The Vacation Kingdom of the World: Dining at Disney's Hollywood Studiosby Tom Richards, contributing writer
For reasons I am not quite entirely able to delineate, we rarely, if ever, find ourselves planning meals for our visits to Disney's Hollywood Studios. This is odd because the Studios offers several unique and appealing dining locations, ones that in the early days of the then-Disney-MGM Studios, we enjoyed frequently. It might be that the prevalence of specifically timed show attractions—like the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular or Disney Jr. Live on Stage—makes timing dining reservations more challenging. It might be that we rarely spend an entire day at the Studios anymore. Why? The kids are still two young for the thrill rides; Fantasmic! is enjoyable, but it's a real time commitment; and my two favorite attractions no longer exist.
There was a time when I could spend hours in the Magic of Disney Animation, watching real animators working on real films, viewing the fascinating artwork, watching the many entertaining films, and lingering in the gift shop studying limited editions and actual film cels. We tend to skip the truncated version that now exists at the Studios. My other favorite, Sorcery in the Sky, was a fantastic and moving fireworks display that once took place in the skies high above the Chinese Theater. I still miss it.
This past year, we decided to change the trend of grabbing snacks and returning to our resort for meals and made advance dining reservations for two very different, yet two highly recommended, Hollywood Studios classics: The Hollywood Brown Derby and the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater.
One of the Studios' classiest dining spots, the Hollywood Brown Derby was even more elegant than we had anticipated. Subdued lighting, intimate tables, and fine cloth table coverings made for an enjoyable meal. The building itself is also quite beautiful, with lots of architectural details such as colorful tile work, polished woodwork, and wonderfully unique ceilings and windows. When the Disney-MGM Studios opened in 1989, this particular establishment was its dining showcase, surrounded by lush greenery and featuring unobstructed views of the lovely Chinese Theater and its then leafy courtyard.
Because the Hollywood Brown Derby is often criticized for its prices, we chose to book an advance dining reservation for lunch. After being seated in a very cozy circular booth featuring warm, eye-level lighting, we took a look at the menu. The entrees were pricy (pork chops, lamb, duck, salmon, beef filet, and a seafood platter hovering in the $34 to $38 price range). Because it was lunch, and because we wished to try the signature dish, we chose the "Famous Cobb Salad." This signature salad features "finely chopped greens, turkey breast, egg, bacon, tomatoes, crumbled bleu cheese, avocado, chives, and Cobb dressing." The salad is huge, so we wisely chose the appetizer salads and found them to be more than enough for a very filling meal, just the ticket for lunch on a warm summer's day. The bread that accompanied the salad was delicious as well.
The kids' meals here were exceptional: there as a grilled chicken breast, grilled black grouper, and whole-grain penne pasta. My kids chose the Grilled Chicken Breast and the Whole-Grain Penne Pasta, and I was impressed with the quality and the portion size of both. The chicken was delicious and was served with red potatoes, broccoli, milk, and fresh fruit. The tasty pasta came with baby green beans, carrots, milk, and fruit as well. This was one of the kids' favorite meals.
We splurged on the "Three Mini-Desserts" tray, opting for the Warm Berry Cobbler with crème fraiche and orange blossom honey, the Mini Grapefruit Cake, and the Cake Sphere with hazelnut praline chocolate and orange white chocolate mousse. All three were wonderful, but the standout was the Grapefruit Cake, another of the Hollywood Brown Derby's signature dishes. Light, sweet, and tangy, this was our favorite of the dessert samples.
I would recommend the Hollywood Brown Derby for its atmosphere that perfectly captures the authentic "old Hollywood" feel that once permeated the entire entrance of this park, for its unique dishes—especially the Cobb Salad and the Grapefruit Cake, and for its wonderful children's menu. It is pricey, but with a little creativity, a visit here can still fit into your vacation budget.
In the next installment, we visit a very different sort of restaurant: the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater. Until then, let us know what you think about the Hollywood Brown Derby.