First Look and Review: Paddlefish at Disney Springs

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.

Atmosphere

As with the rest of Disney Springs, Paddlefish somehow manages to channel past and future at the same time, all with an industrial vibe.

Paddlefish -- Outside View

Paddlefish — Outside View

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.

Paddlefish -- Outside View

Paddlefish — Outside View — Front Outdoor Bar Seating

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.

Paddlefish -- Sternwheel

Paddlefish — Sternwheel and Steps to Different Levels

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!

Paddlefish -- Outside, Another View

Paddlefish — Outside — View From Water Side

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.

Lobster Cracker Mural

Lobster Cracker Mural at Entrance

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.

First Floor Bar

First Floor Bar

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.

Seafood Boil Area

Seafood Boil Station

To one side, we viewed a bounty of Crab, Mussels, and Clams.

Cold Bar

Case Beside Seafood Boil Area

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.

Hallway

Corridor

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

Second Floor Seating — Front

Seating is comfortable, and there’s a mix of round and rectangular tables as well as booths along the back wall.

Seating

Second Floor Seating and View — Front

The blue pallette is warmed up with rich wood and copper accents.

Booth Seating

Booth Seating — Second Floor

Lighting

Lighting

Seating

Seating

The back of the second floor features another dining room as well as a bar. We found rich brown and neutral tones here.

Seating

Seating — Second Floor — Back

Comfy Bar Seating

Second Floor Comfy Bar Seating

The aesthetic seems more modern industrial than anything else, but the decor still achieves a warmth from touches of gold and indirect lighting.

Decor

Decor

Lighting

Second Floor 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.

Seating

Second Floor Seating

But that view. And wait. It’s gonna get even better.

View

View of Surrounding Area

Whereas the corridors on the first floor are inside, the second floor walkways span the length of the structure outside.

View From Outside

View From Outside — Second Floor

Steps on the “waterside” of the vessel lead up to the spot you’ve all been waiting to see — the rooftop bar.

Outside Walkway -- Second Floor

Outside Walkway and Steps To Rooftop — Second Floor

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.

Rooftop Bar Seating

Side Rooftop Bar Seating

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.

Rooftop Bar, Front -- Highboy Tables

Rooftop Bar, Front — Highboy Tables

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.

Rooftop Bar -- Back

Rooftop Bar — Back

View from Rooftop -- Side

View from Rooftop — Side

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.

Live Music

Live Music

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.

Rooftop Bar -- Inside

Rooftop Bar — Inside

While we were checking out the bar, we spied some super cute touches, like these Anchor Swizzle Sticks.

Swizzle Sticks with Anchors

Swizzle Sticks with Anchors

The restaurant is also on (Disney Springs) trend with stylish coasters.

Cute Coasters

Cute Coaster

More Cute Coasters

More Cute 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.

Rooftop Bar -- View

Rooftop Bar — View — Marketplace, From the Back

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)

Rooftop Bar -- View

Rooftop Bar — View — Village Lake, From the Side

And. More Sunset.

Sunset Over Disney Springs

Sunset Over Disney Springs

Gorgeous venue — Check. Lovely views — Check. Now it’s time to take a tour of the menu.

Eats

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.

Beer Taps

Beer Taps

But there are also some lovely Cocktails, and we were excited to sample a few.

Southern Sangria and Not Everyone's Margarita

Southern Sangria and Not Everyone’s Margarita

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.

Southern Sangria

Southern Sangria

The combo of Medley Bros. Bourbon, Peach Liqueur, and Tempranillo went down easy, but still packed a bit of a punch.

Southern Sangria -- Up Close

Southern Sangria — Up Close

But then, we also had the chance to sample Not Everyone’s Margarita.

Not Everyone's Margarita

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.

Not Everyone's Margarita -- Up Close

Not Everyone’s Margarita — Up Close

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.

Gold Rush

Gold Rush

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.

