We return to Disney’s Wilderness Lodge to revisit Whispering Canyon Cafe, the Old Western restaurant popularized by its rootin’ tootin’ good time atmosphere and all-you-care-to-enjoy skillets and milkshakes.
Wilderness Lodge may be underrated as a dining destination, offering a wide assortment of dining types and price points.
Storybook Dining with Snow White at Artist Point impressed, as you might remember. Get in there with the current menu and the current one-credit cost on the Disney Dining Plan if you can. If you’re looking for a quiet, romantic meal, then you may want to take the boat over to California Grill for dinner. But Storybook Dining is charming in its own right and the food really is quite good.
While they are no longer available on Artist Point’s menu, you can still find the delicious Berry Cobbler and Smoked Mushroom Bisque at Territory Lounge next door. The bar retains its rustic atmosphere and attentive service – no reservations required or accepted..
Geyser Point, the quick service/lounge hybrid out on the water, deserves a followup review that I may or may not get to. The good news is that many of our favorite dishes from the original review remain, but some “interesting” changes, including the need to wait to be assigned a table and a refusal to bring quick service items over to the lounge, make it a little less attractive. New menu items, like the Grilled Angus Strip Loin, fail to impress. You also won’t find breakfast out here anymore. Still, it’s hard to beat the waterside atmosphere for a cocktail and a shared appetizer or two.
Whispering Canyon Cafe is located just inside the resort’s main entrance on the left.
The restaurant serves breakfast with seating from 7:30am through 11:15am, so early-risers can get at the crack of dawn, while those of us that probably shouldn’t have ordered another round at Territory Lounge roll in closer to 11am. For years, the skillet above was the lone all-you-care-to-enjoy option at breakfast.
On March 26th, Disney debuted two new skillets – “The Carnivore” and “The Lighter Side,” both for the same money as the original. The Carnivore replaces the Mickey Waffles with House-smoked Ham and Oak-smoked Beef Brisket. “The Lighter Side” is mostly unique. While it’s hard to argue against variety, it “feels” like The Heritage and The Carnivore are close enough together that they could be the same thing. Back in the day, five or six items comprised the protein options with the dinner skillet and you could start with three. It seems like it would be easier to do something similar here. With the skillets all priced the same, sharing has been allowed so far for among those that order one.
So if you’re a party of two, you could order one Heritage and One Carnivore and simply split the Mickey Waffles, Ham, and Brisket up between yourselves. From a cost perspective, you’d have to think that Ham and Brisket cost more than the Mickey Waffle batter. $21 for The Lighter Side “feels” like a worse value proposition, though the Muesli may bring a higher cost than the Biscuits and the Egg White-Spinach Frittata probably costs a few more cents to produce than standard scrambled eggs.
As with the other meals, you’re not locked into an all-you-can-eat option:
Whispering Canyon has taken a bit of “The Wild Wild West” out of their options. Favorites like the Banana Bread French Toast also didn’t make the cut.
Just a few years ago, this “Slow-smoked Pulled Pork Over Easy Egg Sandwich with Pepper Jam and Western Home Fries” was an option for just $11.
Other items with a southwestern vibe were also available, like this “Egg White Omelet with Spinach, Goat Cheese, and Chipotle Pico served with fresh Fruit and a Biscuit.” On the other hand, Bourbon-Maple Syrup arrives with the Flapjacks, Country Potatoes are still the name of the game, and there’s at least the mention of Avocado with the Vegetarian Benedict.
While I wouldn’t go out of your way to eat here for breakfast, it’s one of my favorite on property for the quality and flavor. The Eggs Benedict impress with a rich, buttery hollandaise sauce and ham that’s surprisingly tender and flavorful.
If you want to save five dollars, then the $16 “Two Eggs-Any Style – Country Potatoes, a House-made Buttermilk-Cheddar Biscuit, and choice of Hickory-smoked Bacon, Pork Sausage Link, or Fruit” is a fine substitute. We’re at least slightly on the Lighter Side here with all-vegetarian options.
I would guess that there is a 7-year-old somewhere out there that’s after a Spinach and Tomato Omelet with Fresh Fruit and Goldfish Honey-Wheat Toast:
But I was not that child. Kids have some more straightforward options like the Mickey Waffles and Single Egg, in addition to their own version of the All-You-Care-To-Enjoy Breakfast Skillet. It may be interesting that the Kids’ section is the last bastion of some of the more unique items. While the Banana Bread French Toast is no longer officially available as an adult option, it’s still on the Kids’ menu.
