On Sunday, August 16, 2009, my husband and I tried out the latest offering of the Walt Disney World restaurant family, Kouzzina by Cat Cora. We had eaten at Spoodles for breakfast on previous visits, and to compare apples to apples, we decided to have a brunch at Kouzzina. This was the second day that the restaurant was open, and we had secured advance dining reservations (ADRs) before we left, however when we got to the Boardwalk from Pop Century that morning, it was well before our ADR time. Seeing no line out the door, we asked if we could change our reservation to a walk-up and were seated immediately.

When the announcement of the transition from Spoodles to Kouzzina by Cat Cora was made, I had written some thoughts in a blog. You can read that original blog here:

http://disneyfoodie.wordpress.com/2009/06/17/news-to-chew-on-cat-coras-kouzzina/

How does my experience play out against my predictions?

As I had mentioned, crowds were a little higher than they had been during the Spoodles day (about six tables full), however it was still profoundly empty and easy for a walk-up. This is a great opportunity for people planning to make a mid-day start at either Epcot or the Studios who want a decent sit-down meal no matter what resort you are staying at. Simply take a bus to the Studios and hop the Friendship to the Boardwalk (or, if you’re feeling health-conscious, you can walk the distance). Then, when you are done with breakfast, both parks are easily accessible by Friendship or by walking paths.

Another prediction I made was that prices would go up and portion sizes would go down. Both of these are true, however to varying degrees. The price increase is very modest, more in line with a “cost of living” increase than an actual price hike. The portion sizes, on the other hand, are considerably smaller than they were at Spoodles. For someone like me who doesn’t eat a lot, this was not a problem. For those with hearty appetites, Kouzzina would be a choice for breakfast but not for a brunch intended to hold you until dinner time.

For the breakfast offering, the menu focused strongly on home-cooked-type meals, but not really all that much emphasis on Mediterranean cuisine. The extent of “Mediterranean” flavors was feta in a couple of the dishes and olive toast with another one. Looking at the dinner menu, that seems to be where more of the influence comes in.

That covers all the predictions I made in my blog. Now for the review itself.

We were seated right away even though we were about an hour ahead of our 9:45 reservation time. The lobby is very inviting, with family photographs and casual décor. Our hostess took us to a table on the far side of the restaurant with a view through lace curtains out of the windows of the boardwalk foot traffic.

During the brief time between placing our drink orders and placing our food orders, we found four main impressions. First, the lighting is much brighter than it was for Spoodles. We both liked that and found that it gave the restaurant a very pleasing vibe to it. For the furnishings, we both came to the same thought—the décor reminds us of a plussed Cracker Barrel. It isn’t bad décor, although I was a bit off-put at first by the chairs at the main large tables that had obviously been moved around and were mismatched. My husband didn’t notice it, but for whatever reason, it looked sloppy to me. This may be intentional to give more of a home kitchen feel at the holidays where you go scrounging for chairs everywhere. It just didn’t work for me.

On the other hand, I loved the attire of the servers. They wore black pants with blue chef-style jackets similar to what Cat Cora wears when she is competing on Iron Chef. I thought it was a nice touch. Also, the kitchen has been opened up considerably from the Spoodles day. For those who enjoy watching a live kitchen, even a table on the far side of the restaurant offers a good view.

Our server, Shaun, was an absolute delight. He, like the hostess who seated us, mentioned that this was only their second breakfast serving and hoped that it would be free of bumps. Overall, it was. I’ve had far worse experiences at well-established restaurants. The only items that were negative for me were little nit-picking things (like the chairs).

The flatware at our table was wonderful. I liked it so much I had my husband take a picture of it so that we could try and locate some when we got home. It’s lightweight, but sturdy. I was less pleased with the sugar bowl on the table (the rest of the china was okay). The sugar bowl was filled very full with packets of sweetner, however this made the lid not fully fit on it. As it is a small lid, I forsee many broken or lost lids as time goes by. It was difficult to get the packets out of the sugar bowl because the opening is fairly narrow and has an inside lip. Again, before I’ve had my morning tea, my coordination isn’t the best. Yes, I dropped the lid on the table (and thankfully it didn’t break).

