It’s been about 18 months since the website has visited Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen, which opened in Adventureland at Magic Kingdom back in December, 2015. I thought my last review was much more recent as I frequent the restaurant fairly regularly. It’s a wonderful respite from the unrelenting heat of the Florida summer (or fall, much of winter, and all of spring) and what are typically the heavy crowds that you’d expect from the most popular theme park in the world.
Skipper Canteen is substantially-sized with more room in between tables than most of Magic Kingdom’s other restaurants, where space is at an even greater premium. Reservations are plentiful, making it an easy last minute audible if you were originally planning on hitting a quick service or dining at a resort. Out of a dozen or more visits, I don’t think I’ve ever made a reservation more than a day in advance of a meal. After arriving and checking in, the wait to be seated is typically less than other Magic Kingdom restaurants and the waiting areas. Skipper Canteen is a comfortable, casual meal with virtually no barrier to entry, which is something that you can’t say about most other table service options at Magic Kingdom. For those reasons, in addition to the high caliber of the food, I think it’s worth your consideration.
Despite my high praise, Skipper Canteen was not an immediate hit. In fact, it probably still isn’t. It’s the Donnie Darko or The Rocky Horror Picture Show of the Magic Kingdom culinary landscape. There are those who love it, and because of that, probably talk about it more than either of us would like. And there are those that either don’t get it, or more likely, haven’t experienced it.
In my opinion, there were a couple of reasons why Skipper Canteen failed to cast off with any success – the first being the restaurant’s placement.
While you’ll find Skipper Canteen along a crowded Adventureland walkway that connects Main Street with Frontierland, the restaurant’s entrance is sunk back a ways and the signage doesn’t actually say what it is.
Of course, that’s only part of it – Be Our Guest Restaurant is booked up completely months in advance. So even if you hid Beast’s Castle behind a brick wall a la Diagon Alley, you’d still have a restaurant that’s slammed every single day of the year. More likely, the culprit was the menu, the original version of which is pictured above. Realistically, the offerings weren’t that much of a departure from what Disney continues to serve elsewhere. They “literally” served the exact same steak as Be Our Guest, only the description used words like “asado,” sofrito,” “yuca planks,” and “chimichurri” instead of “fries” and “butter.” Chances are that your average vacationer does not know what at least two of those things are in that description alone. Add the thought of head-on shrimp, berber spice, and whatever quinoa is and you’ve probably got a lot of people thinking that Skipper Canteen isn’t exactly for them. Heck, even the dessert menu is threatening millet with honey-almond tuile. What the heck?
Ostensibly to increase interest, the restaurant has undergone three major menu changes since opening. You can pull up my original review here, a second review here, and a third review here. And now, a fourth review here in this very post. Above is what we saw from the first major menu change.
Below is the former kids’ menu:
A bigger problem may have been the kids’ menu. I’m a big advocate of trying new things and offering unique menu items, but it seems like there is no middle ground with the Disney Food and Beverage Team. Kids either have their “choice” between the same hot dog, hamburger, and mahi that you can get at a hundred different restaurants or items that are much further out there, like the cucumber planks and fingerling potatoes that we see offered here.
On the plus side, Disney has introduced “classic” macaroni and cheese with this menu update and the “crispy chicken” didn’t originally appear on the menu. But it seems like Disney could add a burger with the option to dress it up if you so choose. And there’s nothing wrong with yucca fries, but you’d think you could substitute those out with frozen potatoes if that’s the direction you wanted to take it. The kitchen is shared with Liberty Tree Tavern, so you know they’ve got a ton of junk available in there. You can pull up my most recent Liberty Tree review, with pictures and descriptions of just about everything on the menu, in this post.
Below is a lousy picture of the first page of the current menu:
While there aren’t a ton of obvious changes since the last update, we do see different preparations on both the Falls Family Falafel and Orinoco Ida’s Cachapas, despite both appetizers retaining the same name. A couple of interesting non-alcoholic beverages also remain on the menu, including Guarana Kuat and Fanta Melon Frosty, both of which you can still sample at Club Cool over at Epcot.
