Theme Park of the Day: Legoland California

Where to eat? Lunches at Earl of Sandwich and Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen Express in Disneyland's Downtown Disney

August 15, 2013, 9:04 AM · Disneyland's theme parks offer a wide variety of some of the better theme park quick-service options anywhere. But what if you want even more choices for lunch? Downtown Disney awaits, just steps away from Disneyland and California Adventure. Let's take a look at a couple of quick-service alternatives there.

Most of the restaurants you'll find in Anaheim's Downtown Disney are table-service restaurants that appeal more to the apres park crowd. But you do have a handful of counter service options. The most popular might be the west-coast outpost of Earl of Sandwich.

Earl of Sandwich

I've not eaten at the wildly popular Walt Disney World location, but I did first try Earl of Sandwich at Disneyland Paris's Disney Village last summer. And, I must concede, I didn't like it. Earl of Sandwich bills itself "The World's Greatest Hot Sandwich," and the "Hot" part isn't simply marketing hype. Each sandwich comes wrapped tightly in foil, like a Chipotle burrito, and steaming hot. While that's not bad on a sandwich that's just meat and cheese, such as the roast-beef-and-cheddar Original 1762, on a sandwich that features lettuce and tomato, such as the Full Montague, the heat and tight packing are a disaster.

To me, part of the appeal of a loaded sandwich is the contrast of its various elements. A hot, juicy burger with cool, crisp lettuce. The snap of crisp bacon coupled with the luscious texture of a ripe, fresh tomato in a BLT. In the Earl's sandwiches, everything's smushed together, like a panini without the exterior sear.

Knowing that this time, and wanting to give the Earl its best shot, I ordered what I understood to be the shop's most popular sandwich, the Holiday Turkey.

Loaded with turkey, stuffing, gravy and cranberries, this is a day-after-Thanksgiving dream. And it would work all smashed together and hot, just like so many of us make them at home, straight out of the microwave. It would have worked for me, too, had the Earl thrown on an extra slice of turkey and left off the gratuitous slather of mayonnaise. With mayo, gravy and cranberry sauce, this was less a sandwich and more like soup on a roll.
Just too goopy for me. I picked the sandwich apart after a few bites, to try each component alone, and I liked them all. But the sum here isn't even equal to the addition of its parts, much less an improvement.

Earl of Sandwich also makes a point of noting its freshly-baked bread. But who can tell, when it's toasted this dry? Toasting's a time-honored trick for hiding less-than-fresh bread. I wonder if I could order a Holiday Turkey on untoasted bread, without the mayo, and unwrapped so that the darned thing could breathe a bit. That'd be delightful. Alas.

I also ordered a cup of the Butternut Squash soup, thinking it'd make a perfect accompaniment to my mid-summer faux Thanksgiving meal. Again, meh. Decent butternut squash flavor, but beaten down a notch by a vegetal broth.

If Earl of Sandwich was too fussy for its own good, Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen Express offered an example of how good simplicity can taste.

Red Beans and Rice

I ordered the Red Beans and Rice, with a small baguette on the side, from the counter service window next to the main Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen table service restaurant. If you're not familiar with this Louisiana classic, don't be fooled by the name — this is no vegetarian dish. Brennan's Red Beans and Rice comes loaded with ham and sausage and delivered such a peppery kick that I was happy to have that baguette and butter to cool my taste buds after every few bites.

And that baguette! Perfectly fresh, with a crisp crust surrounding an airy interior, this loaf reminded me how good bread can be. No one would dare toast this.

Good bread. A simple, meaty stew. This is a lunch that will wake your taste buds and keep your tummy filled until dinner.

What's your favorite place to eat in Disneyland's Downtown Disney? Please tell us, in the comments.

Replies (15)

August 15, 2013 at 9:28 AM · I tried Earl of Sandwich for the first time a few weeks ago, and while it didn't fully live up to the breathless hype and absurdly long line, my sandwich was rather good. I ordered the special pulled pork sandwich, and it had all the qualities you said make for a good sandwich: contrast between hot pork and cool coleslaw, crispy, airy bread (not the best bread I've ever had, but I'd say better than average), and moist without being sloppy.

I do love the Jazz Kitchen Express. The shrimp po'boy has been my pick, but I'm going to have to try the meal you had because it looks and sounds wonderful.

