Ale & Compass Restaurant opened in the old Captain’s Grille space at Disney’s Yacht Club last week.
According to Disney, we have the opportunity to “dine on New England comfort food and classic seafood dishes in a gastropub-inspired restaurant that’s reminiscent of a cozy lighthouse.”
The word “gastropub” has always grossed me out a bit because “pub” doesn’t seem like a word you’d expect to hear after someone starts talking about their gastro tract.
But the phrase was apparently coined back in 1991 and refers to a “bar and restaurant that serves high-end beer and food.”
“High-end” is relative, of course. I’m going to have to see Bud Light on draft before I think we can safely make that designation. But Disney also says that Ale & Compass Restaurant is only “inspired” by gastropubs, so we may be arriving at a Yachtsman Steakhouse cover band rather than the main event.
Otherwise, how you come down on the restaurant probably depends on your personal tastes. Sterile or minimalist? Masculine or cold? Stately or devoid? Gastrointestinal tract infection or home run?
Personally, I like the muted color palette and the calm dining experience that Ale & Compass should typically provide. It does seem a little plain, though. Granted, you probably are not hanging a lot of paintings and such up in your lighthouse, but it seems like some playful touches could have been added to make it “feel” a little more Disney. Of course, the Yacht Club is the Beach Club’s more serious older brother and Disney is expanding the convention space at the resort considerably. Ale & Compass is probably built with your stereotypical businessperson in mind.
And those types of people are probably happy to arrive at their table without a painting of Mickey in a sailor’s hat giving a thumbs up, as comforting as you and I might find that.
Here’s what the restaurant looked like before.
It might be comically garish.
Otherwise, Ale & Compass should continue to be the Grand Floridian Cafe of the Crescent Lake Area, offering an easy dining experience with plenty of availability for last minute walk-ups.
Breakfast is served daily with seatings from 7:30am through 11am. It’s worth noting that there is no longer a buffet option and there is no chance of it returning in the near-term. Otherwise, the menu offers a large variety of choices with some artisanal touches, but I’m surprised to see a real lack of seafood options. Disney tried to freshen up Captain’s Grille back in 2014 when it added more than three dozen new items and at the time, it noted that the Lobster Omelet was one of the most-requested dishes. We don’t see any remnants of that or something like a Crab Cake Eggs Benedict.
We do find some seafood in the $14 “Captain’s Bloody Mary served with a Lobster Claw and House-made Bacon Strip.”
Bloody Marys seem to be the milkshakes of the morning in that they’re always getting bigger with more stuff spilling out of the top of the glass. The version at Ale & Compass was quite good – the mix tasted like it was freshly made with a robust spiciness to it. There were a couple bites of lobster inside of the claw and the bacon tasted great after soaking in the spicy tomato juice for a bit. Unless you really don’t have interest, I’d pay the extra few dollars to upgrade from the $10 version that is in no way Instagrammable no matter how much you try to tilt the picture.
The $10 “Agua Fresca Libation – Paul Cheneau Cava with Agua Fresca Strawberry and Hibiscus” impressed as well. I appreciated how thin and easy to drink it was – there was no syrupy residue from a fruity liqueur or the viscosity and pulp that orange juice typically brings. Instead, the mild, natural sweetness of the strawberry and hibiscus seemed to enhance the crispness of the cava. I would have ordered eight more if they weren’t $10 each.
I also appreciated the salt and pepper grinders on the table – a colorful addition with so much beige and navy blue around.
With high hopes, I ordered the $19 “Open-faced Skirt Steak Sandwich with Caramelized Onions, Poached Egg, Fennel, Watercress, and Tomato Salad with Truffle Vinaigrette.”
While it looked the part, I found the sandwich portion disappointing – the steak was tough and over-seasoned. The plating is also a little awkward because it’s actually served in more of a bowl with the rounded edges of the plate rising away from the ocean and towards the sky. So as I was trying to cut the bread, the plate rocked back and forth. And while that might be in line with the theming, the crusty bread was really salty and the onions on top didn’t seem to help contrast that. The egg didn’t provide much benefit in the flavor category and the dominant flavors seemed to be salt backed up by pepper. It looks really good though.
The accompanying salad was excellent though – extremely fresh with a nice lemony flavor with some balsamic.
The $14 “Blueberry-Bacon Pancakes with choice of Sausage, Bacon, or fresh Fruit” were better.
Bacon is actually added to the batter, giving the fluffy pancakes a saltier character that was sweetened up deliciously with the heavenly citrus butter, maple syrup, and fresh blueberries.
The few bites of house-made sausage had a nice little spice to them and a bold pork flavor. Much better than your typical, greasy links.