Lunch has seen some updates as well with a relatively narrow set of selections:
This is the first time that I can remember seeing the House-made Cornbread served a la carte. It has traditionally arrived alongside the Signature Skillet during lunch, though it’s never been advertised as such. I’m assuming that it still does and you can now order Corn Bread on the side if you’d like. Unofficially, they would typically bring you a complimentary basket, even if you weren’t going with the Skillet, if you asked nicely. While this has been a history lesson for the most part thus far, we will be reviewing each of the three new Dinner Skillets. We’ll see each of the Lunch Skillet components at that time.
The sandwiches are typically proficient here with freshly-sliced Applewood-Smoked Turkey on Multigrain Bread. It’s a sizable sandwich for $15.
This is it for adult appetizers and entrees at lunch with the Skillet proving most popular. With most people out at the theme parks during the heart of the afternoon, the resort restaurants that do offer lunch are typically on the limited side of things.
With that said, the $19 “Chopped Bison Burger – House-made Bun, Chipotle Aïoli, Candied Hickory-smoked Bacon, White Cheddar, Fried Pickle” is fantastic. Unfortunately, the current version is missing some of the flourishes of the past, which included Double Smoked Thick-cut Bacon, Jalapeño Jack Cheese, and House-made Boursin Cheese Spread, in addition to the side of Onion Rings and Potato Wedges.
The Kids’ menu is relatively straightforward:
As we saw with the breakfast menu, the Kids’ menu at lunch features a version of the popular “Chicken and Cheese Quesadilla with Pico de Gallo” still appears on the Kids’ menu, while the adult version is no longer available.
Of course, we don’t live in the past here at easywdw.com. We only care about the future.
Whispering Canyon Cafe is sort of like a Western-themed 50’s Prime Time Cafe. A year or so ago, there were some number of “rumors” that the antics had been toned down or eliminated altogether, which I don’t think is particularly accurate. I left my last meal just as embarrassed as any other after having to go up to the front of the restaurant with the other men and perform “I’m A Little Teacup” not once, but twice. The Ketchup gag is alive and well. We also suffered through the Hokey-Pokey. You put your left blog in…you put your left blog out…”
They’ll still take you to Canyon Jail.
You’re just as likely to receive your Diet Coke refill in a regular glass as a 64-ounce jar.
This time around, our focus is on dinner, with the current menu:
With the exception of The Traditional Skillet, just about everything on the menu is new, though just the accompaniments that arrive with the Char-crusted New York Strip and Pan-Fried Red Quinoa Cakes changed.
If you order any of the Skillets, your meal will begin with this small bowl of coleslaw, I’m guessing because they know nobody actually wants any. It’s about what you would expect with the appropriate amount of crunchy cabbage and carrots that wasn’t drowning in the mayonnaise-based dressing.
They also have a Vegan Plant-Based Coleslaw for those ordering the Plant-Based Skillet or if you prefer it. It’s very vinegar-forward with a face-puckering, bitter acidity if you get enough of it, along with the mustard seeds, in your mouth. Little bites might be your friend. It’s certainly more interesting than the regular version.
Erin and I actually dined at Whispering Canyon for dinner the week before these changes were made, so I can make some direct comparisons. As recently as earlier this month, you would have started with this delicious Mixed Greens Salad with fresh, crisp Apple Slices and juicy Cherry Tomatoes tossed in a sweet and tangy Vinaigrette Dressing. The Coleslaw is undoubtedly a step back.
Luckily, a healthy dose of Fresh baked Cornbread follows along with Honey Butter. The tender, dense Cornbread is rich and sweet on its own. The creamy, easily-spreadable Honey Butter is sweet and delicious, enhancing the flavor even further.
But even the Cornbread slices are a change from earlier this year, when loaves with crispy, crunchy, buttery edges were served. I always went straight for the middle. It makes some amount of sense to go to the homogenized slices if for no other reason than waste. Not that they would reuse the old slices to build a new loaf a la Chuck E. Cheese, but if a table requests more, you can bring out a couple pieces instead of a whole new loaf. Of course, anyone that leaves Cornbread on the table deserves to head straight to Canyon Jail.
