We return to The Wonderful World of Menus™ at Disney’s Hollywood Studios with a look at what you can expect from the various table service restaurants, along with some quick reviews of Sci-Fi Dine-In and 50’s Prime Time Cafe.
Sci-Fi is one of my favorite restaurants on property with its unique atmosphere and reasonably-priced menu that typically focuses on burgers and sandwiches that go for around ~$20 each.
Hilariously, the booths are modeled in the shape of cars, typically with three rows that seat two adults or potentially two adults and one small child each.
That can make conversation a little difficult if your party consists of more than that number of people. This may be a good thing if you’re looking for a break from the in-laws, but Sci-Fi is among the worst choices if you’d like to have a little chat with several adults over a quiet meal.
There are some regular picnic tables at the back of the restaurant that you can opt for if you prefer, but that seems to defeat the purpose a bit. Those without reservations may also be offered these tables instead of finding themselves simply turned away. “Yes, we can seat you, but you might as well not even be here.” Interestingly, Sci-Fi is one of the more difficult reservations to book, but keep refreshing availability if nothing is available when you first begin searching. Just about every restaurant will become available a day or two before a given date.
I don’t think I want it.
The short science fiction clips that have played here for years are a lot of fun. I’ve long advocated that they switch the clips out for an assortment of relevant easywdw.com blog posts, but Sci-Fi sticks with the…sci-fi. The stars and nighttime skyline help further the storyline.
Sci-Fi Dine-In is inexpensive by Disney standards, offering five appetizers for between eight and eleven dollars, in addition to the $20 sampler that includes smaller portions of three selections. The average entree price comes in at $20.50 with a variety of burgers and sandwiches available for $21 or less.
I very rarely take my own advice. In past Sci-Fi reviews, like this one, I recommend ordering two full-size appetizers to split considering how lousy the portion size is with the sampler.
Image quality is not going to be great as I’m using the light on an iPhone as our primary source of inspiration. The “Shrimp and Crab Fondue – A Blend of Shrimp, Crab, and Cheeses with Roasted Red Peppers, Fresh Dill, and Corn Tortilla Chips” was served piping hot and is a nice change of pace from the blander Spinach and Artichoke Dip that’s been served in the past. The flavor here is predominantly melted cheese with some bits of shrimp and crab mixed in. It was a little fishy for my tastes and the thin tortilla chips didn’t do much to offset that. Served in this tiny little bowl, there isn’t much of a downside to trying it other than the $20 cost of plate.
The Fried Pickles are much more of a highlight – freshly fried with a satisfying crunch. I’m a huge fan of the creamy horseradish sauce that, surprisingly, doesn’t shy away from the face-tingling spice that you’d hope to find in something that leads with the word “horseradish.” Finally, the three Boneless Buffalo Tenders, served with Blue Cheese Dressing, are about what you would expect – appropriately crispy and slathered in Frank’s Red Hot Sauce.
Considering the large size of the entrees, you might skip appetizers unless you’re planning on splitting a main course. My favorite appetizer is the $9 “Onion Rings with Sweet Chili and Horseradish Dipping Sauce” – pictured here as part of another sampler. The full size version is a tall stack of hot, perfectly-crispy onion rings served with the same delicious sauce as the sampler. For under ten bucks, it’s a worthy investment.
Several cocktails are served alongside draft and bottled/canned beer.
That includes this $12.75 “Long Island Lunar Tea – Bacardi Superior Rum, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Hendrick’s, Cointreau, and Sweet-and-Sour with a splash of Coca-Cola.” While Disney’s standard Long Island found on their resort lounge menu now arrives with a touch of tequila, there’s no such luck here with the drink consisting mostly of bottled Sweet-and-Sour Mix. Going with a draft beer or holding off on a drink until you can make your way next door to BaseLine Tap House is smart. You can also walk a beer or cocktail in from another location.
This is an unattractive picture of the $27 “Sci-Fi Barbecue Platter – Smoked Pulled Pork, St. Louis-style Ribs, Grilled Chicken, and Sausage served with Jalapeño-Cheddar Cornbread, Southern Coleslaw, and Cowboy Beans finished with Coca-Cola Barbecue Sauce.” Everything is seasoned/smoked/grilled in-house and surprisingly, it’s very tasty virtually across the board. There’s a lot more chicken there than it probably looks in the picture, juicy and tender with a flavorful rub. The al dente beans enjoy a thick sauce with brown sugar and spice, while the ribs were lean and meaty. The sausage is the most forgettable part – just about three bites with a nice mixture of spices in the pork and a decently snappy casing. I’m not usually high on jalapeno-cornbread, but it works better here than it ever did at Flame Tree – sweet, spicy, and crumbly with a natural jalapeno and honey flavor. You’ve also got a few thick slices of sweet pickle for good measure along with the coleslaw, which was nice and heavy on the crunchy vegetables.
