Where to eat? Lunch at Disneyland's Carnation Cafe
Written by Robert Niles
Disneyland's had a Carnation restaurant since the park opened in 1955, with the Carnation Ice Cream Parlor and Restaurant occupying the space on the west side of Main Street USA up until 1997. That's when the original ice cream parlor closed and the restaurant contracted to just the outdoor alley space as the Blue Ribbon Bakery took over the parlor's indoor space.
Last year, after the Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe opened at the end of Main Street, the table-service Carnation Cafe expanded back into its old space once the Blue Ribbon Bakery closed. Today, the "new" Carnation Cafe serves "homestyle" favorites such as sandwiches, burgers and blue-plate staples including fried chicken and meatloaf.
For what it's worth, Disney closed the old ice cream parlor after Nestle acquired the Carnation Company and did away with Carnation-brand ice cream. (Nestle continues to supply ice cream to Disney through other brands, with an ice cream parlor next door to the Carnation Cafe on Main Street.) In fact, the old Carnation Company used to have restaurants outside Disneyland, too. I remember going to one (on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, I believe) with my mother after making my TV debut on an episode of "Romper Room" in 19*cough**cough*. So with the Carnation brand almost gone, Disneyland's current "Carnation" Cafe is supposedly just a reference to the flower and not to the old dairy company, but, c'mon….
I started my lunch with the Baked Potato Soup ($5.99).
The soup comes adorned with bacon and sour cream, with a generous blend of Cheddar and Monterey Jack in the mix. And what's this orange stuff? Yes, there are carrots in here, too. At first, the idea of carrots in my potato soup disturbed me, but it turns out that the carrots help brighten and give some extra texture to a soup that too often becomes a cloying, starchy mess. The carrots didn't distract from the potato flavor -- if anything, adding another root vegetable to the mix enhanced the potato taste versus all that melted cheese.
For my entree, I went with the Homemade Meatloaf, in ketchup glaze with mushroom gravy, served with mashed potatoes and a corn-edamame succotash. ($12.49)
The meatloaf delivers a peppery kick in its mix of beef and pork -- enough to give your mouth something to notice beyond on onslaught of ground meat, but not enough to transform the dish into something beyond what it is: a meatloaf. The succotash on the side delivered a nice mix of sweet roasted corn with touch of umami "meatiness" from the edamame. Mix in some of the potatoes to soak up all that gravy, and you've got a meal that'll fill you up.
So much so that 20 minutes later, I was thinking about a nap. And I didn't even finish the meatloaf.
Dessert was out of the question for me -- I'd have needed to split the meatloaf with someone to have any space left for sweets. But the Carnation Cafe serves a lemon chiffon pie and a seven-layer chocolate cake in addition to ice cream and malts, a nice nod to the restaurant's heritage.
The Carnation Cafe also serves breakfast and accepts advance reservations, via (714) 781-3463, although they're not necessary, except on busy days in the park, such as weekends and school holidays.
Have you eaten at Disneyland's Carnation Cafe? Leave a rating and review on our Carnation Cafe review page.
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