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

We’re dining with the stars at THE place to “see and be seen!”

Welcome to The Hollywood Brown Derby! We’re enjoying lunch while taking a trip back in time to the elegance of the “golden age” of Hollywood. For fans of classic films, even within Hollywood Studios this signature restaurant is a destination in its own right.

A replica of the original Hollywood Brown Derby  (a fine dining establishment for the likes of Clark Gable, Lucille Ball, and Bing Crosby back in the day), the Derby of Hollywood Studios offers park-goers a touch of refined elegance in the midst of a busy park day. In fact, I’d say that once you enter the doors of the Brown Derby, it’s a little bit difficult to remember that you’re in a theme park at all.

Let’s step inside…

Atmosphere

I mention taking “a trip back in time” because I feel as though the setting of The Hollywood Brown Derby transports guests to another place and era better than just about any place in Disney World, starting with the outside entrance.

Brown Derby entrance

Brown Derby entrance

Brown Derby entrance

Brown Derby entrance

A plaque on the outside gives guests a tiny bit of the history and inspiration for the Hollywood Studios location, though many may stroll right past and miss it.

Plaque noting the inspiration for the building

Plaque noting the inspiration for the building

There are two defining features, I think, to the Brown Derby. One is the fact that the Brown Derby at Hollywood Studios is based on the actual Hollywood Brown Derby (one of four original Brown Derby locations).

Once you step inside, your Brown Derby history lesson begins when you see a map in the waiting area. This map displays the locations of two of the original Brown Derby restaurants. Fans of Disney history may recognize the name of Griffith Park up in the right-hand corner.

Hollywood Boulevard Map

Hollywood Boulevard Map

Griffith Park is where Walt Disney watched his daughters enjoy the Merry-Go-Round and thought to himself, “There ought to be a place where parents and kids can have fun together,” planting the seeds of future plans for Disneyland.

Closeup on the Brown Derby locations, with Griffith Park in the corner

Closeup on the Brown Derby locations, with Griffith Park in the corner

The second defining characteristic is based on the first. The original Derby’s “Wall of Fame” consisted of caricatures of celebrities, and those have been replicated in the Hollywood Studios location, providing memorable hallmarks. You begin to see them in the waiting area where you check in for your meal.

Check-in podium

Check-in podium

Caricatures in the waiting area

Caricatures in the waiting area

And they continue inside all along the perimeter of the restaurant.

Brown Derby caricatures

Brown Derby caricatures

Brown Derby caricatures

Brown Derby caricatures

One of my personal goals was to see if I could spot a caricature of Bing Crosby, one of my favorites. As it turned out, his likeness was hanging right over my shoulder :). I love the comedic touch of the mirror images of his film-and-life buddy, Bob Hope, on either side!

Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Bob Hope!

Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and… Bob Hope!

It’s definitely worth taking some time to explore the artwork all over the restaurant. You may spot a few photo images of the original Brown Derby, giving you an idea of how well and painstakingly the details and atmosphere were replicated.

Photograph of the original Brown Derby

Photograph of one of the original Brown Derbys

Standalone tables fill in the center of the restaurant, and much like the original photographs show, the deep browns of the dark woods on the main floor are offset by the soft white on the walls.

Main Dining Room

Main Dining Room

Main Dining Room

Main Dining Room

One thing I really appreciate about the Brown Derby is that if you are seated on the side, as we were, the atmosphere is still pretty terrific.

Since I often dine in a small party of one or two, I’m used to the side tables. But in several places, I feel like I’ve been relegated to something akin to the kids table at Thanksgiving, so this is a welcome change. The soft lighting and caricatures that define the rest of the décor remain in this area as well.

One side area in the Brown Derby

One side area in the Brown Derby

That said, it’s still the ultimate seating score to be in one of the gorgeous corner table booths on the main floor.

Corner booth

Corner booth

Our visit was for lunch, but in the evening the entire restaurant is primarily lit by these small corner lamps and candles on the tables, creating – I think — one of the most refined and romantic atmospheres in the park restaurants.

Eats

Something unique to a lunch visit at the Brown Derby is that you are handed not one, but two, menus. Lunch guests (12:00 pm to 3:00 pm) can choose from the Lunch Menu or the Dinner Menu. This offers an opportunity to save a penny or two going for a lower-priced lunch option, or go full tilt with your experience any time of day.

Menu Cover

Menu Cover

Lunch Menu

Lunch Entree Menu — click to enlarge

Dinner Entree Menu -- click to enlarge

Dinner Entree Menu — click to enlarge

Since we had even more than the usual amount of options to consider (plus appetizers, of course!), we were happy to receive a batch of warm dinner rolls and butter dusted with sea salt right away.