At the recommendation of our server, Shaun, my husband ordered the signature dish at breakfast—the sweet potato and turkey hash with eggs scrambled (they usually come poached) with arugula on top. I ordered the blueberry orange granola pancakes with bacon (in lieu of chicken sausage). My husband ordered coffee and I ordered hot tea.

The coffee was good, and thankfully not Nescafe. My tea selection was wonderful. There was an offering from Twinnings—chamomile, mint, English breakfast (regular and decaf), and green tea.

When the meal came out, it looked wonderful, although a normal breakfast-size portion and not your typical Disney food-size offering. For me, this was a plus. For once, I was able to pretty much finish my meal.

According to my husband, the sweet potato hash had a very good flavor and texture. The turkey was the most seasoned part of the dish, as if it had been brined before roasting. The vegetables (sweet potato, onion, and red bell pepper) were nicely flavored as well. The whole dish was not overly salty like corned beef hash can be. In addition, the arugula salad on the hash was a fantastic addition. It added a nice bite without being fiery like black pepper or hot peppers.

I was also pleased with the blueberry orange granola pancakes with a few caveats. If you are expecting blueberry pancakes, this dish will disappoint. Overall, there were less than a dozen blueberries in each of the two large pancakes. Also, the orange flavor was extremely subtle. If you use all of the syrup provided on your pancakes, you will lose the orange flavor altogether. What I felt made this dish a success was the granola. It added a lot of body and flavor to the pancakes and made them a unique offering with a slightly sweet and nutty taste. I plan to add granola to pancakes at home from this point onward. It was a refreshing surprise.

After dinner, the manager came over to ask us for our opinion, and we gave a favorable review. Ironically, we had been tapped the day before by Disney Research asking our views about breakfast and I had bemoaned the lack of sit-down non-buffet breakfast options. I certainly think that this restaurant is an example of what I feel is lacking at Disney for the breakfast hour—an easy-to-get-into breakfast that isn’t overrun with screaming kids and standard hotel buffet foods. The only issue that I feel may be problematic at other times is that the restaurant is noisy. Even with less than 30 people eating, it was not a quiet meal. If you are looking for quiet at this restaurant, my advice is to eat early. Once more than a handful of people are sitting down and the kitchen is hopping, it will become quite noisy.

So, now that I’ve eaten at Kouzzina by Cat Cora, would I return? Absolutely. The food was reasonably priced (with our Tables in Wonderland discount and a 20% tip, the meal for two came to around $30). Everything was a delight to eat and I would enjoy sampling some of the other options or ordering my dish again, and my husband feels the same. Even on day 2 of their opening, there were no major disasters or glitches to overcome. I feel it was a very successful soft opening and wish the staff of Kouzzina by Cat Cora all the best in their future services.

And, most importantly, here are the pictures:

The new sign (and if you ask any of the servers, the name is Kouzzina by Cat Cora… they don’t leave off the Iron Chef’s name!)

http://disneyfoodie.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/kouzzina1.jpg

The open kitchen:

http://disneyfoodie.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/kouzzina2.jpg

The chairs and tables:

http://disneyfoodie.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/kouzzina3.jpg

The flatware:

http://disneyfoodie.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/kouzzina4.jpg

Blueberry Orange Granola Pancakes:

http://disneyfoodie.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/kouzzina5.jpg

Sweet Potato and Turkey Hash:

http://disneyfoodie.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/kouzzina6.jpg

A Beautiful Day at Kouzzina by Cat Cora:

http://disneyfoodie.files.wordpress.com/2009/08/kouzzina7.jpg

Review and photos by JulFromMD and ErwinM of various Disney boards.

As many of the readers of this blog might already know, I work in the editorial field, both at an in-house gig and through freelancing work. I love being an editor. Lately, the universe has aligned in such a way that things have gotten a wee bit crazy.

