As Disney fans and casual guests alike have become interested in unique dining options in this era of Yelp, Urbanspoon, and food blogging, Disneyland Resort counter service restaurants have one by one seen overhauls to their menus over the course of the last couple of years. With few exceptions, these changes have been for the better. There is now more variety among the menus, with pronounced differences between restaurants, and several signature items that are only available at a single location. This has been a great trend, especially as other aspects of Disneyland and Walt Disney World have become homogenized.
Unfortunately, as the saying goes, if you want to break an omelette, you have to make a few eggs. I don’t cook, so I’m not quite sure what that means, but I think it can be applied to some of the casualties that have disappeared from Disneyland menus during the dining overhaul. Beyond those, there have been some interesting foods tested that seemingly haven’t made the cut despite my opinion that they’re very creative and delicious choices.
Since Disneyland has responded to guest feedback on some of these special engagement menu options (such as the French Market’s French Dip, which was on our list of the Top 7 Must Eats at Disneyland) and since menu overhaul continues to be a work in progress with just about anything being possible as to the menus, it seems worthwhile to draw some attention to my favorite foods that have either disappeared or haven’t made the cut from the limited time menus to the full time menus. Of course, there are a number of Walt Disney World-exclusive foods that haven’t made their way to Disneyland, but it’s nice to have exclusive draws in each Disney resort complex, so we won’t focus on any of those. As for the “extinct” or failed test items, here’s hoping that all these items need is some “awareness” for them to re-appear at Disneyland Resort sometime in the near future. If not, my apologies for bringing delicious foods that you might never be able to try to your attention!
Grab a bib, and let’s begin!
5. Gyro Pita with Tabouli – Paradise Garden Grill
Over Memorial Day weekend, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure held Opa! A Celebration of Greece, which was a first of its kind festivity at Disneyland Resort aimed at showcasing the culture and cuisine of other countries. In general, here’s hoping Disneyland has more of these ‘small world’ celebrations in store, because I consider the first one a smash hit. A ton of work clearly went into this 3-day event, from signage and decorations to fun Greek Streetmosphere roaming the Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.
Two of my favorite foods that were offered for these three days only were the Gyro Pitas at Paradise Garden Grill and the Greek Pizza offered at Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port. Although a bit pricey, the gyro was incredibly high quality, with fresh tasting toppings (they’re hard to see in that photo, but it’s topped with a mix of vegetables) and excellent Tzatziki sauce. On the other end of the spectrum, the Greek Pizza was a nice take on simple fast food, and probably the best pizza I’ve had at the normally dismal Redd Rockett’s. If I could only get one of these items to come back, it would without question be the gyro, but the Greek Pizza was a surprisingly good for what it was.
4. Bananas Foster Cheesecake – French Market
During Bayou Bash, French Market at Disneyland had a number of unique menu options. Several of these were cupcakes, but once you got past the fancy decorating, the cupcakes weren’t all that impressive. They were good, to be sure, but a “good” cupcake doesn’t do much to stand out from the herd in Disney theme parks since cupcakes are so prevalent. Instead, the Creole Mustard French Style Sausage Sandwich and Bananas Foster Cheesecake were the can’t miss highlights for me.
The Creole Sausage Sandwich was excellent with great flavor and good sides, but it cost $15 for something that I’d peg as being “worth” about $9.99 (adjusted for Disney inflation), so it doesn’t make the list. However, at $5, the cheesecake was a clear winner. Not only was its presentation something you’d expect from a table service restaurant, but, more importantly, it tasted great, with a strong banana flavor without being fake or obnoxious. The rum sauce cover it was also excellent. I was surprised that this actually tasted like the cheesecake equivalent of bananas foster and not just fake banana cheesecake covered with “other stuff,” but it did. There are any number of desserts that this bananas foster cheesecake is far superior to, and it’d be great to see it added to a permanent menu somewhere. My understanding is that it was a success during Bayou Bash and the plan was to make it a permanent menu item at French Market, but we haven’t seen it since.
3. Café Steak Melt – Carnation Café
The title doesn’t require as much, but this article has otherwise focused on counter service options. Well, Carnation Café is as close as you get to counter service prices from a table service restaurant, and their Café Steak Melt, which bit the dust after the 2012 refurbishment, came as close to sandwich-perfection as any other Disneyland sandwich. Juicy steak and melted cheese all on a cheese roll, each bite restored my faith in humanity a little more. And at only $12, it was in line with counter service prices. It never had the cult following of the Monte Cristo, but I thought it was significantly better.