Bread and butter

Bread and butter

While we didn’t imbibe on this particular visit, it’s always a great thing to check out the cocktail list – especially one with such fun Hollywood-inspired names such as these!

"Cocktails of the Stars"

“Cocktails of the Stars” — click to enlarge

We love the martini and margarita flights!

Martini Flight at Hollywood Brown Derby

Martini Flight at Hollywood Brown Derby

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

Brown Derby Citizens Take Flight Margarita Flight — Bucky Greenhorn’s Derby Margarita, Melvin Macheezmo Mango Margarita, and “Ready” Freddy Fiddlesticks Pomegranate Margarita

The options for appetizers came from the Dinner Menu.

Appetizer Menu

Appetizer Menu — click to enlarge

Our server made a recommendation for our appetizers that I was happy to take: Blue Lump Crab Spring Rolls, Snow Crab Claw, and an Asian Spicy Slaw with spicy Miso Aioli.

Blue Lump Crab Spring Rolls, Snow Crab Claw, and an Asian Spicy Slaw

Blue Lump Crab Spring Rolls, Snow Crab Claw, and an Asian Spicy Slaw

These ended up being one of the true highlights of the meal: a terrific amount of delicious crab in a golden-fried roll. The crab was good enough that I preferred the roll on its own, but my husband particularly enjoyed it with the mild kick from the Miso Aioli.

Cross-section of Crab Spring Rolls with Snow Crab Claw

Cross-section of Crab Spring Rolls with Snow Crab Claw

But you just can’t say you’ve been to the Brown Derby unless you’ve had the Derby’s “Famous Cobb Salad.” It’s such an integral part of the Brown Derby experience that a small portion of the menu is dedicated to sharing its history.

The story behind the Famous Cobb Salad

The story behind the Famous Cobb Salad

I’ve enjoyed the Cobb Salad as an entrée before, but on this visit I went with the appetizer portion. The ingredients remain true to the original recipe: greens, turkey breast, bacon, eggs, tomato, crumbled blue cheese, avocado, chives, and Hollywood Brown Derby dressing.

The Famous Hollywood Brown Derby Cobb Salad

The Famous Hollywood Brown Derby Cobb Salad

I prefer the Cobb Salad in this, its original, fashion – even with all the Blue Cheese ;) . However, our server did ask if we were okay with all the ingredients since anything can be omitted. So don’t let the presence of an ingredient you don’t like prevent you from enjoying this Brown Derby tradition!

Cobb Salad all mixed up and ready to eat

Cobb Salad all mixed up and ready to eat

As for our entrees, my husband and I mixed it up: my entrée came from the lunch menu, and his came from the dinner.

I went with “The Original” Fettuccine Alfredo topped with Prosciutto Brittle and Parmigiano-Reggiano . I also went with the option to add chicken (for an additional $4.00).

"The Original" Fettuccine Alfredo topped with Prosciutto Brittle

“The Original” Fettuccine Alfredo topped with Prosciutto Brittle

Looking back, I didn’t need to add the chicken. While it was fine, the huge serving of Fettuccine and it’s thick, unexpectedly tangy Alfredo sauce coupled with the generous amount of Prosciutto was more than enough.

The bacon-like flavor and crunch of the Prosciutto ham brittle broke up the rich pasta dish nicely.

"The Original" Fettuccine Alfredo with added chicken

“The Original” Fettuccine Alfredo with added chicken

By the way, that bit of bread you see? It’s just a simple toast, lightly brushed with butter and herbs, but it completely melts in your mouth.

My husband chose the Seafood Cioppino – Sautéed White Shrimp, New England’s Big “One” Mussels, and a Pan-Seared Fennel-dusted Black Grouper over Orzo Pasta with a Cioppino Broth.

Seafood Cioppino

Seafood Cioppino

I’ve had the chance to sample Grouper a couple of times at the Derby, and I’ve always wondered why it is so good – even to someone like me who rarely goes for fish. On this visit, I received my answer when our server informed me that the Grouper at the Derby is locally sourced, which explains how fresh it tastes. In this particular dish it was also well-seasoned.

I left it completely to my husband to sample the mussels for you ;). He was impressed with the size of the mussels as well as the flavor, which he described as “not overly fishy.”

Mussels in Seafood Cioppino

Mussels in Seafood Cioppino

I’ll quote him again when he shared that the shrimp was “about as good as you can get” — high praise coming from a huge shrimp fan.

The one thing he mentioned he could do without was the abundant amount of the red Cioppino broth. While definitely appropriate for the style of the dish (a stew), he felt that with seafood of this quality, there were moments when it detracted from the meal rather than added to it.

Seafood Cioppino

Seafood Cioppino

Parents might be interested to know that, while the children’s entrees include standard kid-friendly fare such as grilled chicken, penne pasta, hot dogs, and occasionally grilled cheese among other options, on our visit a Grilled Black Grouper was also an option for the kiddos.

