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Review: The Hollywood Brown Derby at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

The Hollywood Brown Derby at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a little gem in the middle of a busy theme park.

When it was time to meet up with friends recently for a quiet dinner during our otherwise frenzied Epcot Food and Wine Festival trip to Disney World, I was happy when we all agreed to head there for a late night bite. While the restaurant can be a bit inconsistent (I tend to hear both good and bad reviews of this place), I’ve had good experiences on my visits.

I hoped that it would continue to measure up to the pedestal I have it on! Let’s head into that fabled dining room, home to Hollywood’s Golden Age elite, and see if it does…

Atmosphere

If you haven’t had a meal at The Brown Derby, it’s time to head on over. I waited a long time before I took in my first meal there, and once I did, I was sorry I hadn’t tried it sooner.

Your journey back in time to the Golden Age of Hollywood begins before you enter the restaurant. The grand entrance beneath the classic red awning looks like something right out of early 20th century Hollywood.

Brown Derby Entryway and Awning

And that is, of course, intentional. The Brown Derby at Disney’s Hollywood Studios was inspired by the restaurant located at the famous corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street.

Sign Outside of Building

Inside the waiting area, the decor is tasteful and clean Spanish Mission, with light walls and dark wood accents. A few comfy leather club chairs might be available for your wait if you’re lucky.

You also start to glimpse the famous collection of caricatures that line walls throughout the restaurant.

Brown Derby Lobby

If you need to brush up on your Brown Derby history, no worries — you’ll find this helpful sign. I personally can never dine here without thinking of that I Love Lucy episode, in which everyone’s favorite redhead harasses William Holden in pure Lucy-esque style. And having a phone brought to your table for an important call is the bee’s knees, don’t you think?

Brown Derby History -- Click Image for Larger View

You step down into the sunken dining room, which is trimmed out with the same rich dark wood paneling and accents that we saw earlier. The vaulted ceilings and heavy chandeliers make the room even grander.

Dining Room

Once seated, be sure to take a minute and soak in the details. Some of the most interesting features are the caricatures that line the walls. Although the black-framed sketches are copies, they’re extremely well done, and it’s so entertaining to look around and try to find your favorite stars.

Brown Derby Lamp and Caricatures

One thing you’ll notice, if you pay attention to the caricatures, is that there are some that are more detailed, colored, and in gold frames. While the black and white sketches are copies, the gold-framed drawings are originals.

Authentic Caricatures

And, I wanted to show you one of my favorite details from the dining room: the copper Derby lamp shades on these brass wall sconces. These are the details that I adore, and that make me enjoy my surroundings at Disney every bit as much as the food I find on my plate.

Original Brown Derby Lamp Shade

If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to snag one of these cozy booths. Comfortably plush and upholstered in red leather, they face out toward the middle of the dining room, which gives you a terrific view of the entire room. This is my favorite place to sit while dining at The Derby.

A Cozy Semi-Circle Booth

But as much as I love looking around here, I was definitely excited to see what was new on the menu. Time to settle down to what I expected would be another delicious dinner.

Eats

The menu at The Derby is extremely detailed, and may contain items unfamiliar to you. To make the most of your dining experience, be sure to ask for your server’s assistance if anything is confusing.

Lunch and Dinner Menu -- Click to Enlarge

While we were looking over our options, I ordered the Citizens Take Flight, which is a fun take on a Margarita Flight. It features a trio of flavors, including classic lime, mango, and pomegranate. Be sure to check out the names in the caption!

This is a generous serving, my friends. It’s good to share! (There is also a fun martini flight as well.)

Citizens Take Flight Margarita Flight -- Bucky Greenhorn's Derby Margarita, Melvin Macheezmo Mango Margarita, and “Ready” Freddy Fiddlesticks Pomegranate Margarita

Complimentary bread service included classic water rolls and salted butter.

Bread and Salted Butter

Before long our appetizers arrived. Our first selection was Potato Leek Soup with Green Onion Crème Fraîche.

Potato Leek Soup with Green Onion Crème Fraîche

This is a classic, with superb flavor and a silky texture. It’s definitely one of my favorites. Everyone at the table enjoyed it.

Next, we had the Brie, Midnight Moon, and Prosciutto Cake with Tête de Moine Petals and an Olive Roasted Vegetable Salad. How do I describe this? Think of it as a cross between an upscale cheese plate and antipasti.

