There was positive momentum going into Hungry Bear's refurb. The BBQ at Big Thunder Ranch reopened, menus across the board added vegetable-based side options, and various locations received significantly upgraded menus.
Let me take a step back and admit I've never really cared about the food at Hungry Bear before. I've cared about the restaurant, but only because of the ambiance and location. When I was a child my family would have lunch on every Disneyland trip at this restaurant, and I came to love sitting at a table at the river's edge, watching boats and canoes go by on one side, trains on the other. Into adulthood the restaurant remained a favorite. The theme, the visuals, and the kinetic energy of the area brought me back despite the bland, forgettable burgers.
On this visit, I attempted to use Robert Nile's suggestion to pick whatever is highlighted in a box on the menu, but no items were singled out on this new menu. Lacking such guidance, I settled on the chili cheeseburger with sweet potato fries, and my wife went for the turkey and provolone sandwich with sweet potato fries as well. Sorry about not reviewing the slaw. We realized as we sat down that one of us should have ordered that.
The chili cheeseburger failed to move the bar. The burger itself wasn't too different from the standard Disneyland burger fare, and the chili was a bit dry and definitely inoffensive. It seemed formulated to not be too hot or distinct so as to alienate anyone, but in doing so it also comes off as bland and dry as the burger. Since the menu still has a traditional burger, Disney's Food department had room to be more adventurous here. At least the relatively dry chili wasn't very messy.
The turkey and provolone sandwich suffered from no such blandness. The otherwise traditional makeup of the sandwich was enhanced with a basil mayonnaise that provided a distinct and delicious taste. The bread was soft, the turkey moist and tender. Still, while the sandwich was good and certainly better than the burger, it wasn't anything I'd come to this restaurant specifically for.
Sweet potato fries seem to be the new big trend for side dishes. Three different restaurants I ate at in the past week added them to their menus. In that context Disney seems like something of a follower, but the waffle fries at Taste Pilots Grill in DCA were dumped for traditional fries not so long ago, so this is still a positive development. Disney's sweet potato fries were pretty good, certainly better than the standard french fries, but not as good as what I'd tasted at the other two (non-Disney) restaurants - Cheesecake Factory and Elephant Bar.
Overall, the new menu at Hungry Bear is not a game changer. I will still go because I love the location, but the food remains forgettable. I encourage everyone to spend some time at a table by the river, taking in all the activity going on around you, but please try to resist the strong temptation to feed the food to the ducks.
Thanks for the review, Tyler.
The chili cheeseburger is supposedly an Angus burger as well. I say supposedly because it still isn't much better than what was there before and I wouldn't have guessed it was Angus if I hadn't been told that. I chose the chili cheeseburger because it was new, but a modification from the existing menu so that would be a good comparison point. Also, I read in another review that the chili did not agree with the reviewer's digestive system, so I took the hit to see if it affected me as well. I'm happy to say I experienced no ill effects.
I thought my wife would get the salad, as she usually likes dishes like that and she loved the new salad at Village Haus, but alas she ordered the sandwich, and I couldn't tell her no.
You are right, I should have tried the desserts. I hear the blueberry pie was delicious.
One final note, anyone who misses the Country Bear Jamboree will be pleased that there are a number of references to it on the menu.
I second Tyler's description of the Chili Cheeseburger ($10.49):
If there's a quality difference in the labeled Angus beef that Disney's using, it's lost in overcooking the meat to well-done temperature. I understand why Disney has to do this at a counter-service restaurant, but this is another reason why there's no point in getting a third-pound burger at a counter-service joint.
The chili is all-meat (no beans) and very mild. It left me wishing for a good tomato and some lettuce instead - those would have given the burger more flavor and texture than the chili delivered.
At least the servers allowed me to choose the onion rings for my included side. Those were quite tasty, not over-friend or too heavy.
The blueberry pie ($4.99) was quite nice, too. Sure, it's mass-produced, but a great option for satisfying your sweet tooth.
My son ordered the kids hamburger ($5.99):
He slathered the mini burger with ketchup to give it some taste, then sweet-talked me into giving up some of onion rings. (Smart kid.) He much preferred Lemon Bumblebee Cupcake ($4.99), which has a honey-lemon frosting and lemon filling inside a honey-flavored cake. It tartness of the lemon helped balance the sweetness of all that frosting. Yes, it's a sugar high, but at least it didn't induce a sugar coma the way that much straight-up vanilla frosting would have.
My wife and daughter looked at the Hungry Bear menu and opted instead for the soup and salad over at the Harbour Galley instead.
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