Seven New Dining Options Debut at Disney California Adventureby Britt Winslow, contributing writer
The waiting is finally over. We made it to June 15, and hopefully you were one of the thousands who visited Disney California Adventure Park and experience the new Cars Land and Buena Vista Street. After five years of Imagineering and construction, at a cost of over a billion dollars, we can finally enjoy the seven new dining venues we have been waiting for with so much anticipation. I think there might be a new ride or two and perhaps an additional souvenir stand—but who can think about rides and shopping when there are so many fun, exciting, and delicious things to eat? We have a lot to get through, so let's get started.
When I first heard about the Cars Land addition five years ago, I had high hopes that the Cozy Cone Motel would actually be a motel that guests could stay in during their trips to the Disneyland Resort. I have always wanted to stay in one of the cone–shaped motels I had seen pictures of along Route 66. In retrospect, we are probably all lucky the practicality won out and that Cozy Cone Motel was used for something else. We are also lucky that these conical structures are being used to feed us.
Cozy Cone Motel is classified as an Outdoor Vending (ODV) location. ODV locations are the places in Disney parks where you buy churros, popcorn, turkey legs, and of course those delightful ice cream treats shaped like Mickey Mouse.
There are five cones in Cozy Cone Motel, each serving a different type of food and beverage, served in—you guessed it—a cone. Redundancy aside, the cone motif is charming and downright practical. It also responsible for the most puns this side of the Jungle Cruise.
Cone 1 – offers Churro Bites with Cinnamon Spiced Chocolate Sauce. The signature beverage from Cone 1 is Ramone's "Pear of Dice" soda.
Cone 2 – sells Vanilla, Chocolate and Twist (the combination of vanilla and chocolate) soft-serve ice cream cones in both large and small sizes. You can also have your ice cream cones dipped in chocolate for an additional 50 cents. Cone 2 is also the exclusive vendor for a "Route" Beer Float in a Souvenir Glass.
Cone 3 – in the middle of the quintet of cones is the anchor for culinary Cozy Cones Motel. The aptly named Chili Cone Queso is chili, cheddar cheese, and corn chips served in a "bread cone." If chili isn't your thing, the chicken verde option is a bread cone filled with smoked chicken topped with salsa verde and queso fresco. For a different beverage, be sure to try Filmore's Fuelin' Groovy Ades in either All Natural Lemonade or Pomegranate Limeade. They'll even add a shot of vodka for a a few dollars more.
Cone 3 also had two breakfast option served in a bread cone. The Bacon Scramble Cone is scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese sauce, and bacon. The Verde Scramble Cone consists of scrambled eggs, salsa verde, and queso fresco. Breakfast is served from Cone 3 until 11:00 a.m.
Cone 4 – provides guests with Pretzel Bites with cheesy sauce and one of the gems of Cars Land, Red's Apple Freeze.
Cone 5 – is all about popcorn. There are five rotating flavor and only two will be offered at a time. The flavors are Dill Pickle, Bacon & Cheddar, Sweet & Spicy, Salt & Vinegar, and Nacho Cheese. Winding up the specialty drink options at Cone 5 is Doc's Wild Grape Tonic.
The Chili Cone Queso was the one dish I had heard about a few months ago and was very anxious to try. The chili is very good and when you add cheddar cheese and corn chips in as toppings, it is fairly obvious why Cone 3 had very long line during the grand opening weekend. While this dish can easily be eaten on the go, the bread cone can be a bit of a challenge. If you start tearing the bread from the top and pull, the cone will unwind. If you've eaten all of the fillings this probably won't be a problem. But if you try to tear off a piece of bread to dunk in your chili there might be a clean up on Route 66. The bread cone itself doesn't have a lot of flavor, but it is filling, and a good way to enjoy the last bits of the filling you chose.
The Bacon Scramble Cone was surprisingly good. The scrambled eggs were not overcooked, and the cheese sauce added a layer of flavor that I didn't expect. Since I am a fan of scrambled eggs with cheese, this dish was a natural winner for me. If I have one criticism about the Bacon Scramble Cone, however, it's the bacon. The name of this dish leads you to believe there is bacon mixed into the eggs. What you end up getting is an entire strip of bacon sticking out of the cone. It's not a deal breaker, but just a little misleading.
As much as I enjoyed the food served in edible bread cones, my favorite new food at Cozy Cone Motel has to be Red's Apple Freeze. This is a slushy drink with the most amazing caramel apple flavor you can imagine. I was expecting frozen apple juice, but you definitely get a nice caramel finish, which was a very welcome surprise.