Earlier this year, the Brown Derby switched it up with their dessert menu, offering a “Choose Your Own Dessert Trio.” Guests get their choice of three among nine mini dessert options.

Dessert Menu

Dessert Menu

For those curious about this restaurant’s signature Grapefruit Cake, it can still be ordered in a regular full-size as a standalone dessert (though you won’t see the full portion listed on the menu).

For my trio, I chose the Caramel Custard with Passion Fruit Glace, Double Vanilla Bean Crème Brulee, and the Crunchy Sugar Cookie Puff with Lemon Grass Cream.

hollywood brown derby dessert trip caramel custard double vanilla bean creme brulee crunchy sugar cookie puff with lemon grass cream (5)

The Caramel Custard had more than a small hint of citrus from the passion fruit glaze. I can’t say it was my favorite flavor combination. I always love Crème Brulee, so while not a particularly unusual offering among the others, it’s always enjoyable.

The Sugar Cookie Puff was the winner here, and I think this picture gives a nice idea of its light, fluffy texture – though I wish I could better share some of its sweet, citrus taste!

hollywood brown derby chrunchy sugar cookie puff with lemon grass cream (2)

Inside the Sugar Cookie Puff

My husband’s trio included the Amaretto Flan (simple, but full-flavored), the Chocolate Sphere (a smooth chocolate with a nice burst of hazelnut),  and the Milk Chocolate Cremeux.

Amaretto Flan, Chocolate Sphere, and Milk Chocolate Cremeux

Amaretto Flan, Chocolate Sphere, and Milk Chocolate Cremeux

I thought you might like a glimpse at the light pudding and dark chocolate tucked inside the most unique of the three: the Milk Chocolate Cremeux.

Milk Chocolate Cremeux

Milk Chocolate Cremeux

Inside the Milk Chocolate Cremeux

Inside the Milk Chocolate Cremeux

Ultimately, I can’t say any of the desserts really “wowed” me. Even with the fun array of choices, I would have preferred one terrific dessert over three decent ones. Dessert Trios aren’t all that unusual around Disney World (though the “Choose-Your-Own” option here is a nice touch), and for some reason I rarely find them memorable. Next time, it’s the full size Grapefruit Cake for me.

Overall

I wouldn’t call myself a cinema expert (I wish!), but as a fan of several films and movie stars from the late 1930s and the 1940s, it’s still a thrill for me any time I get to step inside the Derby doors.

But what I appreciated most about this particular visit was having the option to consider — and enjoy one of — the lunch entrees. While the lunch menu is not extensive (around five choices, typically), with entrees starting at $16 – 17.00, a midday visit might be just the choice for those who have always been curious about this restaurant, its unique food, and its fantastic setting, but discouraged by the pricier entrees offered on the dinner menu. Of course, those on the Disney Dining Plan (or anyone looking to splurge) can also maximize the use of the two credits it takes to dine here on some well-prepared and unique dishes any time of day, allowing you to dine “among” — and like — the stars!

Have you had lunch or dinner at The Hollywood Brown Derby? Please let us know your thoughts with a comment!

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16 Comments

  1. Frank says:

    I absolutely love this place. Always have… and I’ve been going a long time.
    FINALLY they have the outside bar area. Neat experience…
    Wish they’d get an inside one too.
    How neat would that be to lounge in the … lounge … with a cocktail or glass of wine.
    For us, service has always been top notch.
    I really can’t recall ever having a disappointing experience there.
    Frank

  2. Saea says:

    And how long did your lunch take???? When we visited in December, lunch was 2 hours. Way too long.

  3. Tom says:

    Glad they now have some lunch only menu items again. We stopped going for lunch when they went to the all day menu. Who wants to pay a WDW signature dinner bill for lunch?

  4. Galloping Gourmand says:

    I had one of my best WDW dining experiences at the Brown Derby a few years ago, however the size of the bill the four of us received (over $200, no alcohol) meant that we have not been able to go back. An appetizer/desert lunch here looks like it would be a good bet. Are they a good size for a light lunch?

  5. Kathy P says:

    We have eaten dinner here on every yearly trip starting in 2009, when we first visited. The food is the best we have ever eaten, consistently fresh, well-seasoned, great selection……just a wonderful experience. Not cheap, for sure, but if you skip the drinks, it is comparable to any other good restaurant at WDW, and the quality cannot be beat. The luncheon prices are not much more than some of the fast food offerings, either….and much more tasty. On my birthday, besides the birthday fetti sprinkles all over the table and me, I received the most delicious birthday dessert, complete with candle! Yummy! We now eat here for the Fantasmic package….never disappointed!