The spread is plenty of food for two hungry people to share, particularly if you start with an appetizer or add on a shake or two.
Speaking of shakes, I’d add at least one at some point during your meal. This is the Strawberry Shortcake version, which was the special at one point, neatly split into two tall cups each topped with cake, whipped cream, and a bright red ripe strawberry.
We were a bit less high on the $17 “Smoked Prime Rib Sandwich – Pastrami-style Smoked Prime Rib served on Grilled Marbled Rye with Grain Mustard Coleslaw, Caramelized Onions, and Swiss Cheese.” I’m not sure what “Pastrami-style Smoked Prime Rib” is, but I’m guessing that it’s a reference to thinly sliced old beef. Prime Rib is not an indication of beef quality – there is no USDA Choice Rib, for example. And my estimation is that this particular sandwich was never anywhere close to a cow’s prime rib. Anyway, there was far too much of the acidic, wet, vinegary coleslaw going on and the mushy onions and greasy layer of cheese didn’t do much to improve the situation.
The good news is that this has potentially been replaced by the $17 “Cheese Steak Sandwich – Thinly Sliced Rib-Eye Steak, Caramelized Onions, and Bell Peppers served on a Toasted Hoagie Roll topped with Provolone and Beer-Cheese Sauce.” That still sounds like a bit of a mess, but I can’t imagine that it’s much worse than this abomination.
The burgers are typically a good choice here as we take a look at what is now a $21 “Drive-in BBQ Burger – Our Signature Blend of Beef, BBQ Spice, Brioche Bun, House-made BBQ Sauce, Bacon, and Cheddar served with Crispy-fried Jalapeño and Onion Straws.” It’s a proficient burger – better than your standard “angus” you’d find at the likes of Backlot Express. The barbecue sauce had a really nice tang that contrasted nicely with the spiciness of the jalapenos and the crunch of the onion straws. The bun was toasted well with a nice crunch and a soft bite and managed to do an admirable job of holding everything together.
This is what $15.49 buys you next door at ABC Commissary in the “Southwest BBQ Burger.” Granted, there’s a lot going on here too, but I’m willing to spend an extra $3-$5 to enjoy the atmosphere at Sci-Fi and be served a burger that’s prepared with a lot more care.
Overall, Sci-Fi is a lot of fun, offering one of Disney’s truly unique restaurants and a menu that won’t break the bank, particularly if you elect to share an appetizer and entree for around the same cost of two quick service burgers elsewhere. I was surprised by the quality of the barbecue, though the price reflects it. But the restaurant remains my favorite table service restaurant for dinner at the Studios.
For lunch, my favorite spot is Hollywood Brown Derby, where the restaurant is apparently not posting its menu with prices outside.
You can’t beat the quality of food for the money on a couple of these lunch entrees, including the Shrimp & Grits, Grilled Wagyu Beef Burger, and Andouille-crusted Chicken Bread (Sandwich).
You can pull up my latest Brown Derby review here.
The review runs the gamut from the $49 Filet all the way down to the $19 Chicken Sandwich, which is not to be missed.
As you might expect, dinner eliminates the less-expensive choices.
Brown Derby is still a good restaurant in the evening, but if I’m planning on dropping $45+ on an entree, I’d prefer to make more of an evening out of it at a restaurant like Narcoossee’s or California Grill.
If you’d like to take advantage of the less expensive items on the menu, but either prefer to sit outside or would like a more casual experience, then the Brown Derby Lounge is a good choice.
It offers the full Brown Derby menu, in addition to a dedicated Small Plates menu.
The $15 “Andouille-crusted Shrimp – Cotswold Cheddar Grits, Micro Salad with Lime, and Piment d’Espelette Oil” is a fantastic dish.
The $17 “Derby Sliders – Wagyu Beef with Cognac-Mustard Aïoli, Smoked Gouda Cheese, Bacon, and Avocado and Duck Confit, Taleggio Cheese, Chipotle-Vegetable Slaw, Sweet Onion-Orange Conserve, and crispy Leeks” is another outstanding choice. If you’d like to enjoy the best food that the Studios has to offer around dinner time, then you might elect to visit the Lounge and order from its dedicated menu. On the downside, the Lounge is on the cramped side and service is typically slower and less personable than what you’ll likely receive inside. Reservations also aren’t accepted, so there is occasionally a wait or a race to a table that’s recently opened up. If you’re spending big money, then I’d definitely elect to sit inside. But for an easy, breezy, lighter meal, the Lounge is a fantastic choice in whatever you deem to be pleasant weather.
Mama Melrose is your Italian option, offering a menu of standard offerings that include Spaghetti and Meatballs, Shrimp or Chicken Pasta, Chicken alla Parmigiana, and the like.
You can do relatively well here splitting a “Flatbread” and another entree.
