We return to Hollywood Brown Derby at Disney’s Hollywood Studios to take a look at the new lunch menu. Historically, I have not been the world’s biggest advocate of the theme park signature restaurant. If I’m preparing myself to pay $50 for a steak, on top of a couple of pricey drinks or a bottle of wine, I’d prefer to make more of an evening out of it. A classy stop at the Grand Floridian for a martini at Mizner’s coupled with a waterfront dinner at Narcoossee’s and an outdoor patio view of the fireworks. Compared to huffing and puffing around a theme park for ten hours only to find that you’re plunking yourself down next to the same sweaty blogger that took your picture six times while you tried to ride Tower of Terror with your family. I’d take the Grand every time.
And because a lot of people feel that way, Brown Derby has offered a couple less expensive entrees during lunch hours over the last few years.
For a long time, that included the Burger and Chicken Sandwich that are circled above, in addition to the Fettuccine Alfredo. I had heard so many raves about the pasta, but wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about what I was served and the dish left the menu a couple of months later. The items highlighted in red above are the current lunch offerings, available to guests seated between 12pm and 3:25pm.
The page-turner that was the cocktail menu has been condensed into a two-sided sheet. The front:
The Margarita and Martini Flights are my favorite, each offering three strong pours of very different flavors.
The “Citizens Take Flight” – a smart trio of margaritas if you’re looking for something a little fruitier.
The “Martini Flight of the Stars” is dangerous – it’s all liquor except for a splash of cranberry juice in the Freddy Fiddlesticks. The only time you’ll ever see me smiling at Hollywood Studios is after four or five of these.
On our last visit, Erin and I were less high on the $11.25 “Grapefruit Cake Martini – Deep Eddy Ruby Red Grapefruit Vodka, Stoli Vanil Vodka, and a splash of Cream with a Vanilla Wafter Rim.” Because the vodka is so much thinner than the cream, you get a mouthful of that before the artificial tartness takes over and coats the throat in an unpleasant foamy layer of sugar. On the other hand, it’s very strong and very grapefruit-y. You may enjoy it more than I did.
The $11 “Lychee Derby Mojito with Bacardi Rum, fresh Mint, and Soda Water” was more refreshing on a warm day with a tropical twist and a nice cool mint flavor.
The $13 “Derby Cocktail – Gentleman Jack, Florida Honey Syrup, and Pink Grapefruit Juice with a souvenir Glow Cube” worked better than the Grapefruit Martini, in my estimation. The grapefruit juice helped temper the spicy quality of the Gentleman Jack, while still allowing the subtle roasty quality of the blend to show through, while the honey provided just enough natural sugar to help cut the tartness of the juice. I was a little disappointed to see a generic glow cube floating in the drink – they had been serving unique derby hat glow cubes for a while last year.
As you’d expect, the wine list is extensive:
I like the Veuve under Sparkling and the Skywalker Sommità under Pinot Noir. The markup is “only” about 100%. Most of the bottles in the $60 range see a 200% markup, like the Alexandar Valley Simi Cabernet that’s $19 at Total Wine or $59 at the restaurant.
On the other hand, the Crossbarn by Paull Hobbs, as pictured here, is a $40 bottle that runs $60 at Brown Derby. It was incredibly bland though. But it’s still wine.
While a relatively simple recipe, I think the bread service is actually a highlight – the rolls are incredibly fresh with a crusty exterior that gives way to a deliciously chewy interior. The soft whipped butter with the Himalayan Rock Salt makes each bite all the more addictive to the point where I always end up eating at least one too many.
While not currently on the menu in this configuration, two visits ago Erin and I started with the $16 “Crispy Jumbo Lump Crab Cake – English Cucumber, Plum Tomato Slaw, Sweet Chili Sauce.”
The claw served on the side was a nice touch and I had never seen a crab cake more densely packed with crab meat. I wasn’t completely enthralled by the stringiness of it, but the exterior was nice and crispy and the chili sauce added a wonderful sweet, spicy accompaniment. The “Blue Lump Crab Crispy Wonton” that’s currently offered is preciously presented with similar flavors and accompaniments. It almost looks like a little fried bag of crab ripe for unwrapping.
