We’ll take a visit to Paddlefish, the “new” restaurant that replaces Fulton’s inside of the Empress Lilly on Village Lake at Disney Springs.
I reviewed Fulton’s a few times over the years, often noting inconsistent food and service quality based on the plethora of negative reviews about the restaurant. Obviously, if you go to a restaurant enough times, you’re inevitably going to run into a poor experience. But I feel like the magic number at Fulton’s was often “one” and if by some miracle your food came out with some amount of warmth within an hour of placing the order on an initial visit, your luck would soon run out. Or at a minimum, if you’ve been to Fulton’s multiple times and never had a bad experience then you might want to stop for some Scratch tickets on the way home from work. But as a testament to just how irrelevant blogs like this are, Fulton’s was one of the most successful restaurants in the entire country with revenue that exceeded 21 million dollars on nearly 425,000 meals served, at least if this list of top restaurants is to be believed. Yes, the Levy’s-operated restaurant was the 13th highest grossing in the country in 2015. And Disney still forced them to change the concept.
But the thing about Downtown Disney circa 2k14 was that there was not a lot of competition, particularly considering the incredibly high demand of a relatively captive audience. It would be like if this was one of only three Disney blogs on the Internet – I would be massively popular even given a dearth of new content and a near elimination of comedy. Above is/was Fulton’s Lobster Roll – barely as long as the french fries and nearly as narrow. And stuffed with more vegetables than bottom feeder.
This Crab Stuffed Baked Lobster looks the part – but it was served ice cold for 50 bucks, which was a lot of money in 2013.
Today, Disney Springs has brought its proverbial “A” game, adding in about a dozen restaurants that are easily some of Disney’s best on property. And STK. Morimoto serves the best Asian food. Frontera is the best Mexican restaurant. BOATHOUSE serves arguably the best overall menu. Blaze serves the best quick service pizza while D-Luxe offers the best fast food hamburgers (at a premium price). There’s no better donkey sauce than what’s served at Planet Hollywood. And the kids are going to want to go to Rainforest Cafe no matter what you try to do.
So I went into Paddlefish thinking that they were going to have to do something pretty special to wow me.
And wow me they did, at least in terms of views and location. These intimate tables on the third floor…
Look out at this. Those are the chairs on the far right.
Who doesn’t want to be seated here with a couple of glasses of wine as the sun sets staring longingly into the eyes of their (second or third) favorite blogger?
I mean really.
But some of the views from inside are just as pretty.
A look around:
I appreciated that different sections of the boat had a different “feel.” The downstairs area near the back “felt” the classiest with its classic lighting and darker color palette. The front of the second floor felt the most playful with the expansive bar on the first floor where we were seated “feeling” casual, brighter, and more open. At a minimum, I would request a window view. The back of the first floor is most likely to be romantic, while the front of either the first two floors should be a bit more kid friendly. On this particular Sunday, early on in the restaurant’s run, the upstairs bar area wasn’t opening until 6:30pm. A smart couple had bought a couple of beers from the downstairs bar and walked them up to enjoy the views from the third floor couches.
You actually don’t have to go inside the restaurant at all to get up to the third floor – just take the stairs on the far right side.
One of the things I liked most about Fulton’s was that it offered a less expensive lunch menu and that is still the case, though the prices may still “be” high in places:
But a number of items come in under $20, including a hefty burger, some salad/soup combos, the salads, the Crab Cake BLT, Fried Clam Roll, and all of the starters. So there are some opportunities to get out of here without breaking the bank. Certainly nobody is going to turn their nose up at you if your party of four shares the $70 Seafood Tower.
Some of the drinks are perhaps pushing it – a $20 Whiskey Ginger seems a little nutty. That’s one of the reasons why I like Homecoming, where their cocktails typically come in between $10 and $12, which makes it an easier decision to enjoy one while you peruse the menu and then order a second with the meal. With tax and tip, two Gold Rushes are going to run you 50 bucks.