We’ll start with a classic choice in the $33 “Traditional – Oak-smoked Mustard-Barbecue Beef Brisket, Maple-Chipotle Pork Ribs, Slow-smoked Pulled Pork, Citrus-Herb Chicken, Western-style Sausage, Mashed Yukon Potatoes, Buttered Corn, Sautéed Green Beans.” The components of the dinner skillet have changed over the years, but the idea has always been similar.
Here’s the menu from one of our first recorded visits seven years ago:
Back then, you got to start with three meats. After the initial rush, you could elect to order more of any of those or branch out and try the others.
Interestingly, the price was the same as it is today, but it included dessert.
Rectangular Platters were also the name of the game back in the day. The circular Skillet may or may not be easier to work with.
The Traditional is a nice assortment of flavors. As far as accompaniments that we’ll be seeing again, the Corn is as far away from a healthy vegetable as you’ll get, slathered in butter and covered in salt. The Sautéed Green Beans receive a similar buttery treatment, only this time covered in pepper, while retaining a nice snap. The Yukon Mashed Potatoes are perfectly-whipped to a creamy texture, but retain a nice thick bite backed up by garlic and butter. The Oak-smoked Mustard-Barbecue Beef Brisket is hiding underneath the Pork, but it’s lean and meaty with a distinct smoky quality and a little bit of a tang from the little sauce that was present. On top, you’ve got the Maple-Chipotle Pork Ribs are sweet and spicy with tender meat that falls right off the bone. You’ve also got a lot of the Slow-smoked Pulled Pork, which brings subtle hints of hickory and mesquite, but was on the dry side on its own. You might ask for a side of sauce, particularly because Cowboy Beans are off the menu.
The Citrus-Herb Chicken offers a nice contrast to all of the brown sugar and tang of the barbecue. The plentiful meat was tender and flavorful with the zesty, acidic flavors of citrus playing against the generous sprinkle of herbs headed by oregano and thyme. Finally, the Western-style Sausage, whatever that means, was a little on the fatty side, making for a squishy couple of bites. I don’t think it will be anybody’s favorite, but there’s also just two or three bites of it.
It’s a nice selection of meats and their traditional accompaniments for anyone looking for the classics. It’s certainly above average for Walt Disney World barbecue. Above is the first helping for one person. At that point, they’ll bring you more of whatever you’d like.
Here’s what the Dinner Skillet looked like before the menu change earlier in March 2019, this time for four people, with a better look at the Brisket in the back right. The only thing that’s really different is the lack of Beans.
Next up, we’ve got “The Pig – Braised Pork Belly, Maple-Chipotle Barbecue Pork Ribs, Slow-smoked Pulled Pork, Mustard-Barbecue ‘Piggy Wings’, Western-style Sausage, Mashed Yukon Potatoes, Buttered Corn, Sautéed Green Beans,” also for the same $33 ask. It’s a similar offering, but we see the Braised Pork Belly in place of the Beef Brisket and the Mustard-Barbecue ‘Piggy Wings’ in for the Chicken.
Anyone familiar with the delicious Piggy Wings available at the Food and Wine Festival at the Flavors From Fire booth will be familiar with this style of wing, which is sort of like a miniature, trimmed pork shank. Here, they arrived slathered in barbecue sauce and mustard seeds, creating a bit of a crispy glaze as the tender pork is pulled from the bone. Unlike chicken wings, where there’s typically some cartridge and joints, the pork bone is clean with meat that’s easy to gnaw off. I’ll admit that I like the Korean Barbecue version served at Food and Wine more – the mustard was a little overpowering. I still ordered another round, though.
The other unique element is the Braised Pork Belly, which disappointed in our taste test – limp, soft, and basically flavorless. There aren’t a lot of things that run the quality gamut quite like Pork Belly, but I’m not sure Whispering Canyon is the place I’d trust to bring out its nuances.
With this Skillet, you’ve got the same Pulled Pork, Ribs, and Sausage as The Traditional. As far as which one I’d pick, it’s tough because the Piggy Wings are better than the Brisket, but the Chicken is better than the Pork Belly…hopefully you can get both and try some of each. Personally, I love those Wings and that’s what carries The Pig for me.
