Gasparilla Island Grill is a restaurant at Walt Disney World’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, a hotel known for its fine dining but, until early 2017, pretty underwhelming on the counter service front. In this review, we’ll take a look at Gasparilla Island Grill’s new menu, with food photos, and our recommendations on what to order.
In the last several years, it seems like Gasparilla Island Grill has undergone multiple refurbishments, each time promising something more, but only half-delivering. During our stay at the Grand Floridian a couple of years ago, the restaurant was closed for a “big overhaul,” one that ultimately removed the arcade from its shared premises, but did little to revitalize the tired menu of burgers and pizza.
We have managed to dine at Gasparilla Island Grill a handful of times over the years, and its menu has always struck me as out of place. It served pretty ordinary fast food fare–is this really what guests of the Grand Floridian wanted? Perhaps it was counter-programming to the fancier restaurants, offering something for families. Still, just because guests wanted a quick meal does not mean they want low quality. Fortunately, all of that changed with the refurbishment that was completed in early 2017…
Now, we’re happy to report that Gasparilla Island Grill is a counter service restaurant worthy of the Grand Floridian. Before we get to that, let’s cover the restaurant’s ambiance. This is something that was “fixed” during the prior refurbishment, and to my eye, looks like it was untouched during the 2017 refurb.
The decor and vibe at Gasparilla Island Grill is a bit plain as far as Walt Disney World restaurants go. This is an accusation that could be leveled at Narcoossee’s or Citricos, too, but at least in those cases the style is elevated to something that seems more sophisticated. Here, the look is generic and simple.
You could spin this to say it’s a Floridian style, I suppose. The restaurant is light and airy, with creamy colors and pale greens, all of which could be representative of sunlight and palms.
Personally, I think that’s a bit of a stretch. Fortunately, there’s also outdoor seating at Gasparilla Island Grill, so you can enjoy the outdoor ambiance of the Grand Floridian marina (our recommendation).
Now, we feast! Normally, the food section of the review would make a natural progression through the meal, but I cannot resist starting with the desserts. They were the highlight of an extraordinary meal…and we ate them first since the dessert station is self-serve whereas the entrees are made to order.
This is the German Chocolate Cupcake. It was a really good, and well-balanced cupcake with a moist center and delicious toppings. Normally, this is the kind of dessert about which I’d rave as the star of the meal. This was not a normal meal…
That’s because the Coconut Pot de Creme is the best counter service dessert I’ve ever had. It’s also better than a majority of table service desserts. The custard was rich, perfectly garnished with whipped cream and some texture from the coconut shavings on top. The quality of the creme and crust were exceptional; much better than what I’d expect of a counter service dessert.
In my favorite episode of Frasier, Martin makes “barbecue pudding chips” and encourages Niles to taste them with a quote that I’m not entirely sure is appropriate for a Disney blog. That quote is how I’d like to describe this dessert. (At this point, maybe 1 or 2 of you laughed out loud, and the rest found this an odd amount of exposition for a “joke” that didn’t connect. Still worth it.)
For entrees, almost everything has changed at Gasparilla Island Grill. About the only thing I’ll miss from the old menu is the Grand Gaspy Burger, but it sounds like the new burger is somewhat similar (minus the fried onions and pulled pork…okay, so not remotely similar).
Now, there is a hot sandwich & pizza ordering area, or a sandwich bar. The sandwich bar had a case with sandwiches on display, something like you might see at a delicatessen. These looked high-quality, but not nearly as interesting or unique as the hot sandwiches and pizzas.
We ordered the Mahi Mahi Reuben and Sausage and Mozzarella Pizza. Obviously, the pizza is pictured above… 😉
This Reuben was unbelievable. I ordered this because I figured it’d be the ultimate challenge of the items listed on the menu. Honestly, I was fully expecting it to disappoint–I mean, a counter service Mahi sandwich?
It exceeded all expectations. The fish was flaky and flavorful (it wouldn’t have needed the “crutch” of the sandwich and slaw–it would’ve been good on its own), and the slightly acidic slaw and fresh bread made for a wonderful entree, that I’d put among the top 5 counter service meals I’ve had at Walt Disney World.
My only complaint about this is that it’s served with regular ole fries. I have nothing against these things, and they’re perfect when you’re hiding in a corner shamefully indulging in a Cosmic Ray’s burger, but they have no place with a dish of this quality.
Likewise, the Sausage and Mozzarella Pizza was excellent. Disney touts this pizza as prepared with dough made in-house daily by Chef Erich’s team at the Grand Floridian Bakery and being cooked for 90 seconds at 840 degrees.
The quality difference is obvious, and this was like a (larger version of) the handmade pizzas served at Pizzafari in Animal Kingdom. Not the most inventive entree ever, but a formidable option, nonetheless.
It’s pretty remarkable what a difference a menu change can make. Just a month ago, in our Poly v. Grand Floridian post, we noted that Grand Floridian was weak on counter service dining. Now, it’s one of the best counter service options at Walt Disney World. Our experience at Gasparilla Island Grill was so good that we were scheming for ways to try more (we actually waited around for the sunset, hoping we’d be hungry after) of the menu. For now, we’d rank this as a top 5 option in all of WDW. Perhaps #2 overall, with its only weaknesses being menu diversity (Contempo Cafe easily bests it in this department) and ambiance. Yes, it’s that good.
What do you think about Gasparilla Island Grill? Have you dined here since the refurbishment? Were you similarly impressed? Any entree or dessert recommendations of your own to add? Share any questions or additional thoughts you have in the comments!