Prohibition Mai Tai

Prohibition Mai Tai

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.

Admiral's Punch

Admiral’s Punch

Whew! Those were tasty — and strong. Fortunately, we were sampling food at the same time!

Menu -- Click to Enlarge

Menu — Click to Enlarge

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.

Crab Cake

Crab Cake

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.

Crab Fries

Crab Fries

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.

Lobster Corn Dog with Remoulade

Lobster Corn Dog with Remoulade

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.

Oysters

Oysters

There were two different varieties the evening we visited, each with distinctive characteristics and flavor profiles.

Oysters

Oysters

I enjoyed mine with a topping of classic, vinegary Champagne Mignonette. Bottoms up!

Oyster Topped with Champagne Mignonette

Oyster Topped with Champagne Mignonette

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.

Scallop

Scallops

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.

Pimento Cheese Slider -- Up Close

Pimento Cheese Slider — Up Close

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. :-D  )

Pastrami Cured Faroe Island Salmon

Pastrami Cured Faroe Island Salmon

Chefs were also dishing up samples of the restaurant’s Shrimp Boil, full of Clams, Shrimp, Corn, and Sausage in a flavorful broth.

Shrimp Boil

Shrimp Boil

And of course, we had to sample Lobster Rolls, full of big chunks of Lobster Salad, lightly dressed in Mayo.

Lobster Roll

Lobster Roll

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:

Carrot Cake

Carrot Cake

The Cream Cheese Mousse that topped the dessert is the stuff that Dreams Are Made Of.

Carrot Cake -- Up Close

Carrot Cake — Up Close

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.

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Tart

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Tart

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.

Overall

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!

Comments

  1. Mike V says

    I’ll say it again, will always be Fultons to me…..
    But great news that food you tried all seemed to get rave reviews.

    Question about the Southern Sangria, I see fizz in the drink but none of the ingredients you list are fizzy. Is there something else in there? A splash of club or Sprite?

  2. Sarah says

    I’ll be curious to see a review outside of an event like this, myself. I appreciate the preview, but it’s got to be so much easier for a restaurant to make a good impression when they have a limited number of guests and menu items. That said, the menu looks great- you had me at lobster corn dogs. I can’t wait to see a review of a normal night to determine if the service and food quality holds up.

  3. Rose says

    The lobster roll looked delicious but I don’t see it on the menu. Did they only serve it for this event?

  4. Kimberly H. says

    I, too, will be interested to see a review as a “regular” customer. Also, I’m interested in seeing the prices since Fulton’s was already on the pricier side (but we enjoyed many dinners there).

  5. Lisa P says

    The last couple of times we went to Fultons it was not so great. Lots of things on this menu look wonderful. I think the oysters are overpriced, but most of the menu prices are reasonable. Bet of all – bar stools with backs and 3 bars!

  6. Jason says

    I keep wondering how it compares to Boathouse. The oyster selection and lobster roll are very difficult to compete with. With such good competition so near by, is it worth visiting?

  7. Tracy says

    The tasting event and photos looked amazing. I will look forward to eating at the Paddlefish on my next visit to Disney Springs.

  8. Brenda says

    I was there Sunday afternoon with some friends, on day 2! We sat outside, the view is lovely and there was a great breeze. There is a Brunch menu, one friend got the Crab Eggs Benedict, and he loved it. I had the chowder and fried green tomatoes. The chowder was nice, great flavor. The tomatoes were good too. My other friend had the Caesar salad and lobster corn dogs. The Caesar was standard, fresh and tasty and the corn dogs were very good. I had the tropical iced tea which was refreshing and light. They put out a carafe of water at the table for those drinking water. That being said, the experience was a good one, I would try it again. For day 2 there were some massive computer issues – 3 tables got up and left while we were there. We asked for bread as the food took 30 minutes to get out to us. The bread was nice and warm, came with honey butter. The staff was attentive. I think the little things will improve, the food was great! :)

  9. DwarfPlanet says

    The menu here looks like it has alot of fantastic items on it that I can not wait to try on our next visit. and the choice between that Southern Sangria or Admirals Punch will be hard.