We heard our server talking up the restaurant’s $5 glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice.
And that’s exactly what it was. Pretty forgettable.
Breakfast was otherwise a pleasant experience. With so few tables typically occupied, the meal is relaxing and service is friendly and efficient. I’m definitely interested in trying some other items, though I wish we saw crab, lobster, and shrimp make an appearance somewhere.
Lunch is served from 11:30am through 2pm and features many entrees under $20, including the Steak Sandwich we just saw at breakfast.
I’ll cover appetizers and cocktails in a separate review of the neighboring Lounge.
A big part of the relaunch is the arrival of the hearth oven, which a cast member will walk you by on the way to the table.
We’ll see three varieties of hearth oven “pies” available for lunch and dinner.
This is the $19 White Clam version.
It’s a nice, large, shareable size as a starter with the five clams decorating the top of the dough, in addition to a lot of clams baked in with the cheese and herbs on top of the flatbread. The crust had a nice chew, but without any sauce to speak of, the whole thing was on the dry side. That’s not the worst thing in the world as the oregano, garlic, mozzarella, and olive oil combine with the salty littleneck clams to make for an interesting, if not one-dimensional, flavor profile. I think this works best as a shareable appetizer for that reason. We’re far from Pepe’s territory with this one.
The $16 “House-made Bacon and Vermont Cheddar Burger on a Parker House Bun served with choice of Fries or House-made Vinegar Chips” was a winner.
And a steal for the price given the high quality of the beef and the tremendous flavor from the bacon. The bun had a terrific buttery quality with a nice crispiness as well. It may be the best burger in the area now, easily eclipsing what’s offered at Beaches and Cream.
The chips were good too, if not a little on the thin side for my tastes. But they tasted freshly fried and the vinegar flavor was present, but subtle.
I didn’t do a very good job of capturing the size of the $17 “Fish & Chips with Lemon-Caper Tartar Sauce.” There’s a second piece of fish, just as large as the one visible, hiding behind it. And it’s cod, so it’s a really nice, flaky, flavorful fish in a light, incredibly crispy, beer batter. I don’t think I can overemphasize the quality of the fish – it’s a 15 out of 10. The tartar sauce also has a pleasant, zesty flavor to it. I thought the lemon might be overbearing, but it was far from it. There is a lot of vinegar going on with the meaty fries – I thought it overwhelmed the potatoes. You could ask them to go light with it if you’re concerned.
Overall, none of the entrees were particularly innovative, but each was executed well with the fish standing out as one of the best values I’ve seen in a while. Don’t tell anyone.
After dinner options:
The offerings are pretty nice if you’d like to sit and relax for a bit after the meal.
Or go straight for dessert.
This is the $8 “Twelve-Layer Chocolate Cake – Flourless Chocolate Cake and Ganache served with Milk-Coffee Chantilly.” It’s as rich and decadent as you’d think with a luscious chocolaty flavor, but still light and creamy given the thin width of the cake. It’s still probably best shared among a couple of people.
The $10 “Trio of Puddings – Chocolate, Blackberry, and Butterscotch with Mix-ins.” This offered a nice opportunity to do some dipping and the puddings tasted really good – it was hopefully a light, sweet way to end the meal. I’m not sure if there was a tremendous amount of value involved, but it was fun to mix and match the “mix-ins” with the vibrant and very-different pudding flavors.
Here’s the dinner menu:
The Hearth Oven “Pies” officially move to the starters section and prices rise for the most part with items like the $40 Coastal Clambake and $36 T-Bone, but there’s still some relatively inexpensive options with the $18 Fried Chicken & Waffles or $25 Smoked Barbecue Pork Chop.
Overall, Ale & Compass is a fine replacement for Captain’s Grille, in my estimation. It brings a classier, stately vibe to the space, which is what Disney seems to think the Yacht Club deserves.
Kids are of course welcome, but it doesn’t feel like the sort of space for which they’d be enthralled. During my first visit for breakfast, the greeter explained that the waters were calmest towards the center of the restaurant and then proceeded to sit us in the far back. So if you are bringing kids, you might request a far-off table where things might be a little more exciting.
But Ale & Compass Restaurant offers a very pleasant, typically quiet and relaxing dining experience with courteous servers that are trying their darnedest to move over to Yacht$man. The kitchen seemed genuinely interested in honest feedback and I think things will only improve as time goes on. Like you, probably, so many of my theme park experiences are full of hustle and bustle that it’s nice to take a load off without being seated on top of another party at a restaurant that seems like they’ll do anything to get you out of there three minutes quicker. Prices also don’t typically break the bank.
I’d keep Ale & Compass in mind.