Over the weekend, we had the opportunity to get a sneak peek at Paddlefish, the latest restaurant to open in Disney Springs.
I say “latest,” but Paddlefish is simultaneously one of Disney Springs’ oldest and newest stops. That’s because Paddlefish is just the latest tenant in a restaurant that’s been in this area for quite some time. If you’ve been following along, then you know Paddlefish was most recently known as Fulton’s Crab House. And before that, you may have known it as the Empress Lilly, originally opened in 1977 and named for Walt Disney’s beloved wife.
With the revamping and major overhaul that Downtown Disney — now Disney Springs — has recently experienced, the old riverboat theming of Fulton’s wasn’t going to flow with the new vibe. And so, the restaurant’s owner, Levy Restaurants, signed to stay on in Disney Springs, and commenced to a stem to stern reimagining of the Old Girl.
We had a chance to take a look around at the new space, which opened to the public February 4th. Join us on a tour.
As with the rest of Disney Springs, Paddlefish somehow manages to channel past and future at the same time, all with an industrial vibe.
If you were familiar with Fulton’s, you’ll see the stark contrast between old and new right away. Gone is the old-timey riverboat look. In its place is a neutral palette of grey and white with touches of rich stained wood.
Also worth noting are the return of the iconic smoke stacks and paddle wheel — two decorative elements that were removed when the Empress Lilly became Fulton’s.
From this view, you can also see the outdoor stairwell that allows you to access the rooftop bar directly.
The restaurant still boasts three different levels, but offers a newly added rooftop bar. Just a prediction: this is definitely going to be a Disney Springs hotspot in very short order. I can’t wait to show you around!
But I want you to get a feel for the flow of the space, so let’s start at the beginning. Come aboard Paddlefish, and you’re greeted by this whimsical — and shiny! — mural. Look closer, and you realize the fish you’re looking at is made entirely of Lobster Crackers.
Our first stop was the bar on the first floor. While you’ll encounter several more bars in the restaurant, this one is unique because of the food offerings.
The area in the back of the room includes this exhibition kitchen, where staff were busy preparing Seafood Boils in the massive steam kettles. The area is sleek and shiny, and is completely separated from guests by a glass partition.
To one side, we viewed a bounty of Crab, Mussels, and Clams.
A long corridor joins the front of the boat to the back dining area. The walls are adorned with black and white framed photos, displayed in a modern and artful manner.
On the second floor, we explored the dining room in the front first. Sweeping views are the star of the show here. And that really is the case. Decor is bestowed with a light touch. It’s clear that Florida sunsets and views are the focal point.
Seating is comfortable, and there’s a mix of round and rectangular tables as well as booths along the back wall.
The blue pallette is warmed up with rich wood and copper accents.
The back of the second floor features another dining room as well as a bar. We found rich brown and neutral tones here.
The aesthetic seems more modern industrial than anything else, but the decor still achieves a warmth from touches of gold and indirect lighting.
We are showing you lots of seating photos from the VIP event we attended the night before the restaurant opened to the public, but in likelihood, the tables have been reconfigured for regular service. We’re also wondering about tablecloths and napkins, something we didn’t see for the preview.
But that view. And wait. It’s gonna get even better.
Whereas the corridors on the first floor are inside, the second floor walkways span the length of the structure outside.
Steps on the “waterside” of the vessel lead up to the spot you’ve all been waiting to see — the rooftop bar.
While there are tables both in the front and the back of the bar, there are also cozy tables for two set up along both sides.
For the event, we found highboys in the front portion of the deck. Again, it will be interesting to see what this area looks like during regular service. The tables with no chairs felt more like an event set up, rather than what I would expect to see in a bar.
The back, on the other hand, featured plenty of plush places to park, and the overhead lights inspired a fun, outdoor party atmosphere. Still, the space had an air of refinement. We felt like we were at a party aboard a yacht.
Live music made for a nice touch. And in retrospect, I have to point out something I loved: while the music was really enjoyable, it wasn’t overpowering. You could enjoy the music and conversation at the same time.
The third floor also houses an indoor bar as well. You may not be able to tell from this photo, but the back wall to the bar features windows to the patio. The windows offer walk up bar access from the outside as well.
While we were checking out the bar, we spied some super cute touches, like these Anchor Swizzle Sticks.
The restaurant is also on (Disney Springs) trend with stylish coasters.
But seriously — the view! From this one spot, you can see nearly all of Disney Springs. Well…the town, anyway. We didn’t spy the Springs themselves. Still you’re right on the water, so it’s all good.
As darkness fell, it was fun to watch the boats on the lake, especially fun the Amphicars from nearby neighbor BOATHOUSE. (Which we didn’t get a picture of. But trust me. They were there. :-D)
And. More Sunset.
Gorgeous venue — Check. Lovely views — Check. Now it’s time to take a tour of the menu.
Paddlefish’s menu boasts an impressive array of beverages. Once again, they’re keeping with trends. We found a fairly interesting selection of Craft Beer on tap, including Florida-brewed favorites.
The wine list is impressive in size as well, boasting more than 175 wines available by the bottle.
But there are also some lovely Cocktails, and we were excited to sample a few.