This is not the only loss that is mourned from the Carnation Café refurbishment and menu change, but it’s the only one I had a chance to enjoy. To Disneyland’s credit, the new Carnation Café menu is pretty solid, with some excellent and inventive options. Still, I’m sure there’s room on the menu for the Café Steak Melt…if not, I’m sure there’s a salad they can drop to make room!
2. Mac & Cheese Flatbread – Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta
There are a lot of fans of Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta who think I was initially a bit hard on the restaurant. To an extent that might be true, and it has grown on me over time. I still didn’t love it until the Monstrous Summer All-Nighter event. On that fateful day, Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta offered a Mac & Cheese Flatbread. I know what you might be thinking…it sounds disgusting. Fellow patriotic Guy Selga and I thought the same thing. Until we tried it.
Ever wonder what the culinary equivalent of Robocop flying a unicorn around a volcano while rocking out to Led Zeppelin would taste like? This flatbread is the answer. Okay, that probably makes no sense, but the point is that it was awesome. Essentially, it was like a “Cheese Lover’s” pizza with a mac & cheese flair to it. The macaroni provided a bit of additional texture, but not a ton of additional flavor, so it wasn’t as bizarre of an option as it might sound. It was pretty rich, so it’s not something I’d want to consume as part of a competitive eating challenge (ideally, it’s something I’d split), but it is incredibly good, and belongs on the permanent menu there as a unique option.
1. Circa Summer 2010 Menu – Taste Pilots’ Grill
Over at Taste Pilots’ Grill, we’re not just hoping for a single item to return. We’re hoping for the whole, awesome menu. I previously lamented what has happened there in our Taste Pilots’ Grill Review, but it bears repeating. Essentially, everything awesome on Taste Pilot’s Grill was removed in favor of not-awesome things. They even replaced the awesome names for some foods with not-awesome names! Some have speculated that this was because Taste Pilot’s Grill was one of Disneyland Resort’s most unhealthy restaurants, and that may very well be the case. If so, I think this is unfortunate. While Disneyland Resort menus have changed for the better, it’s not as if the place has exactly become the pinnacle of healthy eating. Some guests may think those fries are good for them because they’re made of sweet potatoes instead of regular potatoes, but fries are fries. Likewise with any number of other options. By and large, Disneyland Resort is a pretty unhealthy place to dine unless you are really looking for healthy menu options. When on vacation, I am absolutely not looking to consume anything even remotely healthy. If my fries aren’t coated with at least two other artery-clogging substances, why bother?
Enter Taste Pilot’s Grill, circa 2010. It was a magical place with BBQ Ribs, fried chicken sandwiches, and fries with more toppings than you could shake a stick at. A quality meal at Taste Pilots’ Grill was the stuff champions were (not) made of, and could put you in a food coma for a week. It was awesome. If the X-3 and X-5 Rocket Ribs, Aviator Chicken Sandwich, and Full Throttle Fries all make their triumphant return, I promise I will eat at Taste Pilots’ Grill once per day, consequences be damned. I don’t begrudge those who eat healthy on vacation, but I also don’t want to be forced to eat options that are ostensibly healthier just for the sake of Disney marketing itself as taking on a healthy-eating initiative (when in reality, only lip service is being paid to such a “goal”).
As a bit of a “bonus” pick, I want to throw the Fried Chicken and Mickey Waffles from Plaza Inn as something else that should be on a permanent menu. However, the primary awesomeness here is the Plaza Inn Specialty Chicken, which already exists and is one of Disneyland’s top foods. The waffles honestly don’t do a whole lot on their own to improve this classic, but who can argue with fried chicken and Mickey Waffles?!
So there you have my list of the foods that are most deserving of permanent spots on permanent menus at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. As Disneyland Resort’s culinary team continues to undertake the colossal task of overhauling just about every counter service menu at Disneyland to make them more interesting, here’s hoping that some of these excellent choices find their way to the parks’ menus!
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I know plenty of you have been visiting Disneyland Resort for far longer than we have, so what are some of your favorite extinct or failed test items that you’d love to see return? Even if you’re not a Disneyland vet, what foods would you love to see find their way into Disneyland and Disney California Adventure?