In the middle of the glitz and glitter of Disney’s Hollywood Studios is the classic Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant.
The Brown Derby is a swanky signature restaurant inspired by the real Brown Derby restaurant(s) in California (more on that in a bit!). The cozy lounge-feel of the restaurant is the perfect setting for a romantic night-out or when your travel group is feeling fancy! We recently headed back to the Brown Derby to see how the restaurant has adapted since the theme parks reopened. Do they still toss the Cobb Salad at your table? Is the Grapefruit Cake still fantastic? What about the drinks?! Let’s find out!
We’ve visited the Brown Derby many, many times over the years and we’re always quite smitten with the theming of this swingin’ Hollywood restaurant. When you step inside, it’s as if the noisy, bustling theme park disappears entirely. You’ve now stepped into an ultra-hip dining experience where you might bump elbows with big movie directors and rich producers celebrating a successful day of shooting over on the soundstages.
Allow us to give you a lil’ history lesson on the Brown Derby restaurants so you know WHY this place is special and, more importantly, why it lives in Hollywood Studios! The original Brown Derby opened in 1926 on Wilshire Boulevard in Hollywood. This location actually was SHAPED like a bowler hat! In 1929, a second location opened on North Vine Boulevard. This location, which the Hollywood Studios location takes inspiration from, was the more famed of the two due to its close proximity to the movie studios. After work, directors, producers, and actors would flood to the Brown Derby for drinks, dinner, and merriment. Since Hollywood Studios was built with working soundstages and was made to feel like a step into the world of cinema, it’s a fitting addition to be able to feel like you’re rubbing elbows with Hollywood elite in the spot they actually did so originally.
THIS Brown Derby is a snapshot of that lost period in Hollywood. When places like the Brown Derby were where you went to see and be seen. That’s the vibe this location tries, and is quite successful, at emulating.
One of the most notable decor elements around the restaurant is the eye-catching black and white photos lining the walls of the lobby and dining area. Back in the day in the REAL Hollywood Brown Derby, resident caricature artists would entertain celebrity diners by sketching their likeness. The most notable of these artists were Jack Lane and an artist named Vitch. Celebrities pictures would be added to the walls around the Derby as a sort of “Great Wall of Hollywood Fame” and by the time the restaurant closed in 1985, the walls were covered in drawings of famous patrons. The ones seen in the Disney World Derby? Most are recreations of the originals…but not all.
Most of the caricatures have a simple black frame but a few feature a gold frame. THESE drawings are the real deal, straight from the Golden Age of Hollywood! They were moved over after the restaurant closed.
This particular photo captures Imagineer Herbert Ryman drawing a caricature of Georgie Jessel. This photo was taken in the real Brown Derby and offers a kind of Brown Derby-Inception.
There’s also a fun guest book that has been signed by real celebrities who visited the Brown Derby in Hollywood Studios! Head to the large glass case to see who was last seen at the restaurant. The pages we saw were signed by Lindsey Collins, Producer of Finding Dory, and Josh Cooley who directed Toy Story 4.
Old Hollywood caricatures are everywhere throughout the restaurant. It’s fun to play a game of “who’s who” when visiting. Is that Dean Martin in the corner? Lucille Ball near the ceiling?
This restaurant features another relic of a long-ago time: payphones! You might have to explain to your kids what these ancient contraptions are, but you’ll find these near the main lobby. The phones were still accessible on our visit and guests and we were tempted to play with the old-timey phones. (Don’t judge. They might be useful if your cellphone dies and you’ve got a lot of spare quarters handy! ?)
The adjacent Hollywood Brown Derby Lounge is still open…sort of. We love this walk-up, more casual dining version of the Derby, but since reopening, this spot is only serving drinks as a walk-up bar. A couple of tables are available to sip your drink at but, otherwise, no tasty food in sight for now!
The lobby hasn’t seen too many changes since our last visit and the overall theming wasn’t entirely affected by the global pandemic. The noticeable addition here is the plexiglass window that was placed at the host’s podium. The windows have been placed throughout Disney World in rides, restaurants, and gift shops.
All Disney World restaurants are encouraging Mobile Dine check-in via the My Disney Experience app. Scan the QR code on the placard using your camera phone. Your phone should direct you to a Disney World website that will allow you to check into your reservation. You’ll receive a notification when your table is ready and head to the host’s podium to be seated.
