We’re dining with the stars at THE place to “see and be seen!”
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Welcome to The Hollywood Brown Derby! We’re enjoying lunch while taking a trip back in time to the elegance of the “golden age” of Hollywood. For fans of classic films, even within Hollywood Studios this signature restaurant is a destination in its own right.
A replica of the original Hollywood Brown Derby (a fine dining establishment for the likes of Clark Gable, Lucille Ball, and Bing Crosby back in the day), the Derby of Hollywood Studios offers park-goers a touch of refined elegance in the midst of a busy park day. In fact, I’d say that once you enter the doors of the Brown Derby, it’s a little bit difficult to remember that you’re in a theme park at all.
Let’s step inside…
I mention taking “a trip back in time” because I feel as though the setting of The Hollywood Brown Derby transports guests to another place and era better than just about any place in Disney World, starting with the outside entrance.
A plaque on the outside gives guests a tiny bit of the history and inspiration for the Hollywood Studios location, though many may stroll right past and miss it.
There are two defining features, I think, to the Brown Derby. One is the fact that the Brown Derby at Hollywood Studios is based on the actual Hollywood Brown Derby (one of four original Brown Derby locations).
Once you step inside, your Brown Derby history lesson begins when you see a map in the waiting area. This map displays the locations of two of the original Brown Derby restaurants. Fans of Disney history may recognize the name of Griffith Park up in the right-hand corner.
Griffith Park is where Walt Disney watched his daughters enjoy the Merry-Go-Round and thought to himself, “There ought to be a place where parents and kids can have fun together,” planting the seeds of future plans for Disneyland.
The second defining characteristic is based on the first. The original Derby’s “Wall of Fame” consisted of caricatures of celebrities, and those have been replicated in the Hollywood Studios location, providing memorable hallmarks. You begin to see them in the waiting area where you check in for your meal.
And they continue inside all along the perimeter of the restaurant.
One of my personal goals was to see if I could spot a caricature of Bing Crosby, one of my favorites. As it turned out, his likeness was hanging right over my shoulder :). I love the comedic touch of the mirror images of his film-and-life buddy, Bob Hope, on either side!
It’s definitely worth taking some time to explore the artwork all over the restaurant. You may spot a few photo images of the original Brown Derby, giving you an idea of how well and painstakingly the details and atmosphere were replicated.
Standalone tables fill in the center of the restaurant, and much like the original photographs show, the deep browns of the dark woods on the main floor are offset by the soft white on the walls.
One thing I really appreciate about the Brown Derby is that if you are seated on the side, as we were, the atmosphere is still pretty terrific.
Since I often dine in a small party of one or two, I’m used to the side tables. But in several places, I feel like I’ve been relegated to something akin to the kids table at Thanksgiving, so this is a welcome change. The soft lighting and caricatures that define the rest of the décor remain in this area as well.
That said, it’s still the ultimate seating score to be in one of the gorgeous corner table booths on the main floor.
Our visit was for lunch, but in the evening the entire restaurant is primarily lit by these small corner lamps and candles on the tables, creating – I think — one of the most refined and romantic atmospheres in the park restaurants.
Something unique to a lunch visit at the Brown Derby is that you are handed not one, but two, menus. Lunch guests (12:00 pm to 3:00 pm) can choose from the Lunch Menu or the Dinner Menu. This offers an opportunity to save a penny or two going for a lower-priced lunch option, or go full tilt with your experience any time of day.
Since we had even more than the usual amount of options to consider (plus appetizers, of course!), we were happy to receive a batch of warm dinner rolls and butter dusted with sea salt right away.
While we didn’t imbibe on this particular visit, it’s always a great thing to check out the cocktail list – especially one with such fun Hollywood-inspired names such as these!
We love the martini and margarita flights!
The options for appetizers came from the Dinner Menu.
Our server made a recommendation for our appetizers that I was happy to take: Blue Lump Crab Spring Rolls, Snow Crab Claw, and an Asian Spicy Slaw with spicy Miso Aioli.
These ended up being one of the true highlights of the meal: a terrific amount of delicious crab in a golden-fried roll. The crab was good enough that I preferred the roll on its own, but my husband particularly enjoyed it with the mild kick from the Miso Aioli.
But you just can’t say you’ve been to the Brown Derby unless you’ve had the Derby’s “Famous Cobb Salad.” It’s such an integral part of the Brown Derby experience that a small portion of the menu is dedicated to sharing its history.
I’ve enjoyed the Cobb Salad as an entrée before, but on this visit I went with the appetizer portion. The ingredients remain true to the original recipe: greens, turkey breast, bacon, eggs, tomato, crumbled blue cheese, avocado, chives, and Hollywood Brown Derby dressing.