The “petals” are actually a beautiful Swiss cheese, which is scraped in order to release its intricate flavors. Like nothing I’ve ever tasted, the dish was a winner for everyone at the table. It’s cheese! Come on!

Brie, Midnight Moon, and Prosciutto Cake with Tête de Moine Petals and an Olive Roasted Vegetable Salad

Our next selection was the Andouille-Crusted Prawn Over Black Diamond Cheddar Grits, Wilted Greens, and Ancho Oil. I ordered this because my interest was peaked by our “least-ordered” items post a while back!

Andouille-Crusted Prawn Over Black Diamond Cheddar Grits, Wilted Greens, and Ancho Oil

What a powerful combination of flavors and textures! The rich, sweet prawn contrasted nicely with the creamy, cheesy grits; and the ancho oil provided an additional spicy counterpoint that played off the Andouille flavors. The bitter greens provided visual interest and another nice flavor contrast. This is a must-try!

Our attention turned to our entrees at this point. To begin, we ordered the Sterling Silver Pan-seared Mojo Marinated Pork Chop, Caramelized Manchego Cheese, and a Mango-Tomatillo Salsa over a Bed of Crispy Boniato, Applewood-Smoked Bacon, Sweet Pepper, and Apple Cider Jus. Whew! What a mouthful, eh?

Sterling Silver Pan-seared Mojo Marinated Pork Chop, Caramelized Manchego Cheese, and a Mango-Tomatillo Salsa over a Bed of Crispy Boniato, Applewood-Smoked Bacon, Sweet Pepper, and Apple Cider Jus

This dish got high marks. Having the boniato (a starchy root vegetable common in Central and South American cuisine, similar to a white sweet potato) served crispy was a unique take that I hadn’t seen anywhere else. The bone-in pork chop was juicy and tender, and was flavorful and well cooked. The caramelized cheese sent this straight over the top.

Our second entree was an interesting take on Duck — Duck Two Ways — Duck Pastrami Over a Pear and Melon Salad with White Balsamic, Honey, and Vanilla Reduction and Duck Confit with Farro Risotto, and Spicy Onion-Citrus Jam. I’ve been ordering duck quite a bit in Disney restaurants, so this just fit in with my apparent streak! ;-)

Duck Two Ways -- Duck Pastrami Over a Pear and Melon Salad with White Balsamic, Honey, and Vanilla Reduction and Duck Confit with Farro Risotto, and Spicy Onion-Citrus Jam

The flavors were interesting, and I applaud the kitchen for doing something unique, rather than just searing the duck breast and putting it on a plate. But I wasn’t wowed that the pastrami was cold. I would definitely have enjoyed it more had it been warm. Was this just a quirk of the kitchen? No idea.

Next, we came to my favorite selection, Charred Filet of Beef over a Zellwood Corn and Pancetta Risotto, Arugula Pesto, and Pickled Rainbow Carrots.

Charred Filet of Beef over a Zellwood Corn and Pancetta Risotto, Arugula Pesto, and Pickled Rainbow Carrots

Corn and Pancetta risotto?!?! Yes please! Beautifully cooked and presented, I appreciated the spicy bite from the arugula pesto. I did miss the yummy buttery topping and fried potato crisp from my previous time ordering the filet here, however!

Finally, one of my friends ordered the Free-Range Ashley Farms Roasted Breast of Chicken stuffed with Sweet Pepper, Chorizo, and Smoked Cheddar Cheese over a Celery Root Purée, Coriander-dusted Jumbo Asparagus, and a Roasted Red Pepper Sauce.

Free-Range Ashley Farms Roasted Breast of Chicken stuffed with Sweet Pepper, Chorizo, and Smoked Cheddar Cheese over a Celery Root Purée, Coriander-dusted Jumbo Asparagus, and a Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

The true genius of a Disney signature restaurant is the way they can make even chicken interesting. The stuffing provided an interesting contrast to the lean meat, and the silky celery root purée was great.

Now it was time to choose a few desserts. We’re always happy to see a combination of classics and new things to try.

Dessert Menu -- Click to Enlarge

And who can resist Warm Fruit Cobbler? Sweetened with local orange blossom honey, the cobbler was quite good. But we DID wish we could have had ice cream instead of the crème fraîche. (Who eats cobbler with no ice cream?!)

Warm Seasonal Fruit Cobbler with Crème Fraîche and Orange Blossom Honey

We also ordered the classic Grapefruit Cake. A light layer cake enhanced with grapefruit-flavored cream cheese frosting and topped with a grapefruit reduction, it’s an interesting fusion of flavors and textures that I enjoy.