August 15, 2013 at 10:09 AM · I've never been a big fan of Earl of Sandwich -- particularly because the price doesn't quite justify a warmed up sandwich; but I've never been to the Jazz Kitchen before...Ought to change that soon.
August 15, 2013 at 10:16 AM · Hmmm. I still want to try the holiday turkey sandwich, but I freakin' HATE mayo, so I think I'll be asking to hold that. And maybe half the gravy, if I can swing it.
August 15, 2013 at 10:57 AM · Hi Robert, if you have patience to try EOS again, try the Cuban. I thought it was delicious. Just the right amount of sauce to moisten, tangy peppers and nice hot chicken inside. Also it's so nice eating in downtown disney and entering Disneyland via the monorail instead of the main gate. A nice little secret I think many visitors don't realize.
August 15, 2013 at 11:51 AM · I'm sorry you've had bad experiences at Earl of Sandwich. It didn't have to be this way. All the sandwiches can be customized. Don't like mayo or want it lite? No problem. Just tell them. Like extra pickles? Go for it. Don't want it toasted? Again, just speak up. (Although, because the bread is freshly baked each day, the roll will still be warm whether you want the sandwich toasted or not.)

I've been to locations in Downtown Disney at WDW and at the International Plaza Mall in Tampa and had wonderful experiences. I especially like the combination of Earl Grey Tea and Lemonade. It's very refreshing.

- Brian

August 15, 2013 at 1:36 PM · Hey, the Earl of Sandwich is popular because it is cheap!!! The prices are reasonable for that location. This doesn't mean it is necessarily good especially with the volume that must be produced. The mistake is thinking just because everyone is going there, it must be good!!! That's the common mistake that everyone makes.
August 15, 2013 at 2:00 PM · Never tried Earl's, but I really like the Jazz Kitchen, it's my go to spot whenever I eat at Downtown Disney!

I do think I'll try Earls' at some point though.

August 15, 2013 at 3:00 PM · Thanks for that note, Brian.

And, yeah, a Cuban does sound like a good option for this type of set-up, too. If I go again, I'll try that, as well as my custom Holiday Turkey option.

August 15, 2013 at 3:05 PM · Earl of Sandwich... well, uh sucks!

It's by far the most overrated, over-hyped sandwich on the market and the arrogance of the company to label it "world's best" is pathetic. When you make the "world's best" claim then you better have something that is exceptional. There is nothing exceptional about what Earl of Sandwich serves.

August 15, 2013 at 3:28 PM · Wow, Eric G, if it is that bad you better not go within 1000 feet of it or something might happen to you. My family and I have been to the Earl of Sandwich in WDW many times and it is something we enjoy going to. It has never let us down.
August 16, 2013 at 12:53 PM · Jazz Kitchen Express is one of our favorites, my husband always gets the shrimp po'boy and we will get some beignets to finish off the meal.
We haven't tried the Earl of Sandwich at DTD, but the one at the Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas was reasonably good and I did customize my sandwich and it was not wrapped up as we ate lunch there.
August 17, 2013 at 4:23 PM · Thomas Caselli - That's fine and since you like Earl of Sandwich you probably like Subway and Quiznos too since Earl of Sandwich is pretty much on par with those mediocre sub shops.

I would have liked it more if people wouldn't talk it up like it's the best, when it's not and the company wasn't so arrogant to make a "World's Best" claim.

In the end, Earl of Sandwich is no better, nor worse than a good Subway franchise. Trust me I won't be putting any effort into returning so I don't think I have to worry about getting within a thousand feet of one.

August 17, 2013 at 6:35 PM · No, I do not like Subway. There are much better places that I would go to here where I live. Earl of Sandwich isn't the greatest place ever, but it is better then the average place. It is one thing to have an opinion about a place, but it is a completely different thing to make it sound like a place shouldn't exist because you don't like it.
August 18, 2013 at 2:58 PM · Sad to hear that the West Coast version of the Earl is not that good. My wife and I loved the East Coast version. I think we ate there almost every evening except for dinner at Jiko. Maybe it's because I ate mostly Full Montague and 1762. My wife's favorite was the Holiday Turkey. We were looking forward to eating there when our little one is old enough to visit Disneyland.
August 19, 2013 at 12:31 PM · My family and I tried out the Earl of Sandwich just for a quick place to eat Downtown Disney. It was the best dining experience of the trip. We enjoyed the sandwich so much we planned to return the fallowing night for dinner. I have told other people going to Orlando to be sure to eat there at least one meal.

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