To begin, we tried the Southern Sangria. You know, southerners don’t mess around when it comes to cocktails. They pour ‘em strong, and this Sangria is no exception.
The combo of Medley Bros. Bourbon, Peach Liqueur, and Tempranillo went down easy, but still packed a bit of a punch.
But then, we also had the chance to sample Not Everyone’s Margarita.
Nuestra Soledad Mezcal, El Destilador Blanco, Jalapeño, Creme de Mure, and House Sour delivered balances flavors, and we really enjoyed the smoky Mezcal against the warmth of the Jalapeño. The Black Salt was visually striking and offered a complex and earthy counterpoint to the drink. This was a winner for sure.
You might think this is a Mule. But, no. The Gold Rush does bear a resemblance to the trending drink, though.
Here, Kinahan’s Irish Whiskey replaces the customary Vodka. The drink is finished with Fever Tree Ginger Beer and Fresh Lime and Mint. I loooooove Jameson and Ginger Ale, so this was definitely a winner for me.
We also sampled the Prohibition Mai Tai. I love the idea of an old-fashioned cocktail, and this mix of Scarlet Ibis, Orgeat, Banana Liqueur, Fresh Lime, Scrappy Orleans, and Amarena Cherry was smooth and elegant.
We also kept seeing pitchers of this wonderfulness sail by. We stopped a server to snap a pic, and learned that it was Admiral’s Punch, a mix of Smith & Cross Jamaican Rum, Kirk and Sweeney Dominican Rum, and Fruit Juices.
Whew! Those were tasty — and strong. Fortunately, we were sampling food at the same time!
Just a note about the food — everything we tried was scaled to tasting portions. These aren’t going to represent what you’ll get when you order — at least in terms of portion size. Still, we thought you might like to get a taste — see what I did there? — of what you can expect.
We began by sampling a few of the Starters. First, we tried the Crab Cake. I love — LOVE! — a crab cake that’s comprised more of crab than filler, and this one didn’t disappoint.
Next, we sampled paper cones filled with Crab Fries. The Hand-Cut Fries were crispy on the outside, and so perfectly cooked. We enjoyed the Blue Lump Crab that topped them. I look forward to seeing this item plated, with lots more Louie Sauce to drizzle over everything. It was fun to see this classic touch added to an updated menu item.
For something totally new and original, we had to try the Lobster Corn Dog, served with a Sweet Chili Aioli.
Good grief. I think I ate, like, four of these. Sweet lobster + Fried Cornbread Coating. Let that sink in for a moment.
But this is a spot known for its raw bar and seafood options, right? So we had to stop by for a few raw Oysters, served on the half shell.
There were two different varieties the evening we visited, each with distinctive characteristics and flavor profiles.
I enjoyed mine with a topping of classic, vinegary Champagne Mignonette. Bottoms up!
As we wandered from room to room, we found lots of food stations set up and serving samples of menu items. We stopped for Scallops, served with Brown Butter, Cauliflower Puree, Crispy Brussels Sprouts, and Bacon.
Best. Brussels Sprouts. Ever.
Another standout during our tasting event was The Burger. House Made Pickles and Pimento Cheese, together with a wonderfully tender and seasoned patty, made for an incredible two-bite experience.
While the samples were served as sliders, the menu boasts a full size version.
In another area, we found samples of the Seafood Charcuterie listed on Paddlefish’s late night menu. Here’s an example of the Pastrami Cured Salmon, which looked wonderful. (We were too full by the time we found it to take another bite. )
Chefs were also dishing up samples of the restaurant’s Shrimp Boil, full of Clams, Shrimp, Corn, and Sausage in a flavorful broth.
And of course, we had to sample Lobster Rolls, full of big chunks of Lobster Salad, lightly dressed in Mayo.
Finally, servers came around with tasting portions of Desserts, and we had the opportunity to try two of the three (sadly, the Doughnuts rumored to be available eluded us).
Our first sweet was the Charred Carrot Cake. While I didn’t easily identify a Caramelized Carrot Puree apart from the pleasant and straightforward Carrot Cake, I can tell you this:
The Cream Cheese Mousse that topped the dessert is the stuff that Dreams Are Made Of.
We also sampled the Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Tart, topped with Candied Bacon. Have you ever had Bacon dipped in Whipped Cream? Just trust me on this one.
Everything seemed great about this one, but it was a little tricky to eat with the tiny plastic spoons. I look forward to trying it with real silverware sometime soon.
Still. Candied Bacon. So. YES.
And with one more walk around that rooftop bar to take in the lovely 360° view, we were off to enjoy the rest of the evening.
I predict that Paddlefish will be a winner.
I’m not sure what we expected here. Certainly, reviews of Fulton’s Crab House hadn’t been uniformly positive. But Chef Mark Boor seems thoroughly committed to reinventing the venue as not only a destination for Disney visitors, but “to turning Paddlefish into Central Florida’s best seafood house.”
While we’re aware that we can’t judge the restaurant ultimately by an invitation-only event, it still seems to us that this elegant restaurant has real potential to be one of the strongest performers in the Disney Springs culinary line up. We look forward to watching.
So now, I’m really interested to hear what all of you have to say. Will you be checking out the newly reinvented Paddlefish? Leave a comment and tell us what you’re looking forward to trying!