Grapefruit Cake

The Double Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée with Dark Chocolate-dipped Biscotti was another classic choice, and was creamy and delicious, with a deep, floral-vanilla flavor.

Double Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée with Dark Chocolate-dipped Biscotti

Finally, we tried the Citrus Honey Nest-filled with Candied Ginger Blueberries over a Lemon Cheesecake. While a classic combination, it was nice to see this fresh treatment of the flavors. It was outstanding as well, and really beautiful. Though I never really did figure out the whole nest thing.

Citrus Honey Nest-filled with Candied Ginger Blueberries over a Lemon Cheesecake

And with that, our beautiful dinner — and day — came to an end.

Overall

The big debate among Disney food fans continues to be whether The Hollywood Brown Derby is worth two table service credits for lunch and dinner. Well, yes and no.

Although this restaurant is inconsistent, I’ve had very good food here. Service can be slow, which some folks will enjoy while they’re taking a break from their hectic theme park day. But some will consider it a waste of time to sit for so long when they paid for a theme park ticket to RIDE. One option is to do what we did — make a reservation for later in the evening so that the park is nearly closed by the time  you sit down to dine. That way, you don’t miss any time on the attractions, but you still get to enjoy a great and relaxing  meal.

Is The Hollywood Brown Derby one of your favorites? Weigh in on the conversation below!

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25 Comments

  1. Keith says:

    Thanks for this review. This is one of our favorite restaurants and always a must-do. A great place for more discerning palates. There is not a better in-park restaurant in the country IMO.

  2. Christopherjeffery says:

    Went here on our last trip for the first time. Used as part of our Disney dining.
    Thks is Disney doing fine dining and shows there is more to them than chips and fast food.
    We wil go back and everyone should go there one of the best restaurants in WDW :-)

  3. Frank says:

    I absolutely love the Brown Derby!!!!
    I’ve found everything about it to be marvelous.
    Frank

  4. Prof. Brainard says:

    Yummy. Swiss cheese petals served amidst a tasteful and clean Spanish mission decor is always nicer than Swiss cheese chunks served in a tasteless and dirty Spanish mission decor. ;)

  5. Will says:

    Brown Derby is one of my very favorite restaurants and is several steps above most park eateries. The attention to detail is fascinating, with the ambiance exquisite. The food is very good, although, as stated in the review, it can be inconsistent. In August, the food was generally good, but not outstanding. My wife ordered the Charred Filet of Beef over a Zellwood Corn and Pancetta Risotto, Arugula Pesto, and Pickled Rainbow Carrots, which was good; but wasn’t up to the standards of the best steak restaurants. The steak itself seemed a little flat, although it was overall good. I ordered the pork; there’s always one pork dish on the menu, but it changes. This dish had very robust flavors, but was slightly dry. Earlier in the year, I visited with my son and, again, ordered the pork. The recipe was different, and I forget the details, but it was by far the best pork I had ever tasted. It was juicy, flavorful, and absolutely amazing in every way. Although my son’s chicken was also extremely good, he stole half my pork for himself (I didn’t mind sharing, his chicken was that good, but rarely has an entree been as good as that pork).

    I nearly always dine once at The Hollywood Brown Derby. It is an oasis during a hot day of rides. And, yes, I always order the Margarita sampler, too.

  6. I love the Brown Derby. It’s expensive but it’s a signature restaurant and I think deservedly so. The menu offers so much variety and I’ve always had great meals here.

  7. My favorite DHS restaurant, easily and in my Top 5 for WDW!

  8. Chuckie Blades says:

    Love the review AJ I really think you did this restaurant justice its a hidden gem I believe!
    It took me a long time to find it but now that I have I want to go on every trip!
    Krissy I agree its one of the top 5 on property!

  9. Shayne says:

    The margarita flight looks fun! And all of the food looks delicious as well.

    After the review I wrote a year and a half ago about our slightly sub-par experience, we returned to HBD last December, and I’m glad we did. The food was wonderful (I also had the Andouille-crusted prawn at that meal) and the service was spectacular. A year later, I still remember that our server’s name was Angie, and she made sure everything was spot on — drinks refilled, plates cleared, picky kids’ food preferences accommodated, etc.

