An Evening at Trader Sam'sby Britt Winslow, contributing writer
Pick any Disney Parks destination in the world: Florida, California or one of the global destinations in Asia or Europe. No matter which Disney destination you choose, food will come into play at some point. One of the great things about Disney is they do an excellent job of feeding you quickly so you can experience the attractions and meet the characters.
But for a foodie like me, sometimes the pace at which a typical Disney guest consumes his or her meal is a little too hectic. And not that hectic is always bad. There is something to be said for a perfectly placed churro cart in New Orleans Square that provides you with the sustenance we need for the journey between Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion. Still, a more leisurely pace surrounding dining is something I seek more of when I am visiting the mouse.
Trader Sam's to the rescue!
Now I know if you read my first food article a few months ago about Hungry Bear in Critter Country, you might remember me saying how much I enjoy dining al fresco along the Rivers of America. And I also said that the Fried Green Tomato sandwich with Sweet Potato Fries is one of the best dishes you can get at the Disneyland Resort. Those things are still true. But there is one word that sums up what Hungry Bear cannot offer which is why Trader Sam's gets bonus points. I'll give you a hint; it begins with a "B" and ends with an "ooze."
That's right! Being able to consume an adult beverage in relaxed atmosphere is one of the only good things about being an adult. And when the drinks are not only creative but also delicious, you have an additional reason to visit Trader Sam's. But more on the amazing cocktails later.
If you read my last food article a few weeks ago on Tangaroa Terrace, you might remember that I dedicated about one–third of my article to Trader Sam's. Well, dear reader, this is exactly what I was talking about at the beginning of this article.
A few weeks ago, I was given the task to write about the new restaurants at the Disneyland Hotel. Not really knowing what to expect, I called Disney Dining to request a priority seating time for Tangaroa Terrace. Tangaroa Terrace doesn't offer priority seating because it is not a table service restaurant. So, I ate at Tangaroa Terrace and then made plans with the family to hit the parks after dinner. As we walked to the pathway between the new Frontier and Adventure towers I stepped into Trader Sam's, looked around and then walked back out to the outdoor seating area on the patio. That is exactly what you do not want to do at Trader Sam's.
Since my last article I have been back to Trader Sam's several times. Each and every trip I discover something new about Disney's newest watering hole that makes me smile. I like to call places with these little surprises, attractions with a high return aspect value. Simply put, if you are constantly seeing new things the return aspect value for that attraction is high. Think of it as the difference between Pirates of the Caribbean and Space Mountain. Haven't you been on Pirates and thought to yourself, "You know, I never noticed that thing before. I wonder if they've just added it." Compared to Space Mountain, which is a great thrill ride, but it's little more than racing through a dark room and making a bunch of right turns. As thrilling as it is, there are rarely any surprises after your first experience.
As wonderful as the patio area of Trader Sam's is, the real magic for this tiny little tiki bar is on the inside. First, let's talk about the décor. There are hundreds of interesting artifacts on the walls and shelves, each with its own corny pun or joke. Remember, this is Trader Sam's bar, the head salesman of the jungle from Adventureland's Jungle Cruise attraction. Everything is very tongue in cheek.
One could create a fabulous coffee table book based on the items located inside Trader Sam's. And while I took dozen of pictures of stuff just hanging' on the wall, I think part of the fun of visiting Trader Sam's is discovering some of these knickknacks yourself. Plus, like the Jungle Cruise jokes, they really only work inside the attraction. I can't tell you how many times I have tossed out a backside of water comment in my life only to get a confused head-cocked-slightly-to-the-side stare in return.
However, there are some things you may want to look for on your next visit to Trader Sam's and these hints won't necessarily ruin the bar's return aspect value. The actual bar area inside Trader Sam's is U-shaped. The two corners of the U have totem poles running to the ceiling ornately carved with tiki idols. The eyes in some of the tikis slowly move back and forth.
Another interesting story behind the decorations inside Trader Sam's is that there is an artifact from every country pavilion in Epcot. There is also an exclusive and possibly priceless collection of tiki glassware high on a shelf behind the bar.
But one of the most interesting artifacts I discovered was an original Florida Orange Bird unassumingly perched on a shelf. This highly collectible former promotional mascot of the Florida Citrus Commission now has a home in the Disneyland Hotel. Mouse Planet's own Wade Sampson published a fantastic article about the Florida Orange Bird in 2007 and you can read more about it here.
In typical Disney fashion, the soundtrack for Trader Sam's is delightful. I didn't notice it on my first two visits but as you are enjoying your search for unusual treasures you will be serenaded by an eclectic mix of island classics. If listening to Tiny Bubbles can't help you relax, nothing can.