A couple of fun frozen beverages are available, including the “Schweitzer Slush – Frozen Apple Juice and Passion Fruit topped with Bursting Green Apple Boba Balls, first concocted by the noted explorer and humanitarian, Dr. Albert Slush.” It’s extremely sweet, making the ten-ounces-or-so served here about as much as you’ll probably want to drink over the course of a meal. The same can be said for the Punch Line Punch. Adding a souvenir tin cup will cost you $8 and might be worth it if you’d like to take something home.
We’ll get right into it with a fresh take on the $12 “Orinoco Ida’s Cachapas – And you thought our jokes were corny! House-made Corn Pancakes, Beer-braised Pork, Roasted Corn, Fresno Pepper Salsa, and Avocado Cream.”
They used to look like this, when they were described as “House-made Corn Pancakes, Mojo-braised Pork, Black Bean Salad, and Avocado Cream.” At the time, I said:
I really like the Cachapas and they would make a tasty smaller entree for less than you’d pay for virtually any quick service meal elsewhere. It’s a really high quality offering with a lot of flavorful, tender pork on top of the fluffy corn pancakes. The avocado cream is cool and delicious and the black bean salad is vibrant with just a little bit of spice. Really good and a lot of food for the money.
You probably can’t say the same thing about the portion size on the current offering, which is probably about a third of the food of the original. On the plus side, the tender, juicy Beer-braised Pork is delicious with a little bit of a malty citrus flavor from the beer showing through. The Fresno Pepper Salsa brought a nice kick of smoke and spice, while the Avocado Cream adds a cool, creamy quality to each bite that it touches. The Corn Pancakes are much thinner than before, in part out of necessity as the dish now comes with about 20% of the pork as before. The ratios are right on though with each fluffy pancake doing a nice job of holding up to the toppings. We really enjoyed them and while the portion size is much smaller than before, the price probably remains fair given the high quality of the output. I’d recommend them.
We have another new plating with the $10 “Falls Family Falafel A secret recipe of Chickpeas, Garlic, Onions, Lemon Juice, and Herbs served with House-made Edamame Hummus and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds.”
Here’s the original version when they were $8 and described as “A secret recipe of of Chickpeas, Garlic, Onions, Lemon Juice, and Herbs served with White Bean Dip and Tomato-Cucumber Salad.”
Quite a bit goes into these round little balls – 14 ingredients in all including dried chickpeas, coriander, cayenne, garlic, cumin, cilantro, and parsley. And while falafel is almost dry by definition, these had a nice crisp exterior and a light interior that was complemented nicely by the sweet, earthy crunch of the nutritious Toasted Pumpkin Seeds and the garlicky, creamy Edamame Hummus. This is a nice, light way to begin a meal.
I’m a Shu Mai guy and I really like Skipper Canteen’s $12 S.E.A. version – “A legendary blend of Pork, Shrimp, Edamame Beans, and Spices wrapped in Gyoza Skin then steamed.” The delicate wonton wrappers are packed full of a delicious blend of meat and spices. The presentation inside of the box is fun and the accompanying sauce is salty with an irresistible tang. I almost never order anything twice, but always pick up at least one order of these.
The $11 “Shiriki Noodle Salad – Noodles, Edamame Beans, Mushrooms, Green Mango, and Cucumber tossed with a Sweet Chili Sauce” is another highlight. There is a lot going on here – even more than in the menu description with the addition of red pepper, carrots, lotus root, and some herbs – but it works. The noodles are soft and soak up the salty, sweet chili sauce and the various fruits and vegetables offer some crunch and a variety of other flavors from earthy to mild to sweet. This salad along with the Shu Mai would make for a filling meal with a lot of fresh flavors for the same price as the macaroni and cheese at Plaza Restaurant.
The $9 “Lost and Found Soup Chef’s Seasonal Soup prepared with the freshest unclaimed cargo! Please ask you Skipper for today’s selection” may change from time to time, here as the Hot & Sour version. There’s a lot of “stuff” mixed in with the flavorful broth – fresh Egg, Tofu, and Wood Ear Mushrooms with Garlic, Soy Sauce, and Rice Wine Vinegar to name a few. Thankfully, it was served piping hot. The sweetness from the ginger was a little different than your typical bowl, but it worked nicely against the acidity of the vinegar and saltiness of the soy sauce. It doesn’t necessarily demand a purchase, but it’s somewhat reasonably priced and a large portion.