Once you’re escorted inside, you’ll get a view of the deep, rich mahogany furniture and wood paneling throughout the restaurant. The tile flooring and vintage ceiling lights immediately transfer you to a time when bustling young movie talent dined at the height of the golden age.
As far as health and safety changes, standard procedures we’ve seen at other locations were taken at the Brown Derby. Some tables were unavailable to accommodate physical distancing between travel groups. We were given a piece of paper with another QR code that allowed us to view the menu online.
Seating at the Derby ranges from white tablecloth-covered free-standing tables to expansive booths that were popular at the original location.
We were then seated at one of the deep, cozy, and expansive booths to enjoy our meal.
Though the menu, like most around Disney World, is limited at this time, there is still a wide variety of entrees and appetizers that should satisfy most visitors. The appetizer menu has six items including Shrimp Cocktail and Pan-seared Sea Scallops with Roasted Pork Belly.
The entree and dessert menu hosts old favorites like the famous Cobb Salad, Grapefruit Cake, and Wagyu Burger.
And, in case you’re wondering, the Brown Derby is still offering a selection of after-dinner drink flights! (That Grand Marnier flight is a FANCY and delicious after-dinner treat perfect for sharing with the adults in your party!)
They also have a full bar so you can order your favorite cocktails or after-dinner drinks that are basically desserts in a glass!
In case you’re curious, we last reviewed Brown Derby in November 2019 and since then, the restaurant eliminated the Ginger-Lemon Grass Pho, Andouille-Crusted Chicken, and Pan-Seared Fish of the Day from the adult entree menu. Also, the Super Salad of the Stars was taken away and the Heirloom Tomato Burrata Salad, Shrimp Cocktail, Local Greens and Baby Spinach, and Charcuterie Board were added instead. The Tomato Soup was replaced by the seasonal Butternut Squash that we’ve enjoyed before.
We decided to try a few of the classic dishes (and some cocktails!) that are famous at the Brown Derby. Our mission was to find out whether the restaurant’s signature dishes still held up against our reviews in the past.
When in Hollywood, one MUST order a Dirty Martini, right?! As we mentioned before, the restaurant has a full bar so you can order popular cocktails of your choice customized to your liking. Our server offered to pair our martini with blue-cheese stuffed olives. Not every Disney bar carries the stuffed olives so we went for it!
We also went with an Old-Fashioned, which came with a fresh orange wedge and cherry. Both drinks were fantastic versions of the classic cocktails. The drinks are always strong here, which is a rarity at Disney World. The bartenders did their job well and supplied us with hearty cocktails that hit the spot! Classic Hollywood, indeed!
We decided to start our meal with something light (but still oh so classic) so we ordered the Shrimp Cocktail. We only received… four shrimp swimming (nope, not literally!) in a massive glass. Looks are deceiving here — they were actually a fairly good size, but still, we could have used a couple more for the price of $15! The shrimp is paired with fennel slaw and house-made cocktail sauce. Making house-made cocktail sauce isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel, but it was fine. There wasn’t anything particularly special about the app, but it was a fresh and tasty version of the popular starter.
Now we’re in business! You know we would be breaking practically every (self-imposed) Hollywood Studios Law (sorry, that’s totes a thing guys) if we DIDN’T order the glorious chopped Cobb Salad. Honestly, if you don’t order the Cobb Salad, did you even go to Brown Derby??
We hear you — “It’s a salad, how good can it really be?!” Bite your tongue. It’s THE salad. It’s a delicious and FRESH salad made with Finely Chopped Greens, Turkey Breast, Bacon, Egg, Tomatoes, Crumbled Blue Cheese, Avocado, Chives, and Cobb Dressing.
We wanted to find out whether the salad was still prepared table-side with the new health and safety precautions in place. Turns out, they can still mix it at your table at your request! The salad comes pre-chopped and deconstructed before the server tosses it for you (or not — up to you!).
The preparation allows the salad to remain fresh as opposed to soaking up the dressing in the kitchen and arriving soggy! If you want the whole fabled origins of this classic dish, learn more here.
What can we say? This salad is the bomb. It’s heavy on the blue cheese so be warned if it’s not your fav. If you DON’T like any component, simply ask for it to be prepared without! This is a classic for a reason. It’s hearty, shockingly filling, and comes with a legendary past all for $18. We’ll wait longingly for the return of the Hollywood Brown Derby Lounge’s petit version of the salad that was PERFECT for nibbling and people-watching around the Studios!
