Disney's not make any structural changes to the River Belle for this switch — the tray slides and serving stations inside the front of the restaurant remain. But now, hosts lead you directly to your table, while waiters take your order and retrieve your food from the serving station. (The food is cooked to order.) Seeing waiters lined up next to the old tray slides made me realize that most Disney quick-service restaurants function as "table service" for many visitors. It's just that those visitors get one of their family members to take their orders and go get the food after everyone sits down, as opposed to having a Disney cast member do it for them.
The other big change yesterday was the forest of suits standing around the restaurant, a sure sign of a location's first day of operation. Time will tell how the River Belle performs without all those supervisors watching, but on this first day, the new River Belle was on point.
With the temperature around 90 yesterday, I opted to sit inside, next to one of windows overlooking the Rivers of America. The service began with complimentary biscuits and honey butter — a wickedly addictive starter that could leave you too filled to enjoy what's next, if you're not careful to pace yourself.
I chose the Pimento Cheese appetizer ($10), served with celery sticks and lightly-toasted bread cubes (with toasted cheese on the crust). The pimento delivered a nicely spicy kick that helped counter the inherent richness of the blended cheddar and mayonnaise in this iconic Southern dish. Disney serves more than enough cheese for a couple to share without feeling short-changed. Dining alone, I left about half the cheese on my plate to save room for the main course.
The Pork Spareribs ($23) are served with baked beans and a choice of side, for which I selected the seasoned potato tots. (The other options were coleslaw, potato salad or seasonal vegetables.) The baked beans included both black and navy beans, with a generous helping of bacon. The meaty ribs were rubbed with a chili spice that tempered the sweetness of the barbecue sauce, making these ribs... well, the word that keeps popping into my mind is "scarf-able." I liked them better than the barbecue from up the street at the now-closed Big Thunder Ranch, where the appeal of the volume of all-you-care-to-eat too often seemed to overwhelm the actual quality of the food. 10/10 would order these ribs again.
As for dessert, I did my duty as your faithful reviewer and left a couple of those ribs on the plate so I could save room for a third course. Looking for what I thought would be the most unique dessert selection on the menu, I chose the Maple, Apple, and Bacon Bundt Cake ($8).
I was hoping for something more complex than the typical, one-note sweetness of dessert, but if it is possible for multiple flavors to cancel each other out, that's what happened here. Tasted separately, the maple cream filling, apple cake, and even the bacon brittle (think peanut brittle, except with bacon instead of peanuts), all tasted fine. But together, it was just... meh. It just felt like I was ingesting empty calories, without any flavorful reward. Next time, I'd try the Butterscotch Pudding Parfait, instead.
Or maybe... I'll just skip dessert and fully enjoy every last one of those ribs.
Advance reservations are available for the River Belle on Disney's website, but as with most Disneyland table service restaurants, they're not really needed, unless you are visiting during a peak attendance period.
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