The bread is quite good too and something that you won’t see at Sci-Fi or 50’s Prime Time.
You can pull up my most recent review here for a pretty thorough look at what to expect.
50’s Prime Time Cafe is another table service option that I’ll admit has never been a personal favorite.
It’s actually among my least favorite restaurants, which I am aware is a fringe opinion.
Typically with the theme park restaurant experience, I’m looking for something relatively quiet and relaxed away from the noise that permeates just about every other facet of Walt Disney World. 50’s Prime Time is the antithesis of that – it’s small, it’s cramped, and it’s loud.
Furthermore, it’s pretty obvious that nothing is cooked to order. That may be true at the majority of Disney restaurants, but I think others at least hide it a little better, whether that means holding off on bringing the entrees out eight minutes after you order instead of the three minutes that’s typical here. On the other hand, I suppose it’s kind that they’re willing to get me out of there and on my way that much sooner.
On the plus side, the Peanut Butter & Jelly Milk Shake, which is up to $9 in cost, is a delight.
I was originally a little apprehensive, but the peanut butter flavor is light and smooth with just a little bit of jelly to sweeten things up. You can order one from the Tune-In Lounge next door and get it to-go, which may be a better option that committing to a meal.
On our last visit, Erin and I returned to a favorite in the $10 “Beer-battered Onion Rings and Horseradish Sauce.” They’re either very similar or exactly the same as what you’ll be served at Sci-Fi, only here in a cute little fry basket where the emphasis should perhaps be on little. There’s eight or nine rings here, each perfectly crispy with a thick batter and a ring of onion inside. I love that spicy, pungent Horseradish Sauce.
Against my better judgment, I returned to the $26 “A Sampling of Mom’s Favorite Recipes – Golden-fried Chicken, Fork Tender Pot Roast, and Traditional Meatloaf with all the fixings.”
Among the three main entree choices, the Fried Chicken is the clear winner in my estimation – juicy, flavorful, and plump with a nice crispy batter and plenty of butter. Fried Chicken along with Mashed Potatoes and a Vegetable will set you back a couple of dollars less when purchased as its own entree, coming in at $24.
The Pot Roast isn’t much to write home about, particularly as part of the Sampler, where you’ll only get a couple of thin strands of meat and a lot of the Julienne Carrots and Celery. It’s potentially okay, but dry on its own and without a lot of flavor.
“Cousin Megan’s Traditional Meatloaf – Blend of Beef and Pork topped with Tomato Glaze” is the weakest link – a few bites of dry meatloaf with a squirt of ketchup.
It’s okay overall, but the fact that nothing tastes freshly-made is unfortunate and I think this comes down to being comfort food without any of the comfort.
Erin went with the special of the day in the $29 Holiday Brisket served with a substantial side of Macaroni and Cheese Shell Pasta.
If you think that you’ve experienced some dry meat recently, then I would invite you to take a look at this, where a large number of long slices are served with a thin ketchup-y sauce. The meal was certainly filling – there’s eight slices of meat and about a pound of mac & cheese, but the low quality of beef stood out as belonging on a buffet with 35 other items next door at Hollywood & Vine rather than a restaurant charging nearly $30 for the privilege.
The Fried Chicken with three large, golden-fried pieces is the safest choice.
“Grandma’s Chicken Pot Pie – A creamy Cheese mixture of Chicken, Mushrooms, Carrots, Celery, Onions, and Peas topped with a flaky Pastry” is also a sleeper hit, in my estimation. The broth is creamy without being heavy and it’s full of hot baked chicken. The bottom is lined with puff pastry as well, so you might consider it a “deconstructed chicken pot pie” if you wanted to be fancy about it.
So while I would recommend avoiding the Pot Roast and Meatloaf, there are several better options.
50’s is potentially worth trying and if you’re less adverse to loud, cramped spaces than I am then you may enjoy it. Over the course of my last couple of visits, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced any of the antics that I would attribute to the restaurant. This may be because I don’t look very fun.
I reviewed Minnie’s Holiday Dine earlier this month with the full review here. It’s a great opportunity to meet the characters in some fun unique outfits, but the food again disappointed. At least the soft service ice cream is good.
Overall, Hollywood Brown Derby is an excellent lunch stop and might be my favorite overall theme park meal when balancing price, service, and quality. I like Sci-Fi a lot too, particularly after Brown Derby has moved on to dinner. Mama Melrose is just fine; if you’re in the mood for pizza or just want an easy meal without the noise of 50’s or the seating arrangement of Sci-Fi or the uppityness of Brown Derby then I certainly wouldn’t hold it against you. I’ve never had a memorably good meal there, but it’s also never been unpleasant. Hollywood & Vine serves a fun Disney Jr. character breakfast with kids in tow and dinner can be enjoyable too as long as your expectations on food quality match the cafeteria-inspired interior.
We’ll take a walk around the Park before moving on to quick service.