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Reasonable portions at reasonable prices? Universal's Mythos sets an example for theme park dining

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Published: August 12, 2010 at 7:45 AM

ORLANDO, Florida - As Universal is fond of reminding you, Islands of Adventure's Mythos won Theme Park Insider's award as the theme park industry's top restaurant for six years in a row. But they don't mention that Mythos has fallen short of the top spot for the past two years. Our friend Scott Joseph's been a bit wistful about the place, writing that "Mythos today is somewhat different than the restaurant it started out to be."

Inside Mythos
Part of the elaborate interior inside Mythos

But something significant is happening at Mythos, still. No, the restaurant can't match the Theme Park Insider Award-winners from the past two years (Epcot's French restaurants) for culinary ambition and quality. Yet Mythos offers what might be the best value in theme park dining, and that's worth celebrating.

Entrees at this year's winner, Bistro de Paris, run from $33-$42. At Mythos? From $10-$19. Laurie and I looked at the menu, and noted a filet with truffle butter, mashed potatoes, asparagus and fried onions for... $15.95?

Bistro Filet

What? Aren't we inside a theme park?

We figured, at that price, the filet couldn't be USDA Prime, and it wasn't. Nor could the portion size be huge, and it wasn't either. But it was filling, more than enough for Laurie.

What's the use of serving oversized portions to vacationers? We can't take the leftovers home. Smart travelers have learned to split entrees, but what if everyone wants something different? We've got an obesity epidemic in this country. Shouldn't restaurants get back to serving normal portions, at normal prices?

At Mythos, Universal and its Executive Chef Steve Jayson are doing just that, and allow me to stand up and applaud them for it.

I ordered the Cedar Planked Bay of Fundy Salmon, with citrus butter and the same mashed-potato-and-asparagus presentation as came with the filet.

Salmon

A reasonable portion, at a reasonable price, given the setting and quality. (At $18.95, it's the most expensive item on the menu.) Maybe they don't need to bring the charred cedar plank to the table, to prove how it was cooked, but I can see how some visitors would appreciate the fussiness. Still, chef de cuisine Mark Wachowiak and the kitchen hit this perfectly. Firm texture, without being overcooked. A slightly smoky flavor to enhance the mild flavor of salmon. An addictive sauce. I'm only sorry that the asparagus was treated as a garnish. With its grilled flavor, I could have eaten a plateful of these spears.

On the kids' menu, you can get a hand-tossed cheese pizza here ($5.99) for 80 cents less than off the cafeteria line at Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendous down the street. There's no table-service markup here.

Pizza

Simple, but well-executed, the blend of tomato and mozzarella atop a wood-fired crust marked a welcomed improvement over the misguided mozzarella-and-cheddar "Dueling Dragons" pizza that Mythos served before the Harry Potter makeover made that version irrelevant.

The only item we ordered that missed was the kids' grilled cheese.

Grilled Cheese

Served something like a panini, under crusty bread, the grilled cheese ($4.99, with fries and corn-on-the-cob) didn't offer much taste at all. My daughter thought the cheese bland, but I think it might have been the fault of the bread. A more simple presentation, with a nice cheddar on good sourdough, would have worked better.

Mythos' menu points out that the french fries served here, as well as throughout the Universal Orlando Resort, are fried in trans-fat-free oil. Universal was one of the early leaders in the theme park industry in banning trans fats, and I find the food throughout the parks to be of high quality. I regret that I seem to be developing some significant food sensitivities as I enter my 40s, and am planning a trip to an allergist when I return to LA. But I should also note that my day at Universal was one of the few on our trip when I felt I could eat anything, without a negative reaction. I don't know why, but to me, the food here just tastes... fresh.

We'd already loaded up with bags of sweets from Honeydukes, so we passed on dessert. The Warm Chocolate Banana Gooey Cake, with peanut butter ice cream, remains on the menu, as does the Rice Krispy "Sushi" Treats, which our kids adored on our last visit. Mythos was the first place I encountered "dessert shots" many years ago, and they remain on the menu, too - a pleasant after-dinner sweet at a reasonable $1.75 each.

Okay, so ultra luxe fine-dining didn't fly at Mythos. But thank heavens that Universal's found a way to make a statement with its restaurants nevertheless: Theme park visitors deserve reasonable portions of good-quality food, at reasonable table-service prices. For that, Mythos continues to deliver.

Readers' Opinions

From Jorge Arnoldson on August 12, 2010 at 8:11 AM
This is a great review. I've never eaten at Mythos, but next time my family goes to IOA, I'll suggest it.
From Anthony Murphy on August 12, 2010 at 8:33 AM
Mythos is great, but I fear thats all that IOA has to really offer in food. I wasn't impressed with the overall food the last time I was there (We skipped Mythos, yes, we sinned!).

I am curious how the food is in Harry Potter though I am not a big English food fan.