Like all of Magic Kingdom’s other table service restaurants, you’ll find a variety of beers and wines:
The Kungaloosh Spiced Excursion Ale migrates over here from Nomad Lounge at Animal Kingdom, where it was exclusively offered for a year or two.
The cinnamon and cardamom are present, but not overpowering, and the beer works surprisingly well during the warmer months given that this style is typically seen more often around the winter holidays.
If a “Deep Amber Beer” is not what you’re after, then your next best choice is the Tusker, which you’ll also find around Animal Kingdom. It’s a much lighter beer.
While only one sangria is officially on the menu, three more are available. This is the “Cerulean Blue” version with a considerable amount of Blue Curacao and Sprite involved, giving the drink a lemon lime flavor and a fruity effervescence.
There’s also a Pineapple version with a lot of pineapple juice and a little bit of Monin Apple Syrup, creating a light, fruity, tropical flavor profile that helps mask the bitter flavors of the white wine.
While these don’t speak to me personally, both are refreshing, sweet takes on the usual sangria with some bright colors that really pop. A Passion Fruit version is also available if you’re in the mood for something pink. I’m much too manly for such endeavors, so you’re on your own there.
Here’s the wine list:
The Iron Horse Fairy Tale Cuvee and King Estate Pinot Noir are your best bets with the Recuerdo Malbec also sticking out as interesting, particularly on tap.
Here’s the entrees:
While the main ingredients are typically the same, we see a lot of fresh takes with this update. For example, what was “Baa Baa Berber Lamp Chops – Berber-spiced Lamb Chops, Roasted Carrot Puree, and Arugula-Cauliflower Salad tossed in a Citrus Vinaigrette” is now “Trader Lamb – Spice-rubbed Lamb Chops, Roasted Vegetables with a Brown Butter-Tomato Sauce, drizzled with Ras El Hanout Oil” for a dollar more. The “Tastes Like Chicken” is served with Jasmine Rice instead of the Citrus and Ginger-scented Rice. The Whole Fried Fish used to come with Jasmine Rice, Grilled Scallions, and Soy Ginger Vinaigrette, but now is served with Kimchi along with the same Vinaigrette. The previous version of Dr. Falls Signature Grilled Steak brought with it a “Marinated New York Strip, Pico de Gallo Butter, Jasmine Rice, and Braised Black Beans with Applewood-smoked Bacon.” Now you’ll get an “Adobo-seasoned New York Strip, Vegetable and Chorizo Farofa, Caramelized Onion Purée, and Red Wine Reduction.”
We’ll start with that steak, which comes in at the $36 price point. The Adobo-seasoning adds a complex, Latin American vibe to the steak with just a little bit of heat with paprika and cumin notes. The meat was surprisingly tender for a standard Disney table service steak. It was also a gigantic portion – more than I could eat, which is becoming increasingly rare. The Farofa was a little gritty for my tastes and tended to clump together with the beans, making it almost like a stuffing-esque paste. Fortunately, the flavor was on point, buttery with a little bit of salty pork showing through. Usually when Red Wine Reduction is part of a steak dish, it’s on the heavy-handed side and overpowers the natural flavor of the beef with wine and sugar. Fortunately, that was not the case here with just a little bit of the sauce serving as a base for the Farofa. The sweet, charred flavor of the Caramelized Onion Puree helped cut its richness further. Overall, while I didn’t love the main side, the steak itself impressed and was significantly better than my recent experiences with expensive beef dishes at Tony’s Town Square and Plaza Restaurant. I’m not sure that it’s the direction I would go here – $36 is a lot to spend at a regular Disney theme park restaurant, but those who do order it should be more than satisfied given the quality and the size. It makes a lot of sense on the Disney Dining Plan – there might not be a more expensive entree available at a standard Magic Kingdom sit-down restaurant.