I must confess I like the atmosphere of Trader Sam's so much that I'd probably hang out there if the food and drinks were horrible. Lucky for all of us, both are pretty good.
Starting with the food, the Pu Pu Platter is a good choice if you want to try a little of the three most popular dishes. Tamarind–Glazed Island Pork Wings, Sweet and Spicy Asian Wings, Panko–Crusted Chinese Long Beans and Green Papaya Slaw are served in a bento box.
I will spare you from having a Jessica Simpson moment; pigs do not have wings. The pork wings are small sections of tender pork ribs slowly cooked to perfection. As a self-proclaimed barbecue aficionado, I was impressed with how the meat still had just enough cling to the bone and didn't just slide right off. The tamarind glaze was sweet but had a nice spike of tangy tartness one would expect from tamarind to balance the flavor.
The Asian wings are actually chicken wings. I've had the wing twice. The first time they were crunchy and lightly coated in the Citrus-Honey, Red Chili-spiced sauce. The second time, the skin was a little soggy and there was way too much sauce. The next time I order this dish I will specifically ask for the wings to be extra crispy with light sauce. The sauce is a little too sweet for me. But if you are a fan of honey, you will probably like it.
My favorite dish at Trader Sam's is the Panko-Crusted Chinese Long Beans. The beans have a perfect amount of snap and the panko coating adds a wonderful crunch. The beans are served with an amazing Sriracha Aioli that would be an unbelievable addition to any sandwich. Besides great flavor and texture I also love the beans because they are slightly salty with a touch of heat in the aioli and that is a wonderful contrast to the sweet signature cocktails featured at Trader Sam's.
Twelve signature cocktails and three no-booze brews have been exclusively created for Trader Sam's. The Krakatoa Punch and Hippopotomai-Tai are served in souvenir tiki glasses. If you have ever had drinks at Disney's Polynesian Resort in Walt Disney World you might recognize the glassware. Still, it is a great souvenir and tiki glasses never go out of style, at least not for long.
On my latest trip to Trader Sam's I ordered a Shipwreck on the Rocks. This cocktail is bourbon with freshly muddled lemon and mint with a splash of organic agave nectar. It's basically a classic mint julep minus the silver cup. But at Trader Sam's, when you order a shipwreck cocktail there is an actual shipwreck. After placing the cocktail in front of the guest who ordered it the skipper (bartender) rings the bell above the bar and the light begin to flash. Above the right side of the bar there is a beautiful model of a tall ship in a large bottle. The ship begins to rock back and forth and then sinks inside the bottle. The lights return to normal and the skippers go on like nothing happened. Several of the signature drinks have a surprise element attached to ordering it which makes a visit inside Trader Sam's much more special.
Many of the signature drinks are sweet. I typically do not go for sweet drinks. I'm more of a vodka martini or bourbon served neat kind of a guy. But I must admit that I will make an occasional exception for a good tropical drink. Even though pineapple, coconut and guava juices are readily available in my local grocery store I always feel like I am having an exotic treat if the blend of tropical juices is just right. To accomplish this perfect balance of island juices, many of Trader Sam's concoctions contain an ingredient called Gorilla Grog.
Gorilla Grog is a blend of passion fruit, guava, pineapple, orange and lemon juices mixed with falernum. Falernum is a sweet syrup that may contain the flavors of almonds, ginger, cloves, vanilla, and allspice. Gorilla Grog is non-alcoholic and the skippers at Trader Sam's mix it with Sprite to make a no-booze brew called Schweitzer Falls. The drink, like the Jungle Cruise icon, is of course names after the famous explorer Dr. Albert Falls.
As a responsible member of society I feel it is part of my duty in writing this article to remind you, dear reader, that one should enjoy the delicious elixirs served at Trader Sam's responsibly. Sweet drinks may lead to not realizing how much alcohol you have consumed. I must also warn you that if you start to feel a little funny at Trader Sam's it might not be alcohol related.
Just the other day, Ms. Adrienne Vincent–Phoenix and I were sampling some of the treats served at Trader Sam's. We were both having the non-alcoholic Schweitzer Falls with our food when Adrienne looked at me funny and asked, "Are you getting taller?" I wasn't but Adrienne's barstool was slowly sinking to the floor. Over the next five minutes she continued to sink until she was sitting about a foot off the ground. After we stopped laughing at the gag, Adrienne stood up, the barstool reset itself for the next guest and I couldn't help but shake my head in disbelief. Trader Sam's had shocked me yet again. I can hardly wait to go back.