW was at BRG. During our Sept ’08 trip they had a special which was a swordfish steak with a Grand Marnier & pear reduction accompanied by grilled asparagus. Talk about delicious. The fish was perfectly cooked but that reduction was the star of the dish. Sadly I’ve never seen it offered again. I’ve been meaning to contact them to possibly get the recipe but always forget. Also they used to have a good Pita Chip & Hummus appetizer. I’d never tried Hummus prior to having it there in ’07 & I’ve been a fan ever since. Even though I haven’t found many that were as good as BRG’s.

  19. AJ says:

    Joe B — Grand Marnier and Pear reduction? Sounds amazing! Thanks for the review!

  20. Anon says:

    As to the “why no fries” question, they do not have fryers! Big River is a third-party company forced to open a restaurant in what was originally designed as a retail space. So, that means kitchen space so tiny that it is unable to accommodate fryers or an ice machine (seriously, they roll bins out multiple times a day to collect ice from other restaurants). Anyone else notice there is no back door? They have to bring EVERYTHING out through the front doors.

Leave a Reply

Current month ye@r day *