Next up is “The Land And Sea – The Land and Sea – House-smoked Salmon, Citrus-Herb Chicken, Spicy Vegan Sausage, Charred Portobello, Barbecue Cauliflower, Roasted Potatoes, Sautéed Green Beans, Oven-roasted Carrots” for $33. This is the first and only time that we’ll run into the Salmon, Portobello, and Cauliflower. We’ve already seen the Citrus-Herb Chicken with The Traditional and we’ll see the Spicy Vegan Sausage, Roasted Potatoes, and Oven-roasted Carrots with the Plant-based Skillet next.
While the other Skillet pairings made a lot of sense, this one “felt” a little strange with the two main proteins, Salmon and Chicken, paired with a Vegan Sausage instead of one of the other meats. Along with the vegetables, this could be billed as the healthiest of the non-vegan skillets, but you can see the butter and oil glistening over most of the ingredients. But if these are the kinds of foods you prefer, then you’re in luck. There’s no beef or pork to speak of, which may be the point.
The House-smoked Salmon was surprisingly good, with a fresh, bright, mild flavor with a buttery mouthfeel and relatively high fat content. I would guess Scottish, but it doesn’t say.
The Barbecue Cauliflower was great too, crunchy and with a little bit of a smoky paprika flavor. They could have gone further with this though, creating a bit of a “Cauliflower Wing” by seasoning the vegetable, baking or deep-frying it, and then slathering it in sauce. You can always ask for a side of sauce and do your own dunking.
With few exceptions, Disney bloggers are not really into vegetables, so it surprised me that everyone at the table enjoyed the Charred Portobellos. It might have been all the butter. But the Mushrooms are earthy, meaty, and rich with a hearty texture. If someone orders the A La Carte Steak, you might slip them a few of these under the table. I wish I had one to go with them. We ordered a second round.
The Roasted Potatoes were cooked perfectly – a little crispy on the outside with plenty of fluffy potato inside. But they needed salt, garlic, herbs, or something. They’re on the verge of being irresistible – the perfect side – but they’re lacking some serious seasoning. Still, there’s plenty of butter.
The Oven-roasted Carrots were tender and enjoyed a nice caramelized quality along with a simple dusting of salt, pepper, and olive oil.
Overall, there may be something to say for all-you-care-to-enjoy salmon if that’s the direction you want to take it, but fish isn’t the first thing that usually comes to mind when Whispering Canyon Cafe comes up. With the menu update, that may change, though. Certainly, the Mushrooms and Cauliflower are two of the most proficient sides we’ve seen so far and you’ve also got plenty of Roasted Potatoes and Carrots.
Finally, we come to the $33 “Plant-based – Maple-Chipotle Barbecue Jackfruit, Spicy Sausage, Mustard-glazed Beefless Tips, Herb-brushed Trick’n Chick’n, Roasted Potatoes, Oven-roasted Carrots, Sautéed Green Beans, Charred Peppers,” which is not only vegetarian, but vegan.
A similar Skillet has been available for those that ask for several months, but we finally see it as an official option. The Maple-Chipotle Barbecue Jackfruit gets top billing and you’ll see it there on the left above the Green Beans. While Jackfruit is not to my tastes, they say it has a meaty, dense texture and shreds like pulled pork. It does enjoy the same sweet and spicy flavor as the Ribs we saw with two of the other meat-based Skillets earlier. To my non-vegan palate, I thought it was slimy with an off-putting texture. Certainly that’s subjective.
The Vegan Sausage above the Peppers on the right is the same one that we saw with The Land and Sea. A “Beyond Sausage,” it’s a little softer than your typical pork-based version, but it carries a similar burst of flavor with paprika, pepper, and garlic spice.
The Mustard-glazed Beefless Tips are in the back left above the Jackfruit. Gardein brand, they’re also softer than your typical beef, but do a nice job of soaking up the tang from the sauce and altogether, taste like barbecue bites of some variety with some smoke and mustard seed.
The Gardein Chick’n Breast was actually pretty good as far as fake chicken goes with oily herbs providing some flavor and a light crispiness brings a texture much better than your typical tofu. With 22 grams of protein and no cholesterol, I wouldn’t necessarily be adverse to eating a lot more of it. While the Green Beans lack butter, but are seasoned nicely with salt and pepper. The Charred Peppers were even better, providing a nice amount of spice and lending their flavor well to the Chick’n. The Roasted Potatoes were even blander than the ones we saw in the last Skillet, but they were at least cooked well. I have the same complaint about the breakfast potatoes. There’s always salt on the table.