We then hit our main course, the Wagyu Burger for $24. This was really, really delicious. We absolutely loved the pastrami paired with the sunny side egg and gruyere cheese. It also comes topped with fresh avocado, heirloom tomato, and cognac-mustard.
We ordered it medium-rare and it actually came out that way! It’s hit or miss whether the meat will actually come out pink enough for our taste, but this was right on the money for us! The portions and ingredients make this meal easily shareable for two people. The pastrami is subbing in for bacon here but still gives a hearty, meaty flavor. Plus that perfectly runny egg yolk and copious amounts of gruyere? Yes. This burger was an absolute delight.
We think to truly love this burger, you’ve got to really embrace all the components on it and dig in. Sure you could order it without the egg or cognac-mustard, but then you’re not ordering a swanky Brown Derby burger, are you? With other stellar options on the menu, this might not be our first pick on our next visit, but it’s a solid choice on the menu. If anyone in your group wants to have a nice but still approachable meal, this will hit the mark.
And, of course, we had to taste-test the Grapefruit Cake again! Once again, this is an absolute classic and a must-order for us. It’s difficult to “wow” us with table service desserts, but this baby always does the trick.
The dessert is a unique blend of light tartness and grapefruity bitterness highlighted in grapefruit syrup, cheesecake, and jam — all sandwiched with layers of vanilla sponge cake. My goodness, what a masterpiece for $13!
Thankfully, nothing’s changed here and our love for Brown Derby’s Grapefruit Cake is unwavering! This dessert, while one of our favorites, is not for everyone. You’ve gotta REALLY love the flavor of grapefruit. That bitter tang is the star here, accented by rich cream cheese flavors. We’ve seen people fall head over heels in love with this cake and others totally put off by the flavor so before you order, know which side of the grapefruit fence you’re on! To think this cake was invented as a sort of “healthy” cake! HA! This is another classic with an interesting history you can learn more about here!
If you’re more interested in DRINKING your cake, they’ve got you covered too! The Grapefruit Cake Martini is a total decadent delight we’ve enjoyed (many) times in the past!
After all the swanky cocktails and classic desserts, it was time for an after-dinner drink. There’s something about the vibe at Brown Derby that makes us want to finish our evening with a nightcap. The Cafe Henry III is coffee mixed with Brandy, Kahlúa, Grand Marnier, and Galliano with a Cinnamon-Sugar Rim for $14.
The coffee was strong and just what we needed to cut some of the richness of our burger. The alcohol also packed quite a punch; something we weren’t at all expecting! We got a hint of orange flavor from the Grand Marnier and a hint of cinnamon from the rim. What a beautiful way to finish off the night!
Nosh or Not
Consider Dining at Hollywood Brown Derby if:
- You love a classy night out! This place is perfect for date nights or with a group of friends!
- You’re a fan of Old Hollywood vibes, classic upscale food, and swanky cocktails.
- You want a fancy meal at Hollywood Studios — this is as nice as it gets in this park!
Consider Skipping Hollywood Brown Derby if:
- You want a meal that’s more laid-back and casual. We suggest heading to 50’s Prime Time Cafe for a fun and lighthearted atmosphere!
- You’re looking for an inexpensive meal. Signature Dining = More Cash Spent! That said, some of our items were in line with am ore affordable Disney sit-down meal.
- You want a Disney-fied experience. This restaurant doles out Disney-level service, but you’ll hardly notice that you’re in a theme park! This can be a good or bad thing, depending on your preference.
There’s a reason we keep returning to the Hollywood Brown Derby. The restaurant absolutely delivers in terms of food, service, and atmosphere. It’s an upscale dining experience that reflects the high-quality service we look for in Disney’s Signature restaurants. In a park slowly being overrun with Pixar and Star Wars, we love that this restaurant is still focused on the old Hollywood that Hollywood Studios (then MGM Studios) was built on. It’s a cozy standby that fits beautifully among the themed shops on Sunset Boulevard.
There are a lot of incredible Signature Dining restaurants that have impressed us in the past. The Brown Derby will always be one that we return to time and time again. The food usually lives up to the hype and we’ve yet to have a bad Cobb Salad! This is a place time seems to want to slow down. You want to sit here and sip a drink or linger over an appetizer for a while, and that’s part of its charm. The atmosphere doesn’t scream “Disney,” but that’s also one of its perks. It’s a quiet restaurant that transports you from a noisy, busy, and hot day at Disney World into a beautiful restaurant that looks like it came right out of an old movie!
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Have you visited the Brown Derby? Let us know your experience in the comments!