Restaurant review: The Hollywood Brown Derby at Disney's Hollywood Studios

November 22, 2010, 2:14 PM · Last week, while in Orlando for the annual International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions convention, I visited Disney's Hollywood Studios on Friday for a quick "day in the park" before heading to Orlando International Airport for my flight home.

And for lunch, I, of course, ate at the Hollywood Brown Derby.

Disney's Hollywood Brown Derby

Theme Park Insider readers consistently rate the Hollywood Brown Derby among their favorite theme park restaurants. It's a bit pricey, as many of Walt Disney World's sit-down, table-service restaurants can be. As a "Signature Restaurant," dining at the Brown Derby will cost you two table-service meal credits if you are using the Disney Dining Plan and not paying-as-you-go. (For the record, I'm always pay-as-you-go for Disney restaurants, though on this day I dined with a cast member - who doesn't work in either the parks or publicity, BTW - so we had a cast-member discount on the prices.)

I ordered the brown butter almond-crusted black grouper with golden beets, roasted celery root, leeks and a lobster beurre blanc ($31).

Almond-crusted black grouper

The fish came to the table as decadently enrobed as the menu description made it out to be. Yet the buttered almonds in a butter sauce didn't weigh down the fish too much. (I had an Icelandic Wolf Fish off-property at a Bonefish Grill the night before that was drowning in its sauce, so I appreciated the Brown Derby's relative restraint.) But the highlight of the meal was the roasted vegetables.

Our server explained that they switch the accompaniments on the grouper seasonally, and that the winter-appropriate root vegetables had just replaced a more summer-like presentation using peaches. I love to see theme park restaurants embrace seasonal ingredients, just as top restaurants outside the theme park world do. Granted "winter" in Florida's nothing like winter up north, but I enjoyed the hearty vegetables, sweetened by roasting, but not too much to make the dish cloying. The mix elevated the entire meal, boosting the flavor of the grouper.

Based on the recommendation of so many Theme Park Insider readers, I had to order the Brown Derby's Grapefruit Cake ($7) for dessert.

Grapefruit cake

Again, this dish offered a nice flavor balance, this time with tartness balancing the sweet. It's a basic sweet cream layer cake, but with a tart grapefruit icing glazing the cake. A bite into the grapefruit wedges that garnish the cake will send your mouth puckering, too. The only flaw was the hard cream cheese frosting along the outer edge of the cake, which felt and tasted stale compared with the tender, moist cake. We just pulled that off and left it.

Our service was delightful, though, never rushed but always helpful. The Hollywood Brown Derby's a splurge - certainly - but for me, it delivered a premium experience for its premium price.

Replies (9)

November 22, 2010 at 4:11 PM · I'm glad to hear the HBD hasn't plunged in quality as so many have complained about other Disney dining venues -- must be the "signature" designation keeping the menu sound and the dishes top-notch. Thanks for the review, and I'm looking forward to my own opportunity to re-sample their fare in just over two weeks...
November 22, 2010 at 6:16 PM · I really like dining at the HBD, but I must say I am disappointed with the signature Grapefruit Cake dessert.

This dessert has changed recipes at least twice in the last 7 years. The cake used to be very moist. Now it is dry to very dry.

The old recipe icing was absolutely delicious and the new version isn't completely bad, but again, the original recipe was much better. We too thought the icing on the back of the cake was very dry. It almost seems like another type of cake wrapped around as an outter layer.

The dried grapefruit is a nice garnish, but the older version had bits of fresh grapefruit and it really paired well with the icing.

All in all, it seems like the original recipe of this dessert was money and we cannot understand why it was changed. Ask any of the tenured wait staff and they will agree.

Overall, the dishes at HBD are excellent and it is a shame it doesn't rank higher in the best theme park restaurant category each year. On a hot Florida day you can walk into The HBD from the simmering asphalt and it feels like you are in another part of the world. It really is a Disney gem!

November 22, 2010 at 9:39 PM · HBD is one of my family's favorites as well. I have always had excellent food and service at this place.

The only complaint that I have is that the menu is a bit restrictive at times. We are not big fish eaters.

Dessert is delicious there!

November 23, 2010 at 9:46 AM · Having eaten there twice as "Final Day of Vacation Treats", I loved the HBD. The service was impeccable. While being attentive, it wasn't overpowering or pushy. That's a trait that most outside the park restaurants can't claim. The HBD food was wonderful. There wasn't a single complaint out of my party. We used the Disney Dining Plan and then paid for the wine and gratuity. The meal was worth every penny!

We also enjoyed receiving the table-side phone calls from Goofy. I don't know if they still do that, but it was a lot fun!

November 23, 2010 at 10:17 AM · I'd still pick Mythos over Hollywood Brown Derby for value, but I enjoy the wider range of ambitious options at HBD.

To clarify on the Grapefruit Cake, it's far from the best dessert I've ever had, but I found the flavor mix unique enough to recommend this as a dessert pick when dining here. I always prefer to try something that you can't find everywhere else. But, yeah, they need to do something about that lousy outer icing.

November 23, 2010 at 12:30 PM · We've yet to try this one. We always thought it was somewhat of a waste to have such a beautiful dining room packed with homely guests, like us. I'd feel uncomfortable in a nice restaurant dressed the way I was.
November 23, 2010 at 11:28 PM · brown derby destroys all other in-theme park restaurants. Mythos is mediocre at best. If u want a good sit down in universal go to the completely ignored lombards seafood in Universal studios, great food at a very good price, try the crab cake sandwich.


November 24, 2010 at 7:10 AM · My wife LOVES this place and we eat there every time we go to DHS!! On our last trip celebrating our anniversary, they brought out free champaign for a toast and a cake for us to celebrate with our kids. The service is always impeccable and the steak filet is one of the best at Disney anywhere. We have NEVER had a bad time or meal here and I highly reccommend this place.
November 24, 2010 at 1:57 PM · It is hands down my favorite restaurant - anywhere! The Cobb Salad is so amazing that I can't NOT get it!!! My mouth waters just thinking of it. Maybe I'll branch out the next time I go, but maybe not!

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