Red's Apple Freeze was the first specialty drink I tried in Cars Land, and little did I know that there would be a reoccurring theme for all of the specialty drinks—foam. Red's Apple Freeze is topped with a mango-passion fruit foam. The foams are kind of fun, but they make every drink look like a beer.
I paired Red's Apple Freeze with the Pretzel Bites and Cheesy Sauce from Cone 4. They were good, but nothing special. In a blind taste test, I do not think I could tell the difference from the Pretzel Bites served at Cozy Cone Motel from the Mickey Pretzels served at other outdoor vending locations. The cheesy sauce was indeed cheesy, but otherwise very plain. I am pretty sure it's the same cheese they use for on the Bacon Scramble Cone next door.
With the exception of Cone #4, all of the cones sell Coca–Cola product fountain drinks and bottled water. These cones also sell 16 and 32 ounce Souvenir Sipper Cups for $8.99 and $11.99, respectively. These sipper cups are in the shape of an orange traffic cone, making them so popular that they sold out during opening weekend.
Across Route 66 from Cozy Cone Motel is Flo's V8 Cafe. This quick-service restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Not only does it look just like it did in the movie, but Flo's V8 Cafe is really big. More importantly, there is plenty of seating. And if you pick your spot correctly, you are rewarded with a million-dollar view.
At first glance, the breakfast menu at Flo's V8 Cafe seems fairly ordinary. Scrambled eggs with bacon, french toast, and a fruit plate is on a lot of menus. But you have to read the fine print on the menu to find the really good stuff.
The cafe's Brioche French Toast is baked instead of grilled on a flat top, so it has a softer, more delicate texture. In reality, it is bread pudding—and a pretty good one at that. But it gets better, because this dish is topped with salted caramel sauce and bananas. If you are one of those people who needs something sweet to start your day, look no further. The Brioche French Toast is more like a dessert, but sadly, is only served until 11:00 a.m. This would be a great dish to order for the table so everyone could have a few bites and not have to worry about a sugar crash later.
Another interesting choice for breakfast is the Chicken Tamale Breakfast. Flo's takes a serving of scrambled eggs and tops it with a chicken tamale and then covers everything with salsa verde and pico de gallo. It's spicy enough to make the dish interesting, but not enough to scare away people who normally don't add hot sauces to their food. The tamale makes this dish filling but not heavy, which is a good thing if you plan on a day of racing around Radiator Springs.
Lunch and dinner share the same menus at Flo's V8 Cafe. Spit-fired rotisserie New York strip loin, pork loin, or citrus turkey breast make up the majority of the entrees offered at Flo's. Each dish comes with two sides and a garlic chive roll. There is also a citrus turkey salad made of mixed greens, arugula, carrots, cucumbers, yellow peppers all tossed in a citrus-tarragon dressing. Finally, there is the "Veggie Tater Bake," which looks a lot like shepherd's pie. However, instead of ground lamb, the Veggie Tater Bake is filled with cauliflower, bulgur wheat, and soy crumbles. Smashed red potatoes form the lid of the dish, which is then topped with melted cheddar cheese.
The side dishes paired with the hot entrees are roasted corn medley, vegetarian baked beans, peas & carrots, mashed potatoes, "Radiator" pasta salad, and cole slaw.
I tried the pork loin because it was topped with a Coca–Cola barbeque sauce. For my sides, I chose a pasta salad and roasted corn medley. The pork loin was nicely flavored and not overcooked. Pork loin is easy to dry out, but Flo's version was just juicy enough. You can't really pick out the Coca-Cola in the barbeque sauce, but it has a nice sweet and tangy flavor that compliments the meat. The corn medley could have been seasoned a little more for my taste, but it was nothing a little salt and pepper couldn't fix. The pasta in the pasta salad was shaped like little radiators. I fell for the novelty aspect of the dish, which wasn't enough in my opinion to make it memorable. It was a typical pasta salad that will undoubtedly appeal to a lot of people.
Dessert is something that I would put in the "not to be missed" category on your dining adventure—particularly Flo's Pie-O-Rama. I tried the Signature Apple-Cheddar pie, and it was excellent. Growing up, cheddar cheese was a common topping for apple pie in our house. But after talking to a few guests, it might not be as common of a combination as I originally thought.
Whether you are already familiar with the pairing or not, I definitely recommend ordering this dessert. The pie is good on its own with a lot of firm apples baked in a wonderful balance of sugar and cinnamon nestled in a flaky crust. But then you add the the saltiness and sharp contrast of cheddar cheese to the mix, and you have that wonderful union of sweet and savory in one bite. My one recommendation for this pie is to order it separately after you've already had your meal, in order to enjoy it when it's still as warm as possible.