  10. Sam Paul says

    “Everything we tried was scaled to tasting portions”

    Why don’t they do that for the general public? I’d love to be able to get 3-5 small things that are on the main menu in smaller portions.

  11. Dr. Leonid K. Soul says

    “Prohibition Mai Tai?” The Mai Tai was invented in 1946, thirteen years after prohibition ended. Derp.

  12. Frank says

    Kimberly,
    Yes, Empress Lilly….
    Opening glitches seem to be the norm w restaurants “at” Disney anymore.
    One would think they’d run a few days of “soft openings” to try things out.
    I see it’s a Levy restaurant.
    Is the chef new???
    Not sure that actually helps if management hasn’t changed.
    Menu looks nice though.
    I’d give it a try.
    Frank

  13. Melodye says

    I have to say, as well traveled at Disney as my family is, I had never had any desire to go to Fulton’s or the new Paddlefish. This review completely changed my mind! I can’t wait to sit at the rooftop bar in one of those comfy chairs and watch Disney Springs from above!

  14. says

    Frank — Chef Mark has been at the helm for a couple of years now, and developed the new menu. From what I’ve read, he’s especially proud of the healthier kids menu options, which he developed with his own family in mind. Let us know if you visit. We’re looking forward to returning for a full review as well.

  15. says

    Jason — We’ve thought about that as well. I actually chatted with AJ and got her input here. Here are her thoughts, which I echo: “Jason — I love, love, love the Boathouse. We’ve only had the “preview” at Paddlefish, though everything was wonderful and the atmosphere and rooftop bar are second to none. So we’ll need to do a bit more research with a full meal at Paddlefish to appropriately compare the two. There’s potential for it to meet or exceed the standards at Boathouse, but we’re not yet prepared to make the call yet.”

  16. Chrissy says

    So many good looking restaurants at Disney Springs! I think we’ll skip Planet Hollywood Observatory, though. I think I had breakfast back when it was Empress Lily’s (so probably late 80’s, seeing as how I’m 33 now…), and never ate there when it was Fulton’s. But I’d love to try to go there for lunch someday, if not this trip in March/April then our next one (whenever that may be) for sure!

  17. says

    Scott D. — Paper menus weren’t readily available for us to take pictures of, but all of the menus — drink, late night, brunch, etc — are available online. We’re hoping to have a review for you soon as well with pics of all of the menus.

  18. Debbie says

    Do you know if this will be included in the Disney Dining Plan? And if so would it be considered 2 table services like Fultons?

  19. Jul says

    Went for an early dinner Wednesday, a few days after open. Only the first floor was open for dining. We sat outside. Some good choices on menu; lobster pops were a good appetizer, as were oysters… which carried a New York (read expensive) price. Lobster risotto was a nice presentation with great taste. Corn on the cob was good. But so many minuses, from a server who didn’t know the menu, didn’t bother to take drink orders, gave us napkins that only blew away (since I had seen your review I asked for coasters which she said was a great idea), ignored bread until well after appetizer, didn’t go over menu, didn’t offer dessert, didn’t check back after entrees and plain disappeared for long periods. Lemon allergy was noted, but oysters served with lots of lemon. Honored another allergy request, but my entree came after my husband finished eating. Since it was a special request, I admit I did not know just what I had ordered but there was sticker shock when I saw the bill. Likewise, I just asked if it would come with a vegetable, so a side dish later appeared (long before my entree) and with the check found it was a separate charge too.
    Dining here was a chore with all the requests we had to make, and in hindsight we should have asked many more pricing questions, and questions in general.
    Water carafe stood empty for most of the time we were there, as did my husbands soft drink glass. A request for cocktail sauce might as well have been for something quite exotic as it came well after needed; shrimp boil was heavy on water and very very light on Old Bay, with tasteless boiled potatoes; no salt and pepper; it goes on.
    Of course all restaurants need shakedown periods, and servers must learn sometime. But still. The table next to ours seemed to have similar issues and quietly discussed that they would not be back.
    I just remember going to the reimagined Flying Fish on the Boardwalk a couple of nights after it reopened and had super service, wonderful food, and a charming staff… for less than this bill. Perhaps we will see this restaurant in the Flying Fish category after things work out.