1. My in-house job is going for reorganization that means everyone needs to apply for various jobs.

1a. That means a lot of people are jumping ship, which means lots of OT and loose projects waiting to be grabbed.

1b. That means I’m taking those gigs because extra money is good with a WDW trip coming up in August.

2. The economy is still somewhat tanked, which means my freelancing gigs have ended up with a lot of work to outsource. This again makes me very happy, but overworked.

3. On a whim, I tried to find a local Disney meetup for the DC metro area. Surprisingly, there wasn’t one, so I started it. That’s taking a bit of time.

4. It’s my birthday on Saturday, and I’ve been feeling lazy (well, when not pulling 14-hour days).

As such, this blog has hit a bit of a snag… but have no fear, I haven’t blog faded. It looks like things are starting to even out in the job front (and if I do end up unemployed through the weirdness of the fates, I’ll have plenty of time to blog). As of yet, I am not sure that a schedule will work, but feel free to check back or watch my feed on Twitter. My Twitter ID is JulFromMD. Oh, and since I actually get asked this a lot, it is pronounced like “Jewel”. It’s short for Julia, but also because my mom called me her precious jewel when I was growing up. Isn’t that as sweet as a zebra dome?

Anyhow, many apologies for the snag in updates. I’ll be back with some new stuff very soon.

The Walt Disney World has enough alcoholic drinks to satisfy everything from the most passionate wine enthusiast to a person like me who loves her “foo-foo” drinks. But for you teetotalers out there, fear not. Your drink choices are not limited to just whatever Coca-Cola products are on tap. I’ll be covering my choice for “best of” sodas, best of teas, and other category “best ofs” in another post. For this one, I want to introduce everyone to my favorite nonalcoholic specialty drinks. Because of the wide range of drinks out there, it was impossible to choose just one. Here’s my favorite three, in random order.

Sour Apple Freeze—I discovered this during my stay at Pop Century on a balmy evening, however it is served at other locations (generally at pool bars). If you like tart, this drink is for you. A combination of sweet and sour mix, Sprite, and Monin Granny Apple syrup done up as a frozen slushy-type consistency, this drink is guranteed to put some pucker to your palate.

Ichigo—Thus far, I’ve only seen this drink at one location on property, and that’s at the Japan pavilion in Epcot, however you can get it at both Tokyo Dining and Teppan Edo. This frozen drink is a combination of strawberries, pineapple/pineapple juice, lemon juice and crushed ice. It is sweet, but not overly so, and is a refreshing pair to either teppan food or a sushi dinner. Plus, it comes with an umbrella, and umbrella drinks have a cool factor all their own.

Milkshakes—This one I’m going on the opinions of other people in my party, as I’ve never been daring enough to order a milkshake. (Okay, the truth is I’m always so stuffed that I don’t think I can handle both a milkshake and dessert and all the great food.) From what I’ve heard, the place to try the milkshakes is the 1950s Prime Time Café in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It makes sense, too. Where else to get that iconic drink of the sock hop era than at a restaurant specializing in trying to relive that period in time?

Those are my top three. Did I miss something? Do you agree or disagree with my choices? Feel free to comment, and if I’ve never tried it, I’ll be willing to research on my next trip (in less than 50 days).

Just a quick note… because of some massive changes at work, I’m going to need to rethink the schedule of this blog. I’ll be trying out a few things this week, and we’ll see what days I’ll be posting. Details will follow…

Restaurant Review: The Mara, Breakfast and Lunch

As a DVC member with points in Animal Kingdom Villas (and, more recently, Bay Lake Tower), I spent my most recent trip to the World exploring Jambo House at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. This included having a lunch and breakfast at The Mara, the counter service dining option at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Located on the first floor, The Mara is hidden away across from the Uzima swimming pool and serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. During our stay, we had breakfast one day and lunch on another.