Here is that cocktail, which is apparently more of a Kentucky Mule situation. The drink is attractively presented on a wooden board – the muddled mint/lime juice is on the left with the whiskey/lime/mint in the copper mug in the middle, and then a full bottle of Fever Tree Ginger Beer is located on the right.
Your server will mix it for you and give it a nice stir. And the flavor was incredibly fresh with a distinctness to the mint combining nicely with the sweetness of the ginger against the vanilla notes of the Kinahan’s Irish Whiskey. Was it eight dollars more than I wanted to pay? Probably…but the ingredients are among the best that I’ve encountered at Disney Springs and the presentation goes a long way. You can always order a double Canadian Club with dinner.
The $20 Bloody Mary – King crab, jumbo shrimp, candied Neuske’s bacon is not the first iteration of a pricey breakfast cocktail that we’ve come across. Over at California Grill brunch, which you might remember I raved about, the cocktail cost as much as $17 with Belvedere. Anyway, this arrives with a serious, meaty crab leg that stretches down to the bottom of the glass, in addition to a jumbo shrimp and the sweet, salty bacon. It’s quite a bit of food in addition to the cocktail itself, which had a nice kick to it. The cocktail itself was “only okay” – the mix was probably homemade but tasted like the base for it was a bottle of V8. We’re probably in one-and-done territory for most people, but the quality is here and I don’t think anybody was mad about ordering it.
Over at Raglan Road, you’ll pay $14.50 for their version and come away with no seafood. It’s hard to argue that it’s a better value just because it’s lower priced.
As usual, we are joined by Tom from WDWNT.com, in addition to Denise and Jeff from the excellent MouseSteps.com. And some poor girl that probably regretted a lot of things by agreeing to come with us for a D-Day review.
We started with the $13 Beef Skewers – Garlic mojo, hazelnut romesco, pickled onions. Three skewers, each of which is four or five decent bites worth, arrived attractively plated on top of the classic Catalan red pepper sauce. In addition to providing a burst of color, the romesco offers a nice, mildly spicy kick to any piece of beef that’s dragged through it – I appreciated the spice and thought it livened up the beef quite a bit, in addition to the subtle earthiness of the nuts. I think you can see the pinkness of the tender beef showing through the glistening garlic mojo, which is a throwback to Rick Bayless and his nearby Frontera Cocina restaurant. The mixture of garlic, lime juice, olive oil, and salt adds a vibrant, mildly sweet complexity to each bite. Overall, I thought it was a steal for the price considering six ounces of filet will run you nearly 40 bucks at lunch. It’s a particularly smart starter if you’re eyeballing a seafood entree. Very shareable.
I went with the $13 Crab Fries – Hand cut potatoes, lump blue crab, Louie dressing.
It’s a heaping portion of nicely fried potatoes that remain crispy even under the weight of the silky crab and creamy dressing. I appreciated the course salt – a little goes a long way and there was a generous serving of crab mixed alongside it. This was plenty of food for the five of us to share and I can see it being a hit upstairs alongside a draft beer. I’m hoping just that is in my near future.
A couple of girls, who I’m sure regretted sitting at the bar within earshot of us, ordered the $28 Tableside Lobster Guacamole – Maine lobster, tortilla planks, tajin, that serves four according to the menu.
Quite the cart is rolled out with each of the ingredients laid out – it’s made to your specifications fresh while you wait. Another nice touch.
The Conch Chowder – Bahamian conch, spiced tomato broth is available as a cup as pictured for $6 or in a bowl for $9. One thing Paddlefish doesn’t seem to be wary of is spice – and the chowder here continues that trend with a thin broth that’s backed up with potato, celery, onion, garlic, pepper, and a hefty portion of conch meat. It was a nice big cup of fresh, piping hot soup that would be a nice way to start a meal.
