The website published a fairly extensive (editor: it was only 3,160 words – I think we’ll consider that brief) review of Skipper Canteen back in February of this year after the restaurant soft-opened late last year. You can check out that review here in case you missed it. In addition to reviewing my experience, I take on a lot of the criticism that had been levied towards it and at least attempt to dispel some of it. That include the “weird” menu, the “expensive” prices, and the “lack” of reservations. The previous review also includes a lot more pictures around the restaurant that I won’t be rehashing here.
But one thing that isn’t debatable is that Skipper Canteen was met with empty tables and largely mediocre-at-best reviews from guests in the weeks that followed its initial opening.
Because easydubz always has its ear to the ground or whatever the relevant colloquialism is, the website occasionally pulls up recent Trip Advisor or Yelp reviews to see what “the people” think. I spend no time reading the four- or five-star reviews and instead hone in on the negative, which drives everything I do. According to David Ashley H, the menu here sees some Asian influences in a few of the dishes he ordered.
First of all, Jesse R. is this your first attempt at blogging? You never order the same thing as anyone else at the table. Second of all, it was suppose to be [sic] pork belly, which is fattier and might “feel” under-cooked to someone that gave Pollo Tropical five stars during the same trip. One wonders what the point of comping meals is if “making it right” still leads to 1-star reviews.
If only she had told us which agency…But Mary is not necessarily wrong…Disney should probably tell you that it’s pork belly.
But in the last 6-ish weeks, those are the only three 1- or 2-star reviews on tripadvisor.com, so people seem to be enjoying their meals a little more or at least everyone who didn’t is adequately bought off after walking out without paying.
But the menu was particularly contentious, so much so that news leaked in late April via WDW News Today that the restaurant would undergo a “radical menu change” with “almost all of the current offerings going away or moving to another restaurant at Walt Disney World.”
This is the original entree and dessert menu:
My assumption was that the “radical” changes would be the easing of some of the language and perhaps switching out some of the sides for more familiar items. Or at least have the option to do so. The steak could certainly come with whatever yuca planks are and chimichurri by default, but the option to switch those out for fries and garlic butter might fill some seats. The kitchen is shared with Liberty Tree Tavern after all. They certainly have the equipment to make fries back there. The chicken could arrive with teriyaki sauce instead of whatever hoisin sauce is and you could switch out the words “shiitake fried rice” for the more familiar “vegetable fried rice.” Put six shrimp on two skewers and take the heads off. And on one hand, you would still have a restaurant that offers different flavors than any of Magic Kingdom’s other restaurants, but you’d also be attracting a lot more people that just want to enjoy a comfortable, comforting meal after junior’s third meltdown of the day.
But that’s not what happened. And if anything, I think the menu is a little more out there than it was originally. Here’s the updated version:
So out of 11 entrees, four are exactly the same, two (Beefy Baked Pasta and Noodle Bowl) are 95% the same, one is completely new, two (Steak Salad and Vegetable Stew) switch out some ingredients, two (Chicken and Pork) are new preparations, and in an interesting turn of events, the one new item (Whole Fried Fish) is probably not attracting anyone that’s iffy about sofrito.
So whoever is in charge here apparently doesn’t think that it’s the menu or the menu descriptions that are keeping people away. Or they don’t care.
The changes to the drinks and appetizers are similarly minimized:
The Shiriki Noodle Salad replaces the Fish Collar and the Baladi Salad arrives with a “Coriander-Mint Vinaigrette” rather than a “Garlic-Coriander Vinaigrette.”
This is the updated kids’ menu, which admittedly still has me scratching my head over:
Why Disney can’t just add a flipping hamburger and a hot dog to throw parents a bone is beyond me. I’ll eat almost anything within reason at the ripe old age of 31, but if you served me “cucumber planks” when I was six you were going to have a problem. “Chef Tandaji’s Crispy Chicken served with White Rice, Seasonal Vegetables, and Sweet-and-Sour Sauce” or “Chicken Nuggets with Broccoli, French Fries, or (regular old) Mac & Cheese – $11.” It’s not hard. Word is they should offer a kids’ meal from Liberty Tree Tavern upon request, BUT WHY THEY DON’T JUST ADD SOMETHING TO THE MENU.
Is a restaurant’s menu perfectly themed if there’s nobody dining inside to see it?