For breakfast, the offerings are typical breakfast food court fare, and although our breakfast croissants were tasty, in general we will be more likely to cook breakfast in the kitchen in our room or grab a quick bite in a theme park.

We had lunch in The Mara while we were waiting for our room to be ready. Lunch/dinner offerings are really where this restaurant stands out as different from the other resort counter service venues. My personal favorite was the daily selection of soups, many of which are served in Boma and Jiko. I was able to get a cup of the curry coconut corn chowder, which is something I look for every time I’m at Boma. Slightly spicy and sweet, this hearty soup is a meal in itself, and at less than $3 for a cup, is filling enough for a light lunch.

This restaurant also offers delightful options for vegetarians, including the vegetable flatbread and the falafel pita. There are also less adventurous offerings including salads and sandwiches, plus a very hearty half chicken dinner. Unless you are eating it for dinner, there’s enough meat there for two people.

Last, but not least, I would be remiss if I did not mention the little secret of this restaurant. Aside from Boma, this is the one place in Walt Disney World where you can get zebra domes. They are in the refrigerated case and come prepackaged at 6 for approximately $4. If you have a leftover snack credit, this is a great item to buy and put in your room fridge for a late-night snack. Arguably, the presence of zebra domes outside of Boma makes this place worth the visit alone.

This review is based on an October 2008 trip.

Best of…. Popcorn.

My apologies for the delay in this article. Unfortunately, work life (and a meeting discussing the potential for up to 50% layoffs at my company) made for a change in my normal schedule. Thankfully, the “best of” columns are meant to be short.

This week, I’m tackling the “best of” popcorn. I know what some of you are thinking. . . popcorn? Isn’t it all the same? And there is some truth to that. All of the approximately 300,000 pounds of popcorn sold at Walt Disney World are Orville Redenbacher brand popcorn (which, according to AllEars.net, is gluten free) popped in a coconut, corn, and canola-blend oil, with some nutritional sites also mentioning a butter mixture adding some milk solids to the flavor. Then put on a bit of salt, and it’s ready to go. So although the popcorn itself is nothing out of the ordinary from what you get at home, it’s that butter/oil-type mixture that makes it taste so good.

However, like all things Disney, it takes multiple aspects to really plus anything. Although the flavor is consistently good throughout the four theme parks and other locations where popcorn is served, to me, there is one place that stands out as the Best of for popcorn. That location is the popcorn cart in the Magic Kingdom on the left side of the breezeway into Main Street USA as you enter the park, right in the area around City Hall.

Why is this my “best of” choice? Like the old saying goes, location, location, location. Popcorn itself reminds me of my childhood and a simpler time. That is the overall theme and energy embodied by Main Street USA. It also is one of the first things that hits my senses before I fully enter the park and it is the last fading memory I have as I leave at night. It is near one of my favorite locations for fireworks and parade viewing. In short, the smell of freshly popped popcorn from that location is the smell of all things Magic Kingdom.

So that’s why the Magic Kingdom cart at the breezeway near City Hall is my choice for the Best of Popcorn in Walt Disney World.

Got a best of choice for your Best of Popcorn in Walt Disney World? Want to suggest a best of idea? Feel free to leave a comment!

Earlier this year, Disney management announced that celebrity chef Cat Cora would be opening a restaurant at Disney’s Boardwalk resort in the location currently occupied by the Mediterranean restaurant Spoodles. According to the press materials, Kouzzina (“koo-zee-nah”, Greek for kitchen) will feature Greek and Mediterranean food, focusing on classic, family style recipes.

So what does this mean for guest dining options? In my view, most likely, larger crowds shortly after grand opening, a price increase, and little change in cuisine.

