CHARACTER MEAL REVIEW - Garden Grill @ Epcot

Finding character meals is not always an easy task. Kevin reviews what may be the most accessible character meal in the resort.

Written by Kevin Baxter
Published: August 11, 2004 at 12:54 AM

From the official WDW website: Come to the party and meet Mickey and his pals, who host a family-style signature skillet for you! Family-style favorites include grilled steak, rotisserie meats and country-style catfish. This rotating restaurant overlooks scenes from the Living with the Land attraction and even features food grown in the Land greenhouse. The children's meals feature a fun interactive dessert. It's a Garden of delights!

Wow, is that ever a horrible blurb! "Party" makes the whole experience way more fun than it actually is. Mickey's "pals" consist solely of Chip and Dale. The food is all-you-can-eat, or as Disney likes to call it, "All You Care to Eat." Whatever. And don't get me started on those "scenes from the Living with the Land attraction." Just don't.

Okay, about one-third of the restaurant will actually overlook the Land pavilion, but its location prevents you from seeing any of the floorspace. But you can look up at the stuff hanging from the ceiling! Another third will have you facing a wall and the final third actually does overlook Living, but just barely. We were seated in the middle ring and could barely see anything, though a closer inspection shows that you overlook the boats more than the actual scenes. It seems to me that the whole rotating restaurant idea was shoehorned in, rather than worked into the actual layout of the Living ride.

So the rotation isn't much of a draw; how about the characters? Ehhhh. I'm not into the characters at all, but chose this restaurant so my traveling companion could relieve some of her character obsession without having to wait in lines out in the parks. I do enjoy Chip and Dale, though, but I don't think three characters are really enough. Especially in this character-starved park.

Anyhow, the characters do come around often, but because it was very slow on our visit, they were spending a lot of time at the few tables, so it took a while for them to get to us. And a while for them to leave. I don't need to see them ever again!

Okay, I wasn't thrilled with the atmosphere or the characters; what about the food? The menu, which features Bread, Country-Style Catfish, Grilled Flank Steak, Rotisserie Meats, Potatoes and Vegetables (most of which probably grown in the Land pavilion), Cornbread Stuffing and
Dessert, though I don't remember what that was specifically. We didn't much care for the Catfish or the Meats so we asked for them to bring us items from the kid's menu, which they did happily. Those consist of Macaroni and Cheese, Steak Fries and Chicken Fingers. There is also something called Worms in Dirt, which we didn't ask for.

Unfortunately that dessert is basically where the innovation ends. The "countryfied" theme doesn't lend itself to anything experimental. Then again, I haven't found a character meal that gets too fanciful with the food. Considering how many high-quality restaurants there are in Epcot, I don't fault Disney for making one of them a meat-and-potatoes kinda place.

The food is edible, for the most part, though totally unmemorable. I do recall us enjoying the kiddie food more than the adult food, which isn't a good sign. In fact, I remember the bread more than anything else.

Still, for those that prefer sit-down restaurants for at least one meal this is one of the cheaper alternatives. The Garden Grill doesn't jack up prices as badly as some, and kid prices don't change at all. Plus, this is the only park restaurant I can think of that offers characters from opening to closing, which is extremely convenient. The characters and the all-you-can-eat aspects are a good alternative, as long as diners are fairly easy to please foodwise. That said, I don't care about the characters, I'm not a huge eater and I am not easy to please, so I give the restaurant a TPI rating of 6 - Fair.

The Garden Grill also offers an ice cream social in the middle of the afternoon. If it were me, I would eat a late lunch downstairs at the food court and do the ice cream social for dessert. The restaurant also has "Rehitching Ceremony" where married couples can be "rehitched" in a silly little ceremony. Ask about it when you make a Priority Seating reservation at 407-WDW-DINE up to 90 days beforehand.

Readers' Opinions

From Paul Jeffs on August 11, 2004 at 4:41 AM
Why is it that Chip N Dale show up whenever I do ANYTHING character related at any Disney park? Why do these two seem to be everywhere I go?

One 1 trip to Disneyland, 2 to WDW and 1 to Paris I couldn't go a day without seeing one of them. (And that's excluding parades/shows!)

Imagine my disappointment when they always turn up at a character meal, yet I have to hang around Morocco at World Showcase in the hope of bumping into Genie.

From Robert Niles on August 11, 2004 at 9:58 AM
FWIW, "worms in dirt" is a cup of chocolate pudding, with a couple gummy worms in it, topped with chocolate cookie crumbles.

Anyone over the age of 12 should be incapable of eating this without a ready insulin syringe. But my kids count this among their all-time favorite restaurant desserts.

From kathy sussman on August 11, 2004 at 10:23 AM
Come on kevin you should have had the worms and dirt. That is the best dessert in wdw. Also I think this restaurant is o.k for adults and terrific for kids. They love the fact it rotates, its like a carasouel to them. Also the characters are vert energetic.
From John Dedeke on August 11, 2004 at 10:43 AM
It literally took me over two dozen trips to WDW before I ever tried the Garden Grill, but once I finally did I quickly added it to my favorites list (despite all of Kevin's pretty accurate detractions).