The shtick here is the same with your server acting as a Jungle Cruise skipper. In my experience, that makes for a meal that is somewhere between mildly entertaining and moderately awkward, but that is also the story of my life. If you can’t crack a forced smile when your server asks, “What do you call a camel with no humps?”
Humphrey…Hump-free…….anyone…..then you might be better off with the frozen chicken parm at Tony’s Town Square.
Another change I thought they would make – switching out the Ethiopian ambasha bread for something more rudimentary. The bread has a slightly sweet, slightly spicy flavor to it thanks to the ground cardamom, which kind of tastes like ginger and cinnamon. It’s served alongside a thin honey spread infused with fenugreek, which has an earthy, aromatic quality to it. Bottom line: it’s really dense and even when fresh, “feels” stale. And the spices are unfamiliar. I tear off a piece whenever I visit, but it’s hard to imagine people wouldn’t want something more akin to a mealie cornbread or something – sweeter and more buttery. And still appropriately themed.
I tried each of the two new new/modified appetizers over two separate meals. This is the Shiriki Noodle Salad zoomed out to offer a better look at sizing.
With Rice Noodles, Edamame Beans, Mushrooms, Green Mango, and Cucumber tossed with a Sweet Chili Sauce. Famously served at Hotel Hightower on December 31, 1899.
Served chilled, this salad was as refreshing as the colors were vibrant. I thought there was a nice attention to detail on the plating as well.
It arrives on the table looking effortlessly constructed – just a pile of stuff on a plate. But once you stick your fork in it and give it a stir, you’re left with a salad that looks like it erupted on the plate.
Anyway, there is a lot going on here – even more than in the menu description with the addition of red pepper, carrots, lotus root, and some herbs – but it works. The noodles are soft and soak up the salty, sweet chili sauce and the various fruits and vegetables offer some crunch and a variety of other flavors from earthy to mild to sweet.
All in all I was impressed and I’m not sure that I can name an appetizer salad around this price point that I’ve recently enjoyed more. It’s a large portion for the money too – someone with a smaller appetite could probably get by with this as an entree perhaps helped by a couple bites of another appetizer or seconds on the bread. It might also be preferable if a Mickey Pretzel, Main Street Confectionery cupcake, and Dole Whip are all on the itinerary. Very good.
This is the new version of the Baladi Salad – Classic Egyptian Salad consisting of Romaine Lettuce, Red Peppers, Tomatoes, Cucumber, Parsley, Coriander-Mint Vinaigrette, and Ambasha Bread Croutons – $9.
This was a lot more straightforward though I’m relatively certain that the cast member in charge of the pepper shook the shaker a little, the top flew off, and half of the world’s supply of ground pepper ended up on top of my salad. The cast member then dug a handful out, threw that in the trash, and served me what was left. Okay, it was not quite that peppery, but you can see how much there is in the picture. In a strange way, it kind of worked with the coriander-mint vinaigrette and cucumber cooling each bite. But too much seasoning. It’s also a fairly substantial portion that you could easily split as an appetizer if you wanted.
We couldn’t help but return to a few favorites. Corless loves these $10 S.E.A. Shu Mai – A Legendary blend of Pork, Shrimp, Edamame Beans, and Spices wrapped in Gyoza Skin then steamed. The presentation is actually a little different here than in the past.
They originally arrived in this stainless steel pot thing.
But no matter which vessel carries them, each of the six delicate gyoza wrappers gives way to a surprisingly complex array of spices mixed in with the blend of Pork, Shrimp, and Edamame Beans. It’s easily a top three appetizer in Magic Kingdom and is easily shareable.
While it’s not a new dish, I hadn’t tried the Falls Family Falafel – A secret recipe of of Chickpeas, Garlic, Onions, Lemon Juice, and Herbs served with White Bean Dip and Tomato-Cucumber Salad – $8.50.
Quite a bit goes into these round little balls – 14 ingredients in all including dried chickpeas, coriander, cayenne, garlic, cumin, cilantro, and parsley.
And while falafel is almost dry by definition, these had a nice crisp exterior and a light interior that was complemented nicely by the fresh flavors from the cucumber and tomato salad tossed in olive oil and more importantly, the bean dip with its yogurt base and hint of sriracha spice.
It was better than the falafel that I’ve tried at Jock Lindsey’s, Trader Sam’s, and Tangierine Cafe, perhaps among others, but might not be so fantastic that they’re a “must try.”
Like several of the other appetizers, including these arepas, they are very shareable though you might not want to.