Every time that I have been down to the Boardwalk area and dined at Spoodles, crowds were exceptionally small—so small that one breakfast sitting gave my husband and I a private restaurant at 9:30 AM! With the addition of a celebrity chef that is known outside of the circles of culinary elite thanks to her appearances on her Food Network show and Food Network’s highly rated Iron Chef America, you will find people wanting to eat at Kouzzina just so they can say that they ate at Cat Cora’s restaurant. It is my hope that they will keep breakfast seating in addition to the dinner seating. Although I do picture an increase in crowds for the dinner seating, I doubt that breakfast will become impossible to eat at without a reservation. Because of the low traffic on the Boardwalk area during the day hours, I do not foresee lunch offerings unless dinner reservations consistently book to capacity.

With the new celebrity name attached, I have little doubt that the new menu at Kouzzina will have higher prices than the moderately priced Spoodles and that portion sizes will also decrease. Unlike dinner at Todd English’s bluezoo at The Dolphin, which will set you back easily over $100 for a couple dining without alcoholic beverages, I do not foresee that Kouzzina will be quite as much of a pain to the pocketbook. My guess is that entrees for dinner will be in the mid-$20 range, more on par with some of the higher-end Epcot restaurants that will be its main competition.

From a culinary standpoint, as Spoodles was already an eclectic blend of American and Mediterranean influences, I predict that there will be few drastic changes to the type of cuisine served under Cat Cora. Cat Cora, who draws from both Greek familial tradition and the Louisiana-influenced cooking of her home in Louisiana, will likely bring both flavors to the table. As the Walt Disney World resort does have Cajun (or “Cajun light”) dining options in House of Blues and Boatwrights at Port Orleans Riverside, it is my hope that this menu will continue to strongly emphasize Mediterranean dishes. It would be nice to see a greater emphasis on traditional Greek dishes (spanakopita, dolmathes, mousaka, etc.) with novel twists. Although if Cat Cora offered a Cajun-twist gyro, I would be first in line to give it a try!

What will I miss most? The breakfast frittatas were an exceptional dish that provided a novel breakfast offering that I hope will be continued in the menu for Kouzzina. I will also miss knowing that there’s a quality restaurant with easy availability for dinner that is just a short after-dinner walk from Epcot. In all likelihood, however, after an initial rush of popularity, Kouzzina may slow down to the availability rate of Spoodles (although that would likely not please Disney execs too much).

Why the change? Lately at many locations throughout Walt Disney World, and not just in the dining options, there has been a push to find famous name tie-ins to help drive revenue. In short, although I am excited to see what Kouzzina has to offer, I cannot help but think that this is just a way to drive larger crowds and higher prices to a restaurant that already offered quality Mediterranean food. Thankfully, Cat Cora’s food has always looked good on her shows, so I’m willing to give this bit of synergy a shot.

Kouzzina is scheduled to open in fall of 2009.

Kona Café at Disney’s Polynesian Resort used to be the little-known gem of the Monorail Line resorts. Even now, many reviewers comment on one outstanding entrée: Tonga Toast. And while Tonga Toast has well-earned its praise among diners, my dining tastes lean away from large (and overly sugar-laden) breakfast options. On the other hand, I have found Kona Café to be a nice break from mediocre sit-down dining options at the Magic Kingdom for a lunch option.

When you arrive at Kona and check in at the podium, you may notice that there is no waiting area for people who have not been seated yet. Thankfully, at lunch Kona rarely draws a large crowd that will necessitate a waiting area, however I can imagine that this would be more problematic for breakfast or dinner in the busy seasons. In a bit of Disney brilliance, the restaurant, an open floor plan consisting mainly of tables on the interior with a few booths around the edges, is designed so that you have to walk past a display of dessert offerings to get to your seat. Take special note of the chocolate sculpture here as well. It is truly a work of edible art.

It should come as no surprise that the menu at this Polynesian resort restaurant has a distinctly Hawaiian-American flair. The flavors used are familiar enough to the American palate that even the most picky eater should be able to find a dish to please, however.