  6. Maureen says:

    Great review! My husband and I were in HS last April, and took a chance on a walk in at this place for lunch. I am so glad we did! We arrived right as they opened, and were seated almost immediately. The service was incredible, and the Wagyu beef burger is one of the best things I have ever eaten! I don’t know why we haven’t been going more often, I am a huge fan of classic movies, and I love, love, love the ambience of this restaurant. We have a ADR for our October trip, and the Hollywood Brown Derby has definitely been added to our “must go” list of places to eat!

  7. John Hoyt says:

    Hollywood Brown Derby is one of our favorite dining stops. We eat lunch here every chance we have, and dinner on occasion. The food is some of the best at WDW and the service is outstanding. It is quiet, cool and a must stop for a great meal.

  8. Great review! I especially like that you included a little history on the original restaurant. It’s a great story. “Painstakenly” is the perfect word to describe Disney’s process to achieve such amazing details in this space. It’s not lost on me! Looking forward to going there again!

  9. Summer says:

    mmmm, I love the Brown Derby! Whenever the BF needs to ride the Tower of Terror, you can find me at the outdoor lounge sipping on some wine and devouring a slice of grapefruit cake…my absolute favorite dessert in all of the World! :) I always say “Don’t worry about me, ride it a few times, I’ll be here!” We chose Brown Derby as our Thanksgiving dinner 2 years ago and it was wonderful…some of the tastiest dressing I’ve ever had!

  10. Gigi says:

    My great uncle was the maitre d’ at the original Brown Derby during Shirley Temple’s heyday. He used to talk about delivering her lunch every day (fried chicken) when she was on set. I love going to the Brown Derby at DHS and thinking about what the original must have been like back in the glory days of Hollywood!

  11. Wendy says:

    Thanks so much, you all, for sharing your Brown Derby experiences! It’s fun to read everyone’s memories about this unique spot :)

    Hi, Saea! Our lunch took about an hour and 45 minutes, but that’s usually about the time it takes for me to eat anywhere due to getting pictures and info. Without that, I’m estimating our experience would’ve been a bit over an hour – our server was prompt and attentive, and even though we stayed a long while we never felt rushed. I can definitely understand, though, how 2 hours is a long time when you want to maximize your time in the park, so I’m sorry to hear it was a frustrating visit for you.

    Galloping Gourmand – Hi! I think an appetizer/dessert combo might be a good fit if you choose the full-sized grapefruit cake (which, granted, just give you one option, but if you like that one, it’s a winner :) ). I find the trios to be a little too light in regards to being filling. But pairing a dessert with a Cobb Salad could be a great way to go for a nice lunch.

    Maureen – I was tempted by the Wagyu Burger; glad to know it was a hit for you!

    Gigi – Amazing story and connection! Thank you!

  12. Karen says:

    Ate at Brown Derby for dinner last week. Food and service were exceptional. We were seated next to the open door that leads out to the patio eating area. The Frozen dance party was also going on at the same time. Our experience consisted of loud music meeting off our chests and heavy traffic constantly passing by our table. The manager walked by our table several times but wouldn’t make eye contact. Our server knew we were upset. This is a signature dining experience that cost us two meals on our plan. It was so loud that we couldn’t even talk to each other during the meal. We also noticed other tables in the restaurant empty during our entire meal. We could have been seated there. After the meal I asked to speak with the manager and basically got lip service with an apology. I’m not sure Louis would have had dinner with his family at that table. We won’t be going back to the Brown Derby for a long time. Too bad because the food is really good.

  13. julie says:

    I love your review and all of your pictures. My husband and I dined here on our first anniversary trip (we did a Fantasmic pkg). I don’t remember much about our entrées, except that they were delicious! I will never forget the Cobb salad though! I have never had another to rival that one! I will fight to get this one on the ADRs for our trip in February 2016 with the 5 kiddos!

  14. Steve & Betsy says:

    Love the Brown Derby – - one of my favorite restaurants anywhere.

    My aunt started to work for ABC in LA in the early ’50′s (telling my age here!). I remember so clearly the first time we visited her and went to the Hollywood Brown Derby. Each time I get to re-live those memories of time with her at the original when being at WDW are priceless.

    And, the Cobb is just at good!

    P.S. – And, don’t forget the “I Love Lucy” from this Brown Derby location, either!

  15. Diane Sutkay says:

    My husband and I ate there for the first time July 14 2014.It was lunch time…we were seated right away…excellent service…excellent food ! We had the Spring Roll Crab Claw Appetizer…I had the Cobb Salad and my husband had a Huge Burger…So Good!!!!!!

  16. Galloping Gourmand says:

    Thanks, Wendy. The Cobb salad was exactly what I was thinking about. I’ve learned that when given a chance to have something at the place that invented it, you take it.

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