From Robert Niles on August 12, 2010 at 8:51 AM
The fish n' chips at the Three Broomsticks is outstanding, and the chicken and ribs are fine choices. I like the corn, too.

The Cornish pasties are small and the shepards pie, while good, is still shepards pie. It's a hearty dish with meh taste that works best when it's cold outside. Which almost never happens in Orlando. The side salads are nothing special.

The pumpkin juice tastes like a liquid mixture of pumpkin pie and apple cider - it goes best with the meat dishes. But the Butterbeer is outstanding with the fried fish.

Confisco Grille provides an alternative to Mythos, notably for its fajitas. I'd also recommend it.

Basically, your best options for value are inside the park. We tried NBA City, outside the park, in CityWalk, again on this trip and hated it. Way overpriced for inattentive service and subpar food. I've liked Emeril's in the past, but the $30-$50 entree prices were more than we wanted to spend, given that we'd splurged on the hotel.

From Joshua Counsil on August 12, 2010 at 9:11 AM
Great review, Robert. That's a hell of a value for a theme park. On my recent trip to Cedar Point, a six-inch Subway sandwich with drink and chips was border-lining $13 USD. At Canada's Wonderland, a fish sandwich with fries and a drink was $15 CAD. At SeaWorld, a chicken wrap with potato salad was $12 USD (without a drink). Not one dish was satisfying in the way a steak or salmon dish with accompaniments would be.

I also love the presentation of the steak. Are those potatoes mashed? They appear to be roasted or boiled and whole.

I hate to always ask this, but are they licensed? What drinks do they serve? I've eaten there before but don't recall their drink selection.

From Robert Niles on August 12, 2010 at 10:15 AM
Mashed potatoes, piped using a pastry bag, I suspect. Didn't take notice of the drink offerings, but beer and wine have been available in all Universal table-service locations.
From James Rao on August 12, 2010 at 9:51 AM
Mythos is the complete package offering quality, value, theme, and flavor. If I lived in Orlando I would at at Mythos at least twice a month (and I don't eat out a lot these days... you know the on-again/off-again recession and all).

As for your brief mention of NBA City, Robert, I hope your latest visit was an aberration. When I visited in 2007 I felt NBA City was the second best option on Universal property - huge portions, great food, fun atmosphere, and reasonable pricing. I hate to think they have dropped off so much in just three years!

From Rod Whitenack on August 12, 2010 at 9:59 AM
Great article! When I'm at a theme park, I'm active and walking all day and it's often very hot. These two things put together don't give me a great appetite, but I still need fuel to keep going. Smaller portions at afforable prices are perfect.
From Joshua Counsil on August 12, 2010 at 12:28 PM
I think Mythos would be the perfect location for a nice micro-brewery. An enchanted grotto seems like a good place for a house beer. It would complete the dining package. There's something about a good local beer that energizes and excites me.
From Anthony J on August 12, 2010 at 2:13 PM
Are you trying to make me wait longer for a table? I actually don't want people to realize this. Please, move along towards WWOHP. There's nothing to eat here.
From Will Chilcote on August 12, 2010 at 2:22 PM
Good Mythos review, Robert. Glad to hear its still reasonably priced. I <3 Mythos.

Also, I'm a fan of Margarita-ville. U should try it. We have one near where I live. Good Stuff.

From 97.104.72.219 on August 12, 2010 at 6:29 PM
I highly recommend the blueberry and pistachio encrusted pork chops! It was the best thing on the menu last time I went there! - Jeffrey
From Charles Reichley on August 12, 2010 at 7:37 PM
I'm not a fine diner, and certainly not when I'm theme parking.

But I have to admit we ate two times at the 3 broomsticks -- the 2nd was tonight, my kids were tired and stayed home while my wife and I got out for an evening, and we capped it with dinner at the 3 broomsticks; I had the fish and chips again, which were really pretty good, and she ate the chicken salad.

I had another butterbeer -- my 4th in two days, one of which was frozen. That stuff will kill me. My wife liked the pear cider and the pumpkin juice as well, and there apparently was a truffle my wife and daughter ate yesterday while my son and I were doing water rides.

From 96.38.64.232 on August 12, 2010 at 10:54 PM
Do you need reservations for Mythos or can you just walk up?
From Andy Guinigundo on August 13, 2010 at 8:57 AM
Wow, did you drop dead after the ice cream scoop of truffle? If you did, probably dropped dead a HAPPY man!

I've always wanted to try Mythos. (I personally think the Frenchies at EPCOT are expensive and over rated). My WDW favorites are Jiko and Kouzzina.

From Will Chilcote on August 14, 2010 at 12:09 AM
To the reservations question, reservations are highly recommended. However, you can sometimes get lucky at lunch time off season. We went on a slow park day and walked into the restaurant!!

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