Knowing the reputation for Disney portion sizes, our party of four decided to split an appetizer and save our appetites for the main meal and, of course, the dessert. The most interesting offering, and the one we opted for, was the duck dumplings with ginger-soy sauce. For full disclosure here, I grew up among a large number of Chinese families, so I am very particular about potstickers. These “dumplings” (more appropriately viewed as potstickers) were cooked to perfection, with a firm, yet not gummy texture. In general, I avoid ordering duck when I dine out as some preparations can be extremely greasy. The filling in the potstickers was moist, yet not greasy, and had a delicate seasoning about it that was flavorful, but not spicy. An order can be comfortably split between two people. If this was offered as an entrée, it would be my first choice, so do not be shy about ordering an order only for yourself.

With one exception, our entrees were exceptional. The one exception was the Asian Chicken Chop Salad, a blend of salad greens, chicken, won ton strips, and a mustard vinaigrette. The dressing was extremely bitter, making the salad almost inedible if you have any taste buds remaining and don’t love mustard with a passion. This is the first entrée I have ever returned to the kitchen at a Disney restaurant as unacceptable. In true Disney style, our server was exceptional about getting an alternate offering for our table.

The other dishes we sampled were The Polynesian Plate Lunch (with chicken with peanut sauce, sticky rice, and macaroni salad), the Beef Teriyaki Salad (mixed greens, teriyaki beef, tomatoes, chives, cheddar cheese, served in a won-ton bowl), and the Kona Club sandwich (turkey, tomato, turkey bacon, watercress, and mayo, hold the avocado, served on a multigrain bread and served with house-made potato chips).

For the Polynesian Plate Lunch, the offering was delicious, and yet I felt a little odd about having two starches as sides. I would prefer to see a choice of starch along with some sort of vegetable or fruit (for instance, a tropical fruit salad) offering instead. As a result, although our diner ate some of both the rice and macaroni salad and enjoyed it, there was simply too much filling starch to finish them off.

I had the Beef Teriyaki Salad, a very tame offering, and yet full of flavor. The Kona Club was especially wonderful for our non-pork eating diner, as it is rare to see a club sandwich that comes with turkey bacon. By far, the surprise hit of the lunch were the house-made potato chips. According to our server, this blend of lightly friend potato and sweet potato slices is made fresh every morning. If you are unable to dine at Kona and still want to sample this potato perfection, these are the same chips that are also served down at Captain Cook’s on the first floor.

One other item to note—if you have been craving a really good cup of coffee, Kona Café does serve actual Kona coffee, which the coffee drinkers in our party assured me was worth every penny.

Like all Disney restaurants, by the time you finish an appetizer and entrée, having dessert seemed like it was too much food, especially since our party also had reservations at Boma five hours later. Talking with some other patrons at the restaurant, the banana and chocolate crème brulee was the runaway hit. It will be well worth another trip to Kona to verify the person on the street opinions that we heard, however.

 

This review is based on lunch in October of 2008.

Now that I’ve had some time to think about my schedule and my design for this blog, I have figured out a schedule for my up-and-coming readers. For each week, come back to see the following topics:

Monday: Food Revue
Wednesday: To Chew On…News and Opinions
Friday: Best of/Worst of

At other times during the week, I may also include reviews of recipes from the Disney cookbooks, merchandise profiles, reader feedback, web site or podcast reviews, or other food-related topics. In addition, I will be opening a photo archive with pictures of some of the dishes we’ve dined on over the years.

So tune in on Monday, June 15, 2009, for our first food review.

From the “About this Blog” page, Musings of a Disney Foodie is a regular blog covering news, reviews, and opinion about Walt Disney World food, drink, and dining experiences (with occasional forays to other locations).

But who is the person behind the blog? Glad you asked. My name is Jul, and I’m from the little town of Laurel, Maryland. I grew up on South Florida and have lived in the Hollywood-Ft. Lauderdale, Cape Coral-Ft. Myers, and Orlando-Kissimmee areas. In my day job, I’m a freelance writer and editor and a consummate foodie. I’m also a podcast junkie, and may talk about some of my favorites on here in a later blog entry.

In the meantime, if there’s any questions you have, feel free to leave a message on this site. I will have updated contact information and a schedule for updating within the next few days.

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