Back to what’s currently on the menu with some pictures that are even worse than I remember. It’s difficult to eliminate all of the yellows and oranges in the restaurant lighting without taking away the vibrant colors of the food.
This is the $22 “Pork Belly Pastrami BLT – Grilled Ciabatta Roll, Whiskey Aïoli, Arugula, Watercress, Pickled Onions, Gruyère, Heirloom Tomato, Prosciutto.”
It’s among the best sandwiches I’ve ever had anywhere with thick slices of smoky pork belly layered in between the piquant onion, crunchy arugula, melted cheese, juicy tomato, and salty prosciutto. The whiskey aioli adds a little bit of a creamy component with just a bit of the rich brown sugar flavor from the alcohol making it past the lemon juice, olive oil, and mayonnaise. But it was the grilled ciabatta bread that made this stand out – the outside was crispy with just a hint of char, while the inside was chewy and soft. It really carried the smoky flavors of the sandwich well.
The chips that arrive on the side are incredibly light and airy, but you might ask about a substitution. There’s not much going on here other than salt and the chips basically melt instantly upon entering the mouth. But again, you might be more into that than I am.
What odd colors with the $24 “Braised Beef Short Rib – Truffle Pomme Frites, Mushroom Ragoût, M2 Sauce.”
As is typical, the portion is on the small side, but this is also about as much food as you get at Jiko with their $49 Botswana Short Rib. The meat was nicely tender, but still held up well against the thick slices of wild mushroom in the Ragoût, which added some garlic and fresh herbs to the mix, in addition to a little white wine and olive oil. I have never heard of “M2 Sauce” before, but it “felt” less red-wine-based than your typical accompaniment with more beef broth. Very good and I appreciated the departure from the typical.
The “Truffle Pomme Frites” were thin and crispy with just a hint of mushroom and earth. We preferred them to the chips.
Overall, this is definitely one of the smaller table service entrees that you’ll run into, but the richness of the flavors made up for it and it should be enough to satisfy most appetites until it’s time for the dessert.
Erin and I went in the opposite direction on our last visit, springing for the $49 “Charred Filet of Beef – Mushroom, White Truffles Potato Croquette, Jumbo Green and White Asparagus, Toy Box Tomato, Bin 27 Port Wine Reduction.”
We upgraded to the “Premium American Kobe Beef” for an extra $25.
I don’t think that was very smart – the beef was tender and flavorful, but not to the tune of a 50% upcharge, particularly when it’s slathered in a sweet, overbearing wine-based sauce.
We also took the opportunity to get the $20 “Pan-seared Georges Bank Sea Scallops.” These were artfully presented, golden and crispy with a buttery smoothness to each rich bite. Expensive, but high quality and a real treat.
A reminder that the $19 “Andouille-crusted Chicken Breast – Smoked Bacon, White Cheddar, Arugula, Pickled Cucumber, Onion Kaiser Roll, Vegetable Slaw” is a fantastic value and perhaps the bext chicken sandwich on property. It’s also a lot more food than the Short Rib for less money.
The $23 “Grilled Wagyu Beef Burger – Gruyère Cheese, Pastrami, Heirloom Tomato, Avocado, Fried Egg, Toasted Brioche, Cognac-Mustard Aïoli, Hand-cut Steak Fries” is also fantastic. Either of those selections would destroy anything you’re going to potentially order at Mama Melrose, Sci-Fi, or 50’s Prime Time during the lunch hour for around the same money. Brown Derby is on another level.
The outdoor Brown Derby Lounge is another option with the food choices on the right.
They also serve the full Brown Derby menu, so you can grab the Pastami BLT and the Derby Sliders if you’d like.
So you can go in a couple of different directions at Hollywood Brown Derby. The lunch entrees are hard to beat – some of the best food that you’ll find for the money on property. And you can enjoy the same atmosphere and service as if you were visiting for $75 steaks. Or you might prefer to live it up a little and pay more for three scallops than you would for the whole Chicken Sandwich entree. But either way, the Derby is an inviting, relaxed restaurant serving the best food at Hollywood Studios. By far. Consider a lunchtime reservation to save some money.