If you don't want to wait for hot food to be prepared and are just looking for a quick little nosh to grab on your way into or out of Cars Land, Filmore's Taste-In might have exactly what you desire. Featuring an assortment of fresh fruits and vegetables, bottled beverages and bags of chips, Fillmore's Taste-In is the fastest food option in Cars Land.
Buena Vista Street
Overshadowed by the addition of Cars Land is Buena Vista Street, aka, the Main Street, USA of DCA. Unless you were paying close attention to the food news like I was the last five years, you might have just assumed Buena Vista Street was the same Sunshine Plaza with a new facade. You couldn't be more wrong.
Right inside the main gate is Mortimer's Market. Similar to Filmore's Taste-In in Cars Land, Mortimer's Market is the Buena Vista Street version of the quick-grab produce and drink stand. Fresh fruit, veggies, and hummus in single-serve portions and packed in tubs of ice give guests a healthy food option the moment they enter the park. The market also sells bottles soft drinks, water, and fruit juices.
Moving south down Buena Vista Street, you encounter Clarabelle's Hand-Scooped Ice Cream. In case you missed my article from last week, Clarabelle's is the second ice cream shop to open inside Disney California Adventure in the last two weeks. This begs the question: How does Clarabelle's measure up to Ghirardelli Soda Fountain and Chocolate Shop?
Right off the bat, the sundae comparison is a little lopsided. Ghirardelli offers 15 sundaes, while Clarabelle's offers only four. The price for a two-scoop sundae at Clarabelle's, however, are all under $6.00 while a sundae of the same size at Ghirardelli starts at $8.95.
One thing that Clarabelle's offers that you can't get at Ghirardelli is a hand-dipped ice cream bar. This is essentially a customizable Dove Bar—or if you grew up along the beaches of Orange County like I did, a Balboa Bar. Choose between vanilla bean and chocolate ice cream or a mixed berry sorbet. Next, decide if you want your bar dipped in milk or dark chocolate (you should really go with the dark here). Then while the chocolate is yet to solidify, you get to pick your toppings. The choices are Chocolate Chip Morsels, Confetti Mickey's, Blue Raspberry Bursts, Rainbow Sprinkles—or for those who cannot decide, "The Whole Herd," which is a mixture of all of the toppings. Sadly, there are no chopped nuts options as a topping, which in my opinion is a huge miss. In fact, you can't get chopped nuts as a topping on the sundaes, either.
Having had my fill of ice cream sundaes for a while, the ice cream bar was my dessert of choice. Vanilla bean dipped in dark chocolate and generously topped with the whole herd. This was the last thing I ate late on that glorious first day of the new California Adventure. It was also the first time on an otherwise perfect dining day that I was disappointed. The ice cream was not frozen hard enough and after the first bite the entire bar crumbled into the paper tray it was served in.
Luckily, ice cream shops have an abundance of spoons so the stick was abandoned and I enjoyed the dessert in a more adult fashion. I will even go out on a limb and proclaim my soft ice cream problem as an isolated incident. The vanilla bean ice cream was very good, and the dark chocolate topping was a winner. The more liquid state of the dessert even added a little comic relief. The blue raspberry blast can best be described as Pop Rocks, and as the ice cream continued to melt, little blue projectiles kept leaping out of the dish.
Next door to Clarabelle's Hand-Scooped Ice Cream is Fiddler, Fifer & Practical Café. While I think the name is of this restaurant is a clever tribute to an early classic Disney-animated short, "The Three Little Pigs," it is a little long, and based on what is served inside, I will not be surprised if everyone just calls it Starbucks. That's right, this is where the ubiquitous Starbucks is located inside DCA.
So here's the skinny on Fiddler, Fifer and Practical Café. The coffee and tea drinks served inside are the same as you would find in any Starbucks outside of the Disneyland Resort. The majority of the food served here, however, is Disney-created. For example, the Signature Cinnamon Roll with Cream Cheese Icing is the same Cinnamon Roll served throughout the Disneyland Resort.
The sandwiches may seem familiar, but are unique. There is a Roast Beef and Cheddar sandwich that combines creamy horseradish sauce and cheddar cheese sauce on Garlic-Chive Bun. The Turkey Rueben Sandwich consists of turkey, sauerkraut and signature sauce served on Rye Bread. The Salami Royale could easily be served in New Orleans Square as a the Big Easy classic muffaletta. This is ciabatta bread loaded with two kinds of salami, sopressata, Provolone, asiago cheese, pepperoncini, red onions, and olive tapenade.