  10. Alan says:

    Without a doubt this has always been my favorite restaurant at WDW. It presents total elegance, beautiful decor and the food has always been great. Unfortunately, it’s food has become a bit too sophisticated to be comfortable to my picky eater better half, so we have passed it by in the last bunch of trips.

    Years ago, there was a really neat, hidden bar upstairs called the Cat Walk. As I remember it, you were actually up in the rafters of the building with a great ambiance. It’s gone now, and I really miss it.

  11. melody says:

    We just ate at the Brown Derby last Monday for the first time and loved it. The restaurant was beautiful and the food was great, especially the cobb salad and pork. Our server was fun and attentive. It did take a long time but we never actually waited for anything, drinks and food was served quickly.

  12. Grace says:

    While we didn’t love the entrees here (loved our appetizers and desserts though!), I have to rave about the service. We had a server named Keith and he was easily the best server I’ve ever had anywhere! Spectacular. On top of absolutely everything without being overbearing or hovering. And he sincerely cared whether we were enjoying our food, not just asking because it’s his job to ask. He went out of his way to make us happy and that is my big take-away from our experience at HBD.

    As a side note, someone in our group also ordered the duck and it was also cold – so I guess it’s supposed to be that way. She didn’t enjoy that entree at all. We also had the bison and the grouper. Both of those were just “meh”. We realized we should have gone with the filet. But loved the cobb salad appetizer and grapefruit cake!!

  13. Miranda says:

    Great review! We were new to the HBD this May, and ate there after a true Florida thunderstorm. We were soaked and cold but soon cheered up with good food and an excellent server.

    We had the crab cake spring roll appetiser which was out of this world delicious. Really big bits of crab, sweet and juicy. I had lamb for my entree but the potatoes were raw – actually raw – ugh! The head server was walking past and saw me grimace and I explained my potatoes were raw. He didn’t miss a beat, just said “Your potatoes are too al dente?” I laughed and said no, not al dente, raw! He apologised, told me to keep on eating the lamb, and he would be right back with some that were properly cooked. Our server came by just then to check we were ok as he had seen the Head Server at our table, and he said he would also check we got some good potatoes. The Head Server returned about 2 mins later with a dinner plate full of the potatoes from my dish cooked properly (which were ok but not yummy), 2 scoops of mashed potato and a portion of roast potatoes, since he said he wanted to make sure I had something I would like in case I still didn’t like the potato dish from the lamb. I was really impressed and discovered HBD mashed potatoes are unbelievable! They were SO much better than any other on-property mash!

    My husband had the filet which was terrific, and for dessert our server persuaded me to try the white chocolate tofee banana tower (it was still raining outside!). I’m not really a lover of that kind of creamy dessert but wow it was really nice! Husband had the grapefruit cake and even though he isn’t a sweets kind of guy he virtually licked his plate clean! We will definitely be back.

  14. Dana says:

    I’m actually glad to read that meals can be inconsistent here, because I thought maybe it was just me. The last time we ate there, which I have to admit was four years ago now, our food was really disappointing. My husband’s food was just okay, and my food was extremely disappointing. I have a gluten allergy, and the chef insisted that all I could eat was the steak. Fine, I like steak. But the steak was just… eh. Nothing special. No sides, nothing on the steak, just a hunk of meat that was a little overdone. My husband’s fish was overdone, too, so maybe everything was coming out that way. My husband did love the grapefruit cake, but again, I was limited to 1 choice (vanilla ice cream). Overall, we haven’t been back because I wasn’t able to get anything “special” – I can make my own steak at home, and get ice cream from the freezer. I’m sure we’ll go back someday, but I’m not in a hurry to.

  15. Sherri Erwin says:

    Your review makes me want to go back. It all looks so good! I think part of the problem isn’t actually the Derby or the food, but that the Dining Plan has made people question what is really a value. Unfortunately.

  16. riley70 says:

    Brown Derby is one of my favorites at WDW, and probably my very favorite inside the parks. I love the quiet, the slower pace, and the food. For some reason, I’ve never had a sub-par experience here. Love that grapefruit cake! And I can always get a reservation.

  17. riley70 says:

    I guess I should add that I use TiW, not the DDP, and I hope it remains a signature, as I believe that keeps it quieter. I believe it is a good value when paying cash, particularly when using TiW.

  18. Aydin says:

    The shrimp and grits is one of my favorite appetizers in the entire resort! Here in Canada, it’s next to impossible to find somewhere that makes this classic Southern combinations. Let alone someone who does it WELL.
    This dish got me hooked on Swiss Chard, the green that it was served with when I tried it.