The $16 Hamachi Crudo – Blood orange, lime, chili, jicama, aji panca is another surprisingly spicy dish – perhaps less surprising based on the fact that chili is in the description followed by “aji panca,” which is a type of pepper. The yellowtail is otherwise thinly sliced and holds up well on its own, offering a rich flavor and a buttery texture, while soaking up the spice of the pepper and subtle acidic sweetness from the lime and blood orange. I’m not sure that I would classify it as “less fun” than the fries or beef, but it’s more of an appetizer to keep to yourself rather than pass around the table.
Bread is served by default at dinner or by request at lunch – it features a hard exterior before giving way to a soft, buttery interior that’s enhanced by the sweet whipped butter accompaniment. Even if you’re ordering a couple of appetizers at lunch, you might as well inquire about its existence.
When I was initially perusing the online menu, my eyes were drawn to the $33 Fish & Chips – Atlantic halibut, I-4 IPA, sweet potato fries, malt vinegar aioli.
There’s obviously some sticker shock with the price, but halibut filets will run you at least $25/pound at the store. Over at Yorkshire at Epcot, they use Vietnamese catfish, and the portion isn’t even half as big as this for around $12.
But I wasn’t even mad with what I was served – two large, heavy pieces of fish with a really nice, thin, crunchy batter with those little air pockets throughout so you know you’re eating something that was just breaded and freshly fried. There was no oil residue at all – just meaty, flaky, flavorful fish surrounded by crispy coating. The vinegar-based aioli/tartar sauce is quite sharp – though the creaminess helps temper the tart notes of the vinegar. It was quite different and I thought the flavors really helped complement the mild flavor of the fish. One of the pieces would have been enough for me – particularly if you opt for a shareable appetizer – making this a good choice for those looking to save a little money by splitting entrees. You could easily hand over a filet and a handful of fries and have two full meals.
I am not a sweet potato fry person and if you’re not either, you can ask about possible substitutions, perhaps with a dollar or two upcharge depending on what you’re looking to try. But these fries were impossibly crisp with a nice snap to each bite and a really natural, sweet, earthy flavor that contrasted nicely with the coarse salt coating. I realize liking sweet potato fries reduces my street credibility into negative numbers, but I’m willing to risk the consequences. They were fantastic.
If I was going to get nit-picky, I’d point out that the presentation perhaps leaves something to be desired as the food is basically just thrown on the plate.
There are five sandwiches on the menu ranging in price from $12 for a Chicken Salad Sandwich up to $31 for the Lobster Roll, which is served with the meat of a full 1.25 pound lobster.
This is the $16 Fried Clam Roll – Ipswich whole bellies, lemon-caper aioli, pickles, split top bun.
The fresh roll was toasted well with a crunchy exterior and a softer, chewier interior. More fried clams than fit were stuffed inside – the breading was thicker and more aggressive than my fish, but the flavor of the salty, chewy clam still shined through with each bite and the aioli had a pleasant zesty quality to it that contrasted well with the taste of the sea. Quite good and a filling, quality meal at this price point.
A $39 Petite Filet Mignon with hand cut fries is available for lunch for those that don’t want to go the seafood route.
And granted this is one steak on day two of operation, but I’m not sure if Paddlefish’s strength is going to be their beef – the cut was of appropriate quality though not as tender as what I’ve ordered at nearby BOAThouSE. But salt was what we all came away tasting, which wasn’t helped by the visible pinch sitting on top. It’s the sort of thing that could certainly be improved with time, but at least initially, the selection and quality next door should prove better.
A member of our party had a gluten intolerance and the server and staff worked diligently to make some minor modifications to existing dishes.
This is the $34 Faroe Island Salmon – Crispy skin, heirloom beets, kohlrabi-green apple salad. Only with asparagus and white rice as the sides. Salmon, with its distinct flavor and flaky texture – seems like one of the easier fish varieties to pull off in most settings, but this again went above and beyond other preparations that I’ve encountered across property over the years. The crispiness of the skin made the tenderness of the fish seem all the more apparent and its lingering sweetness helped elevate the flavor of the fish that otherwise had a nice, rich, clean taste. Better than BOATHOUSE.