I prefer the Cobb Salad in this, its original, fashion – even with all the Blue Cheese 😉 . However, our server did ask if we were okay with all the ingredients since anything can be omitted. So don’t let the presence of an ingredient you don’t like prevent you from enjoying this Brown Derby tradition!
As for our entrees, my husband and I mixed it up: my entrée came from the lunch menu, and his came from the dinner.
I went with “The Original” Fettuccine Alfredo topped with Prosciutto Brittle and Parmigiano-Reggiano . I also went with the option to add chicken (for an additional $4.00).
Looking back, I didn’t need to add the chicken. While it was fine, the huge serving of Fettuccine and it’s thick, unexpectedly tangy Alfredo sauce coupled with the generous amount of Prosciutto was more than enough.
The bacon-like flavor and crunch of the Prosciutto ham brittle broke up the rich pasta dish nicely.
By the way, that bit of bread you see? It’s just a simple toast, lightly brushed with butter and herbs, but it completely melts in your mouth.
My husband chose the Seafood Cioppino – Sautéed White Shrimp, New England’s Big “One” Mussels, and a Pan-Seared Fennel-dusted Black Grouper over Orzo Pasta with a Cioppino Broth.
I’ve had the chance to sample Grouper a couple of times at the Derby, and I’ve always wondered why it is so good – even to someone like me who rarely goes for fish. On this visit, I received my answer when our server informed me that the Grouper at the Derby is locally sourced, which explains how fresh it tastes. In this particular dish it was also well-seasoned.
I left it completely to my husband to sample the mussels for you ;). He was impressed with the size of the mussels as well as the flavor, which he described as “not overly fishy.”
I’ll quote him again when he shared that the shrimp was “about as good as you can get” — high praise coming from a huge shrimp fan.
The one thing he mentioned he could do without was the abundant amount of the red Cioppino broth. While definitely appropriate for the style of the dish (a stew), he felt that with seafood of this quality, there were moments when it detracted from the meal rather than added to it.
Parents might be interested to know that, while the children’s entrees include standard kid-friendly fare such as grilled chicken, penne pasta, hot dogs, and occasionally grilled cheese among other options, on our visit a Grilled Black Grouper was also an option for the kiddos.
Earlier this year, the Brown Derby switched it up with their dessert menu, offering a “Choose Your Own Dessert Trio.” Guests get their choice of three among nine mini dessert options.
For those curious about this restaurant’s signature Grapefruit Cake, it can still be ordered in a regular full-size as a standalone dessert (though you won’t see the full portion listed on the menu).
For my trio, I chose the Caramel Custard with Passion Fruit Glace, Double Vanilla Bean Crème Brulee, and the Crunchy Sugar Cookie Puff with Lemon Grass Cream.
The Caramel Custard had more than a small hint of citrus from the passion fruit glaze. I can’t say it was my favorite flavor combination. I always love Crème Brulee, so while not a particularly unusual offering among the others, it’s always enjoyable.
The Sugar Cookie Puff was the winner here, and I think this picture gives a nice idea of its light, fluffy texture – though I wish I could better share some of its sweet, citrus taste!
My husband’s trio included the Amaretto Flan (simple, but full-flavored), the Chocolate Sphere (a smooth chocolate with a nice burst of hazelnut), and the Milk Chocolate Cremeux.
I thought you might like a glimpse at the light pudding and dark chocolate tucked inside the most unique of the three: the Milk Chocolate Cremeux.
Ultimately, I can’t say any of the desserts really “wowed” me. Even with the fun array of choices, I would have preferred one terrific dessert over three decent ones. Dessert Trios aren’t all that unusual around Disney World (though the “Choose-Your-Own” option here is a nice touch), and for some reason I rarely find them memorable. Next time, it’s the full size Grapefruit Cake for me.
I wouldn’t call myself a cinema expert (I wish!), but as a fan of several films and movie stars from the late 1930s and the 1940s, it’s still a thrill for me any time I get to step inside the Derby doors.
But what I appreciated most about this particular visit was having the option to consider — and enjoy one of — the lunch entrees. While the lunch menu is not extensive (around five choices, typically), with entrees starting at $16 – 17.00, a midday visit might be just the choice for those who have always been curious about this restaurant, its unique food, and its fantastic setting, but discouraged by the pricier entrees offered on the dinner menu. Of course, those on the Disney Dining Plan (or anyone looking to splurge) can also maximize the use of the two credits it takes to dine here on some well-prepared and unique dishes any time of day, allowing you to dine “among” — and like — the stars!
Have you had lunch or dinner at The Hollywood Brown Derby? Please let us know your thoughts with a comment!