Yes, the view is extremely limited (even when "overlooking" the ride); yes, the characters can grow tedious when you are visited by the same faces multiple times over; yes, the "revolving" novelty is hardly novel -- but none of that mattered to me once I had my meal. I can't speak for the "meat 'n potatos" standard choices, but the vegetarian alternative (a roasted vegetable stew) was with no exaggeration or hyperbole one of the single greatest meals I've ever eaten. This dish is also "all you care to eat," but one plate alone was enough to fill me up to the point that I couldn't even eat the apple cobbler dessert that was included with the meal price. I've been craving it ever since, and I've already vowed to make a special trip JUST to eat there in late spring 05 should to restaurant be closed (as rumored) during my next scheduled visit in January.

From Joe Llorens on August 11, 2004 at 11:56 PM
This is easily one of my favorite restaurants in all the parks. The food is excellent and the characters come along pretty consistently. The character breakdown for this restaurant, from what I've seen, is Farmer Mickey, Pluto, Chip & Dale. I had one of the best experiences with a character ever in this very restaurant with my ex; the Pluto working that day was on fire, entertaining our entire section with it's antics.

The real attraction, however, is the food. Kevin must be a vegetarian because that's the only way I can imagine him not being into the meats offered on the all-you-can-eat skillet there. Some of the items are there year round, like the catfish and flank steak. Other items are seasonal; I've eaten turkey, chicken and honey ham at different times during the year. You have license to pig out while you're there for, like Kevin said, minimal cost compared to other places in the resort. Truly a great place to eat.

From Kevin Baxter on August 12, 2004 at 12:48 AM
I honestly can't remember much about the meal. I saw the "meats" on the menu, but I honestly think all we had was fried chicken. Not a huge fried chicken fan.

I have been to several Epcot restaurants (as you will find out in the next few weeks) and I enjoyed them all more than this one. It isn't awful, but I think people can definitely do better in Epcot if they aren't interested in the characters or the rotating crap.

From Michael Patalano on August 12, 2004 at 6:44 PM
I'm just wondering Kevin, have you ever written anything positive (that's positive, not sarcastic) about a Disney Theme Park?

The Garden Grill is one of the best Character Breakfasts their is. The food is wonderful, the characters actually get to stay with you for a while. Although the views aren't amazing, they are much better on the bottom row.

And one more thing. Worms and Dirt is the second best desert ever (behind only the Land's Double Chocolate Cake)


From Joe Llorens on August 12, 2004 at 8:24 PM

In all fairness, I used to have the same criticism about Kevin as you. Ol' Kev and I even got into a couple of wordy scuffles in our day. But as time has gone by I have noticed more and more that Kevin and I basically want the same thing, which is what I'm assuming you want Michael, a great experience at a theme park. I personally don't think Kevin "bashed" the restaurant so much as gave his honest opinion of it. I personally don't agree with Kevin; if you see above I consider the Garden Grill to be one of my favorite places to eat in the World. But believe me when I say that very few people here are out to bash anything. Most of us just want to get our money's worth when we go to theme parks (money's worth including that extra touch of "magic," of course).

From Kevin Baxter on August 13, 2004 at 1:30 AM
I'll put it more succinctly:

Eat me!

From Robert Niles on August 13, 2004 at 9:56 AM
Well, would that be better, or worse, than the fried chicken?
From Jayson Myers on August 14, 2004 at 6:41 AM

I don't mean to be rude, but could you not be a little nicer? Eat me is a little too "6 year old", don't you think? I wish we could be above that.

From Chuck Campbell on August 14, 2004 at 6:45 AM
Hmm--would Kevin be fried or sauteed?

The Aerosmith song "Eat the Rich" has always disturbed me. Does it mean we should eat Aerosmith? Eww!

From steve lee on August 15, 2004 at 6:44 PM
Um, correct me if I'm wrong, Michael, but nowhere did I notice Kevin mentioning that he went to a *breakfast*. Based on the food selections, it doesn't sound like he went to a breakfast. Maybe the Garden Grill is the best character breakfast there - too bad Kevin missed it.
From Kevin Baxter on August 16, 2004 at 2:15 AM
Considering the Garden Grill is only open for lunch and dinner, I think breakfast here would have been a pretty lonely and unsatisfying experience. But I agree that this is one of the best character meals, because so many character meals have crappy food and/or crappy setups.

As for my earlier response... I'm tired of friggin' whiners who can't tolerate an opinion that differs from theirs accusing me of something else. Like "have you ever written anything positive ... about a Disney Theme Park?" This bullcrap after I wrote two restaurant reviews garnering a 7 and a 9. A FRIGGIN' 9!!! And this one was a 6, which isn't exactly a pan. But I guess if I dare to give anything Disney less than a 10, then it is clearly a negative review.

The thing that really pissed me off about the whole thing is that I am going to write eleven park restaurant reviews and only three of them are going to get mediocre reviews so I purposely put in one of the middling ones so people wouldn't accuse me of being too damn positive about the restaurants. I can't win.

And normally I would write Bite me, but since this was a restaurant review, I thought Eat me was more appropriate, contentwise AND agewise.

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