In addition to the regular lunch menu served between 11:30am and 4pm, Paddlefish offers a short brunch menu on the weekends:
Offering a couple more items in the $~22 range seems to make the restaurant appear a little more affordable earlier in the day.
The $16 Monte Cristo – French toast, ham, Applewood bacon, egg, Swiss cheese, fresh berry compote, maple syrup is another substantial dish – The soft, buttery, flaky toast can barely hold in all of the bacon, ham, and other ingredients.
We’re decidedly in “would ya just look at it” territory here – everything tasted fantastic together and there was so much of it that it was a bit overwhelming. The ham/bacon/cheese are quite salty by themselves, but the lushness of the toast and the sweetness of the fresh berry compote helped ease that quite a bit.
Very shareable and a substantial value for the money.
Dessert is available:
It’s hard to fathom having room, but a $24 glass of Macallan 12 yr might help you along.
Milkshakes are all the rage these days here in the Orlando area with a lot of focus on the zany concoctions up the road at Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and across the way at Planet Hollywood. Personally, I refuse to listen to any complaints – whining about having too many milkshake options is like whining about having too much money. If you really think that’s a problem, I’m happy to ease your burden.
But the milkshakes at each of these establishments are reliably thin – almost like drinking cold milk. And the gimmicky, typically low quality toppings offer little more than an increase in price and three to six more likes on that Instagram selfie. So maybe it’s not such a high price to pay.
But I was impressed with the presentation here – the brownie and caramel corn seemed reserved compared to what the “competition” has going on and the frozen drip chocolate on the outside is clever and well executed on the $10 Brownie Milkshake – Chocolate ganache, caramel popcorn, whipped cream. With that said, the flavor seemed straightforward – it’s cookies and cream ice cream mixed with milk and blended just a little bit, resulting in a thin consistency that’s closer to ice cream soup than something you’re going to have difficulty sucking through a straw. But it was fun to share among five people and the thinness made it easier to stomach after eating so much food earlier in the meal.
Here’s the Paddlefish dinner menu:
It’s typically higher priced food, but some of the less expensive lunch options remain, including “The Burger” and my Fish & Chips are still there for the same money. Perhaps it would make sense to eliminate one of the pieces of fish earlier in the day and charge $19 instead.
We’ll see what’s going on with the Seafood Boil on a return visit.
The late night menu:
And the Kids menu:
Looks like some nice, albeit spendy, options there.
Overall, I left impressed with Paddlefish. Fulton’s aimed for what may be a more upscale experience with the white linen tablecloths and a menu that was actually more expensive than what Paddlefish is currently offering. It remains to be seen what the atmosphere at night turns into – I’m expecting a slightly more upscale “feeling” than the BOATHOUSe next door, which has always seemed like a very casual restaurant that serves very good, sometimes very expensive, food. But Paddlefish has two big things going for it – better seafood and gorgeous views.
Choosing where to eat at Disney Springs has become a tough decision for exactly the opposite reason of Historical Downtown Disney. There are so many good options. And the good news is that with newcomers like Paddlefish, Frontera Cocina, Homecoming, BOAthouse and Morimoto Asia, in addition to old standbys like Raglan Road, you’ve got a lot of variety that’s less likely to disappoint.
As always, I recommend a daytime visit to Disney Springs when crowds are far milder and walking up to the majority of the restaurants without a reservation and without a wait is viable. Then head to a theme park for the nighttime spectaculars and lower late night wait times. Everyone else is going to be going to Animal Kingdom or Hollywood Studios from 10am-5pm and will then bus over here in the evening, particularly on Friday and Saturday nights.
I have no qualms about recommending Paddlefish and the menu offers some opportunities to enjoy the views and the atmosphere without spending a ton of money or certainly allows those that want to spend $250 on seafood to do exactly that. I’m looking forward to going back.