  19. AJ says:

    Keith — You’re welcome! I appreciate your recommendation and review!

    Christopherjeffery — I’m so glad you enjoyed it!! :-)

    Frank — Woo! Great recommendation!

    Prof. Brainard — I couldn’t agree more. ;-)

    Will — Thanks for the review. I agree completely. I’ve eaten in this restaurant multiple times, and have had extremely different experiences with service and food quality each time. At the least that Margarita Sampler is pretty consistenly good!

    Matt Hochberg — Thanks for the feedback!

    Krissy — Awesome!

    Chuckie Blades — Thanks, my friend! That’s great to hear how much you enjoy it! Any favorite dishes?

    Shayne — SO glad to hear HBD redeemed itself for you guys.

    Alan — YeS — the Cat walk!! I never got to try it out, but I’ve heard the stories. Wouldn’t it be fun if they re-opened that? This restaurant definitely needs a “Carthay Circle-esque” lounge.

    Melody — So glad you enjoyed it and that the service was good. Service can be a hidden nightmare here at times.

    Grace — Wow; that’s fantastic! And I often find myself loving my apps and desserts without caring for my entrees at some Disney restaurants. What an interesting finding!

    Miranda — Ba ha ha!!! I love that they brought you a plate-o-potatoes! I wish I had such luck. :-) Thanks for sharing your experience!

    Dana — That’s unfortunate. I can’t believe they didn’t do any veggies or anything with the steak. Pretty shocking, in fact! Thank you for sharing your story.

    Sherri Erwin — Hmm…good discussion point on the dining plan!

    riley70 — That’s great that you’ve had consistenly good experiences here! Thanks for the feedback!

    Aydin — I think we’re going to have to do a shrimp and grits gallery here on DFB! There are so many good ones out there on menus right now!

  20. Agnes says:

    AJ, this review is so beautiful! It felt like reading a fancy magazine.
    And hurrah for the margarita flight!

  21. Beth says:

    My husband requested Brown Derby for our trip without the kids in January. We’ve never been there before, because the menu looks a little too fancy for my tastes. None of the entrees appeal to me, so I may be looking at appetizers and desserts! I look forward to giving it a try. We haven’t decided yet if we will do the DDP, but eve if we do, I think we will do this one OOP.

  22. Chuckie Blades says:

    AJ I love the Filet and I really loved the Blue Jumbo Lump spring rolls both are amazing :)

  23. Heather says:

    Hey AJ,
    Do you get to choose a là carte for the Fantasmic dinner Package?

  24. JoAnn says:

    All you needed was the Cobb salad and you would have had the meal I had a couple of weeks ago. I had the margarita flight, the Cobb Salad, the beef and grapefruit cake.

    This is my favorite signature dining restaurant.

  25. Trish says:

    I just got back from WDW and I did the Fantasmic Package at Brown Derby. This was a cost of $56.99 plus tax and gratuity (I only add that point b/c I can’t find it anywhere!) So here’s what I ordered….

    Blue Lump Crab Spring Rolls
    Snow Crab Claw, and an Asian Slaw with spicy Miso Aïoli
    ** These were good, but I think I may have preferred to try the Cobb Salad like my fellow diners did. I’m not a huge fan of asian slaw or the miso aioli, but there was plenty of crab in the spring rolls.

    Char-glazed Filet of Beef
    with a Red Wine Reduction, topped with a Cabernet and Roasted Shallot Butter, over White Truffle Oil Wild Forest Mushroom Mashed Potato, Sautéed Haricot Verts, and Golden Beets
    ** This whole meal was AMAZING! I was completely shocked to love the golden beets as much as I did.

    Chocolate Three Ways
    Praline Milk Chocolate Cream, crunchy Ganache, and Orange-Chocolate Mousse
    ** As much as I wanted to try the famous Grapefruit cake, I opted for this instead b/c I needed a chocolate fix. :) I expected it to come out as three separate desserts, but instead it was like a slice of cake/pie with these as three layers. Tasted wonderful, but I’m still curious about the grapefruit cake.

    All that being said, I enjoyed my trip overall. I did feel very underdressed in there wearing the same clothes I had been touring the park in. If I go again, I think I’d prefer to change into something that fits their dress code a little better. Oh, and the Fantasmic part? So worth the money! We arrived about 15 minutes before the show and got awesome seats. This was amazing to me considering people line up 2 hours before!

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