  20. Jeff Zivkovic says

    Can I still order the King Crab Claws? They were the best I have had and the main reason for me coming back to Fulton’s Crab House.

  21. says

    Jul — We really appreciate you stopping by to share your experience. We’re with you; we will keep watching to see how they settle in.

  22. Marianne says

    Looks pretty amazing hope the restaurant does well. It’s so helpful to have reviews like this thank you

  23. William says

    We dined at Paddlefish last night (Saturday around 9:30 pm). Only the 1st and 2nd levels were open to the public. The 3rd level was closed for a private event.

    The restaurant was only about 1/2 full, but service was very disorganized. We were seated for 10 minutes before being greeted by anyone (or water provided) even though 6-8 different servers/staff walked by periodically.

    Eventually, Jeffrey took great care of us even though he didn’t have our table. We talked to a manager who was very apologetic.

    Our kids enjoyed their hot dogs (same as Fulton’s before). The lobster risotto was okay (risotto was under cooked). The short ribs was good.

    We might try the upstairs bar next time, but for food and service, we will go to the Boathouse. Paddlefish needs to improve their service before we return.

  24. says

    William — Thanks for sharing your experience with us. It’s also interesting to note that you weren’t able to enjoy the rooftop bar because of a special event.

  25. says

    Cory — As far as we understand, it’s open at 11:00AM, when the restaurant opens. However, it may be closed for private functions.

  26. Kay says

    Watched the renovation with interest because Fulton’s was overdue for a refresh. Also wondered about competition to the Boathouse. We tried at lunch today…the Boathouse has no worries. Hostess turned surly when we requested a table by window – two were empty. Water was never refreshed – our only beverage by choice. Food runner tried two other tables before finding us. Bland fries served cold. Just so so food and over priced for quality. Poor atmosphere in that it was noisy even though not crowded. Sorry, but won’t be back and won’t recommend.

  27. Chef Palumbo says

    Visited Paddlefish last week and was shocked by the poor quality and quantity of food at ridiculously high prices. As an example: 3 scallops with vegetable for approx 30 dollars or a 4 oz salmon with no starch or vegetable for the same price. We all left hungry!,

    Good place to go if you are not hungry and want to pay only for atmosphere!

  28. Tarantula says

    I’m also curious to see how it will compare to the Boathouse. This review sounds great, but there are so many great places to try at D.Springs that we can’t justify two seafood meals in one trip – I think the Boathouse is still more appealing to us, for now…

  29. Barbara says

    Don’t go there hungry! 4 scallops and 8 brussel sprouts with a couple of spoon full of cauliflour puree $36.00 service was only fair.

  30. Rsmith says

    My wife and I ate at Paddlefish last Monday and were extremely happy with the food and service. We were seated immediately on first level and waited only a few minutes before our server greeted us. Robert from New York explained the whole menu to us and was extremely kind. He was honest about his preferences which helps when deciding on what to eat.
    We shared the conch chowder as an appetizer, the scallops and sprouts along with shrimp and grits as entrees and shared key lime pie for dessert. All food was prepared and served expertly with portions larger than expected. The cost was also as expected. We are from the Washington DC area and expect to pay for good food that is reasonably portioned. We left completely full but not uncomfortable.
    We went to Disney for food and wine at Epcot but this meal was my absolute favorite of the week. We can’t say enough good things about our experience at Paddlefish.

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