This is how the Skip’s Mac & Cheese was originally plated for $19.
This is the current Skip’s Beefy Baked Pasta – Egyptian-inspired dish of Spiced Braised Beef, Pasta, and Béchamel Sauce served with Seasonal Vegetables – $21.
I wasn’t particularly impressed by the re-imagining. The original, served in its own precious little ramekin, “felt” like it was made specifically for whoever ordered it with about half of the pasta and the beef hidden underneath a thick layer of macaroni with the creamy sauce delicately spooned over the top.
The current version “feels” like after receiving an order, a cast member goes into the fridge, pulls out a baking dish of half eaten lasagna, peels the aluminum foil off the top, cuts off a square, puts it on a plate, and then puts the aluminum foil back on and sticks it back in the fridge.
But it tasted about the same – the pasta was a little gummier and now that the onus is on the operator to move the sauce about the pasta, a little less creamy and decadent. It’s also a significantly smaller portion for what ended up being one of few price increases on the “new” menu. I originally remarked that this was easily shareable among two adults, particularly with the addition of the arepas or one of the other heftier appetizers. But I don’t think that’s the case anymore. I preferred the more interesting “Chinese Broccoli” to these unseasoned green beans as well.
So I don’t think that was an improvement. But it’s not exactly a disaster, particularly if you don’t let your imagination run wild with what they’ve got going on back there.
I know many of you have delicate sensibilities, so I will give you the opportunity to take a look at the full size picture of the $30 Whole Fried Fish – You’ll get hooked on Skipper Annette’s latest catch! Served with Jasmine Rice, Grilled Scallions, and Soy-Ginger Vinaigrette if you so choose.
Considering many expected Skipper Canteen to go “more mainstream,” the addition of serving two whole lionfish, eyeballs and all, was a surprising move. But also a tasty one. The fish is prepared in this manner to trap as much flavor and moisture as possible into each bite of the delicate, flaky, mild white fish. The firmer texture and less brittle bones compared to what Tiffins is serving over at Animal Kingdom, makes this a lot easier to eat than that version and each bite is succulent with a mild lingering spice from the rub, in addition to the sweet/spicy quality of the soy ginger sauce. The crunchy spines (is that what they’re called?) have almost a potato chip quality crunch to them as they can easily be broken off and eaten.
Overall, this is a very well put together dish and one that is easily shareable given the fact that two large fish are served. I thought it was a good value and a testament that Disney has no interest in “dumbing down” the menu here.
Also a reminder that the souvenir mugs are back for between $10-$14 depending on whether you want it filled with soda, juice, or one of the signature drinks.
The Schweitzer Slush – Frozen Apple Juice and Passion Fruit topped with Bursting Green Apple Boba Balls, first concocted by the noted explorer and humanitarian, Dr. Albert Slush is extremely sweet, making the ten-ounces-or-so served here about as much as you’ll probably want to drink over the course of a meal.
Overall, Skipper Canteen remains my favorite table service lunch at Magic Kingdom, though the competition is not exactly fierce. The atmosphere is fun, interesting, and unique. The service I’ve received has always been as friendly as it is prompt. I think the menu and execution of some of the dishes still leave something to be desired. The kitchen seems like they want to offer some dishes that are a little out of people’s comfort zones, but because they are still catering to the hamburger and hot dog crowd, tend to dumb the flavors down to the point where the people that want to experience those flavors are left disappointed. It seems to me like offering a sizzling skirt steak with a flavorful homemade chimichurri alongside the usual well done sirloin with a side of fries would be wise. You’re giving both sides what they want and both will leave happier.
Since the last review, Skipper Canteen accepts reservations like most other restaurants. They typically take walkups during lunch hours, but dinner can be a bit busier. You always want a reservation as soon as you know you want to eat at a restaurant. So fire up the app or the website as soon as you’ve made a decision, even if it’s just a couple hours before you want to eat. We made our 12pm reservation for two on the way over to Magic Kingdom from Sanaa breakfast around 10:30am. Note that the restaurant appears under “J” for Jungle Cruise rather than “S” for Skipper Canteen.
The restaurant now accepts the Tables in Wonderland discount and Disney added a plethora of discounts for Annual Passholders, including 20% off at Skipper Canteen. A full list of new Annual Passholder discounts is available in the forums here. That list also includes whether the new discounts are better, worse, or the same as the previous discounts.