A $33 vegan meal is probably on the expensive side of things, but the Skillet provides three quality proteins along with some thoughtful sides. Unlike your typical buffet, vegans won’t be relegated to salad and bread, which is probably a good thing.
Overall, there’s probably no reason to say anything negative about more variety. I do wonder why they didn’t go the “Pick Three to Start” route, particularly if the official or unofficial policy is going to be that those that order Skillets can freely share from each given the fact that they’re all the same price. Disney’s cost may come into play, which may be a reason why the item that’s likely the most expensive in the salmon is paired with the last expensive protein in the chicken. Someone intent on eating as much salmon as they want may be less likely to do if they could add some Piggy Wings or Pulled Pork to offset it.
Anyone looking for the traditional barbecue experience will continue to find it. One downside to the new menu is the Coleslaw over the Salad, which is a definite step down. We also lost the Cowboy/Baked Beans.
If you don’t want to go the All-You-Can-Eat route, you’ve got three other options, including relatively light choices in the Cedar Plank Salmon and Pan-fired Red Quinoa Cakes.
This is a different preparation of the Quinoa Cakes, but they should remain very good.
Drinks are available:
We’ll take a look at the new cocktails. Also, a reminder that if you’re starting a winery, name some of your selections so they’re thematically-appropriate at Disney restaurants. Banshee must be making a killing in Pandora, where their wines are served at Satu’li Canteen.
The $9 Bottomless Shakes in Chocolate, Vanilla, Strawberry, or Caramel are always popular, now with the opportunity to add a shot of liquor for an additional cost. The Strawberry is Erin’s favorite and I usually start with a Caramel. You can switch up flavors on subsequent selections.
The $12.50 “Mountaineer Margarita – Don Julio, Cointreau, Smoked Hickory Syrup, fresh Lime Juice, and Agave Nectar” is a solid take on a classic with the clean-tasting Don Julio lending itself nicely to the Hickory Syrup, which adds a smoky quality to the drink. The Agave Nectar does its job, sweetening up the drink with the Lime Juice adding plenty of acid to keep it drinkable. Quite good.
The $12.50 “Bourbon Cowboy – Bourbon, Apple Jack, Cinnamon Simple Syrup, Bitters” was my favorite drink of the night, nicely balanced and with a flavor similar to a spicy apple pie. The apple slice is a nice touch.
The $12.50 Hazelnut Manhattan – Bourbon, Frangelico, Port Wine, and Hazelnut Simple Syrup.” The sugar in the Hazelnut Simple Syrup lends itself nicely to the Frangelico, which is a sweet Italian hazelnut liqueur heavy on the nutty flavor. Those ingredients help offset the alcohol in the Bourbon with the flavors of vanilla and citrus showing through. This ends up being one of the sweeter Manhattans that you’ll probably experience, but I think it works. The Port Wine adds a deep red color and the trio of cherries is a nice touch as well.
Finally, we’ve got the $11 “Bourbon Sweet Tea – Bourbon and House Brewed Sweet Tea.” I’m not sure if this will be the norm moving forward, but this was an incredibly strong cocktail, which makes this porch-drinking favorite a little less refreshing. Not that I’m complaining. The fragrant tea lends itself nicely to the citrus flavors of the bourbon. It’s a relative steal at eleven dollars, though it’s not as nuanced as some of the other cocktails.
An assortment of desserts are available. I’d probably rock another bottomless Milkshake or head over to Territory Lounge for their Cobbler. Or add another Skillet.
But you might be interested in sharing a little something at the restaurant, which is what we did with the $9 “Granny Smith Apple Pie À la Mode.” You can see the fresh layers of tart Granny Smith Apples inside of the crispy crust topped with plenty of brown sugar. The Vanilla Ice Cream topped with Caramel adds a sweet element that combines wonderfully with the Pie. Shared among four people, it’s a delicious way to end the meal.
Whispering Canyon Cafe remains a fun, casual restaurant for all three meals with a satisfying array of food, whether you want to go for one of the various All-You-Care-to-Enjoy Skillets or one of the a la carte options. If you’re looking at dinner at a resort, particularly after a day at the Magic Kingdom, then I’d add it to your short list. If you’re looking for a relaxing lunch outside of the Parks, I’d also recommend it.
When you’re not in a hurry, the boat to Wilderness Lodge from Magic Kingdom is one of the most pleasant forms of travel on property.
We’ll see what’s next.