The Hollywood Brown Derby at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a little gem in the middle of a busy theme park.
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When it was time to meet up with friends recently for a quiet dinner during our otherwise frenzied Epcot Food and Wine Festival trip to Disney World, I was happy when we all agreed to head there for a late night bite. While the restaurant can be a bit inconsistent (I tend to hear both good and bad reviews of this place), I’ve had good experiences on my visits.
I hoped that it would continue to measure up to the pedestal I have it on! Let’s head into that fabled dining room, home to Hollywood’s Golden Age elite, and see if it does…
Your journey back in time to the Golden Age of Hollywood begins before you enter the restaurant. The grand entrance beneath the classic red awning looks like something right out of early 20th century Hollywood.
And that is, of course, intentional. The Brown Derby at Disney’s Hollywood Studios was inspired by the restaurant located at the famous corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street.
Inside the waiting area, the decor is tasteful and clean Spanish Mission, with light walls and dark wood accents. A few comfy leather club chairs might be available for your wait if you’re lucky.
You also start to glimpse the famous collection of caricatures that line walls throughout the restaurant.
If you need to brush up on your Brown Derby history, no worries — you’ll find this helpful sign. I personally can never dine here without thinking of that I Love Lucy episode, in which everyone’s favorite redhead harasses William Holden in pure Lucy-esque style. And having a phone brought to your table for an important call is the bee’s knees, don’t you think?
You step down into the sunken dining room, which is trimmed out with the same rich dark wood paneling and accents that we saw earlier. The vaulted ceilings and heavy chandeliers make the room even grander.
Once seated, be sure to take a minute and soak in the details. Some of the most interesting features are the caricatures that line the walls. Although the black-framed sketches are copies, they’re extremely well done, and it’s so entertaining to look around and try to find your favorite stars.
One thing you’ll notice, if you pay attention to the caricatures, is that there are some that are more detailed, colored, and in gold frames. While the black and white sketches are copies, the gold-framed drawings are originals.
And, I wanted to show you one of my favorite details from the dining room: the copper Derby lamp shades on these brass wall sconces. These are the details that I adore, and that make me enjoy my surroundings at Disney every bit as much as the food I find on my plate.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to snag one of these cozy booths. Comfortably plush and upholstered in red leather, they face out toward the middle of the dining room, which gives you a terrific view of the entire room. This is my favorite place to sit while dining at The Derby.
But as much as I love looking around here, I was definitely excited to see what was new on the menu. Time to settle down to what I expected would be another delicious dinner.
The menu at The Derby is extremely detailed, and may contain items unfamiliar to you. To make the most of your dining experience, be sure to ask for your server’s assistance if anything is confusing.
While we were looking over our options, I ordered the Citizens Take Flight, which is a fun take on a Margarita Flight. It features a trio of flavors, including classic lime, mango, and pomegranate. Be sure to check out the names in the caption!
This is a generous serving, my friends. It’s good to share! (There is also a fun martini flight as well.)
Complimentary bread service included classic water rolls and salted butter.
Before long our appetizers arrived. Our first selection was Potato Leek Soup with Green Onion Crème Fraîche.
This is a classic, with superb flavor and a silky texture. It’s definitely one of my favorites. Everyone at the table enjoyed it.
Next, we had the Brie, Midnight Moon, and Prosciutto Cake with Tête de Moine Petals and an Olive Roasted Vegetable Salad. How do I describe this? Think of it as a cross between an upscale cheese plate and antipasti.
The “petals” are actually a beautiful Swiss cheese, which is scraped in order to release its intricate flavors. Like nothing I’ve ever tasted, the dish was a winner for everyone at the table. It’s cheese! Come on!
Our next selection was the Andouille-Crusted Prawn Over Black Diamond Cheddar Grits, Wilted Greens, and Ancho Oil. I ordered this because my interest was peaked by our “least-ordered” items post a while back!