Just when you thought this was getting predictable, Disney decided to slide in a vegetarian offering that I never thought I'd see inside an American theme park. The Paneer & Roasted Vegetable Sandwich definitely shakes things up a bit. Paneer is a very simple non-melting farmer's cheese with origins in India, and which can be used in a multitude of dishes. At Fiddler, Fifer and Practical Café, the paneer is marinated and then topped with roasted vegetables and a spicy tomato sauce on garlic naan bread. This is the can't-miss dish at Fiddler, Fifer and Practical Café.
At this point, you might be thinking that I might have misled you about the new food on Buena Vista Street. It's true that there was an ice cream parlor and a bakery where you could buy coffee drinks and sandwiches from the first day DCA opened in 2001. But there was nothing like the food offered inside Carthay Circle Theatre.
According to the guide handed out as you enter DCA, there are two dining options inside Carthay Circle Theatre: the Carthay Circle Restaurant, and the Carthay Circle Lounge. The Carthay Circle Restaurant has so much to offer that we will cover it in detail in an upcoming review.
Carthay Circle Lounge is elegant, sophisticated, and extraordinarily classy. The decor is classic 1920s Spanish revival that makes you feel like you've stepped back in time. Kudos to the Disney Imagineers for not building a West Coast version of the Brown Derby found in the Disney Studios in Walt Disney World. Not that there is anything wrong with The Brown Derby, but a billion dollar expansion deserves a jaw-dropping venue with its own story and identity.
Mixology enthusiasts will appreciate sitting at one of the four bar seats in Carthay Circle Lounge so they can witness the artistic manner in which the classic cocktails are prepared. Photo by Britt Winslow.
About a year ago I wrote an article singing the praises of Trader Sam's and all of its fun and whimsical island-influenced cocktails, so this next sentence might seem a little contradictory: The cocktails served at Carthay Circle Lounge are amazing because they are straightforward, simple, and pure. They are everything you won't find in a tiki bar, and that's totally acceptable.
For example, the Carthay Manhattan is unlike any Manhattan you have ever had. Made with Bulleit Rye Small Batch American Whiskey, Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth and Angostura Bitters, this mixture is the poured into a glass containing an ice sphere. This as a ball of ice, bigger than a golf ball, that is so crystal clear that you almost expect to see Madame Leota looking back at you. And that's why this drink is special, because very few places will go to the trouble of making ice spheres.
The science behind it pretty simple. The surface-to-mass ratio of a sphere will keep your drink colder and the ice will also melt slower, allowing you to enjoy your cocktail without it becoming watered down. And if the ice sphere wasn't enough of a treat, the Carthay Manhattan is garnished with Luxardo Gourmet Maraschino Cherries. This isn't the typical fire-engine red Maraschino cherry you see tossed into a Shirley Temple. These are deep red jewels of fruit bursting with an intense cherry flavor that will make you second guess the next time you order a sundae with a cherry on top.
The Carthay Manhattan served with an Ice Sphere and garnished with Luxardo Gourmet Maraschino Cherries is arguably the most sophisticated cocktail made in all of the Disney Parks. Photo by Britt Winslow.
The cocktail portion of the menu at Carthay Circle Lounge is 15 pages long. However, the first page of the menu is dedicated to food that is no doubt rooted in the 21st century. There are small bites like Santa Monica Deviled Eggs served with Smoked Salmon and Lemon Crème Fraiche (a perfect pairing with sparkling wine).
If you like the spiciness of of Southeast Asian, you should try the Vietnamese Twice Cooked Beef Tacos with fresh Pineapple mint salsa. I chose the Lobster Pad Thai Imperial Roll with Cashew Tamarind Dipping sauce to go with my sophisticated cocktail. Large chucks on warm lobster meat, and an assortment of Asian vegetables are wrapped in rice paper giving you a light but very flavorful appetizer.
Obviously I get a little more excited about food than most of you reading this article. DCA was always a good eating park despite all of the criticism it received for the lack of attractions and square acreage within its walls. There really wasn't a need to improve on the food offered here, but they did it anyway, and that should make even the pickiest eaters happy.
Once the summer crowds start to dwindle it will be easier for someone to come and ride all of the new rides in Cards Land, and walk through every shop on Buena Vista Street in a few hours. But it will take days to try all of the new food items, which means you can discover new things every time you visit the park. To me, that was worth waiting five years for. Hopefully, you'll try a new dish or two and feel the same way.