What a powerful combination of flavors and textures! The rich, sweet prawn contrasted nicely with the creamy, cheesy grits; and the ancho oil provided an additional spicy counterpoint that played off the Andouille flavors. The bitter greens provided visual interest and another nice flavor contrast. This is a must-try!
Our attention turned to our entrees at this point. To begin, we ordered the Sterling Silver Pan-seared Mojo Marinated Pork Chop, Caramelized Manchego Cheese, and a Mango-Tomatillo Salsa over a Bed of Crispy Boniato, Applewood-Smoked Bacon, Sweet Pepper, and Apple Cider Jus. Whew! What a mouthful, eh?
This dish got high marks. Having the boniato (a starchy root vegetable common in Central and South American cuisine, similar to a white sweet potato) served crispy was a unique take that I hadn’t seen anywhere else. The bone-in pork chop was juicy and tender, and was flavorful and well cooked. The caramelized cheese sent this straight over the top.
Our second entree was an interesting take on Duck — Duck Two Ways — Duck Pastrami Over a Pear and Melon Salad with White Balsamic, Honey, and Vanilla Reduction and Duck Confit with Farro Risotto, and Spicy Onion-Citrus Jam. I’ve been ordering duck quite a bit in Disney restaurants, so this just fit in with my apparent streak! 😉
The flavors were interesting, and I applaud the kitchen for doing something unique, rather than just searing the duck breast and putting it on a plate. But I wasn’t wowed that the pastrami was cold. I would definitely have enjoyed it more had it been warm. Was this just a quirk of the kitchen? No idea.
Next, we came to my favorite selection, Charred Filet of Beef over a Zellwood Corn and Pancetta Risotto, Arugula Pesto, and Pickled Rainbow Carrots.
Corn and Pancetta risotto?!?! Yes please! Beautifully cooked and presented, I appreciated the spicy bite from the arugula pesto. I did miss the yummy buttery topping and fried potato crisp from my previous time ordering the filet here, however!
Finally, one of my friends ordered the Free-Range Ashley Farms Roasted Breast of Chicken stuffed with Sweet Pepper, Chorizo, and Smoked Cheddar Cheese over a Celery Root Purée, Coriander-dusted Jumbo Asparagus, and a Roasted Red Pepper Sauce.
The true genius of a Disney signature restaurant is the way they can make even chicken interesting. The stuffing provided an interesting contrast to the lean meat, and the silky celery root purée was great.
Now it was time to choose a few desserts. We’re always happy to see a combination of classics and new things to try.
And who can resist Warm Fruit Cobbler? Sweetened with local orange blossom honey, the cobbler was quite good. But we DID wish we could have had ice cream instead of the crème fraîche. (Who eats cobbler with no ice cream?!)
We also ordered the classic Grapefruit Cake. A light layer cake enhanced with grapefruit-flavored cream cheese frosting and topped with a grapefruit reduction, it’s an interesting fusion of flavors and textures that I enjoy.
The Double Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée with Dark Chocolate-dipped Biscotti was another classic choice, and was creamy and delicious, with a deep, floral-vanilla flavor.
Finally, we tried the Citrus Honey Nest-filled with Candied Ginger Blueberries over a Lemon Cheesecake. While a classic combination, it was nice to see this fresh treatment of the flavors. It was outstanding as well, and really beautiful. Though I never really did figure out the whole nest thing.
And with that, our beautiful dinner — and day — came to an end.
The big debate among Disney food fans continues to be whether The Hollywood Brown Derby is worth two table service credits for lunch and dinner. Well, yes and no.
Although this restaurant is inconsistent, I’ve had very good food here. Service can be slow, which some folks will enjoy while they’re taking a break from their hectic theme park day. But some will consider it a waste of time to sit for so long when they paid for a theme park ticket to RIDE. One option is to do what we did — make a reservation for later in the evening so that the park is nearly closed by the time you sit down to dine. That way, you don’t miss any time on the attractions, but you still get to enjoy a great and relaxing meal.
Is The Hollywood Brown Derby one of your favorites? Weigh in on the conversation below!