You could probably share this without too much trouble – the portion of steak must have been over 12 ounces.
Here’s the previous steak, which I described as “a bit of a disappointment. The meat was fatty and chewy and while promising-on-paper, the pico de gallo butter seemed to consist of a few bites of sliced tomato and water. The sides seemed small and lackadaisical – the rice had too much cilantro and the beans lacked character.” The current version is certainly an improvement on all of that.
The $24 “Perkins Thai Noodles – Chicken, Tofu, Seasonal Vegetables, and Rice Noodles tossed in a Spicy Soy-Chili-Garlic Sauce. A favorite of our friend Pamelia Perkins, President of the Adventurers Club” doesn’t appear to be an overwhelming portion in the bowl, but it’s quite filling. The sauce is sweet and spicy and there’s enough chicken and tofu to pick some up in every bite. The tender noodles add quite a bit of heft. Note that while the dish has “Thai” in the title, that it’s not Pad Thai. There are a lot more pepper and soy going on here.
The $27 “Sankuru Sadie’s Seafood Stew – Shrimp, Sustainable Fish, Mussels, Bay Scallops, and Octopus simmered in a fragrant Coconut Sauce and served with Jasmine Rice.”
This impressed as well. For the money, it’s packed with more fresh seafood than I would have expected and the sauce is surprisingly light with a real aromatic quality and a bright tropical flavor. I was most impressed with the rice underneath, which held up to the sauce well, and soaked up all of the delicious flavors of the seafood and sauce. A really flavorful, filling, surprisingly-elegant meal. It’s worth the extra three bucks over the Thai Noodles if you’re feeling a little more adventurous.
Here’s the $19 “‘A Lot at Steak’ Salad – We’re betting it all on this one! Grilled Steak, Romaine Lettuce, Spring Mix, Pickled Jalapeños, Red Onion, Queso Fresco, and Pumpkin Seeds tossed with Chimichurri Vinaigrette.”
This is a really big salad with steak that’s cooked to order – mine came out to a juicy medium and there was a ton of it on top of the incredible amount of stuff. The lettuce and other vegetables tasted fresh with crisp, crunchy greens and vegetables. The queso fresco had a really nice tang to it that contrasted well with the garlic, cilantro, and parsley in the vinaigrette. There’s definitely a spicy presence here with the jalapenos and red onion, but it’s nicely tempered by the tomatoes and the sheer amount of lettuce. Very good.
Here’s the current version of the $31 “Sustainable Fish – “‘Not Piranha,’ served on a Cassava Cake with Wilted Greens and a Guava-Habanero Sauce.”
This was delightful. The Golden Tilefish, which is apparently sustainable at the moment, is delicate and sweet with a tender, firm flakiness. Even so, the star of the show is the Guava-Habanero Sauce, fusing the sugar from the guava fruit and the warm spice of the pepper into a complex, rich sauce that’s incredibly light, but also incredibly flavorful. The fish is perched on a Cassava Cake that’s a big departure from the Filipino dessert that I’m most familiar. Instead, the texture was more like a cross between thick slices of banana and potato fried into a thin cake that was blandly sweet. The Wilted Greens added a little bit of a bitter component and a nice little crunch. I would have preferred a different accompaniment to the fish, but the cake does serve to prop the Tilefish off the plate and out of the sauce so you can dab up or spoon on as much of it as you’d like. Overall, it was close to a signature restaurant quality entree – I don’t think I’d turn my nose up at it if it was served at a restaurant like Flying Fish.
Here’s the previous version, where I had this to say:
The $31 “Sustainable Fish – ‘Not Piranha,’ served over Chinese Broccoli, Carrots, Shiitake Mushrooms, and Red Bell Peppers in a fragrant Lemon Grass Broth” is Florida Red Snapper, which is the same delectable variety that we recently saw in my review of Narcoossee’s. This didn’t work quite as well for me – the fish tries to hold up to the broth, but I think it ends up being a largely soggy extravaganza. It still tasted great, but I’d ask for the broth on the side if I could do it again and keep the fish perched up on the vegetables. I still enjoyed it and appreciated the attention to detail and what they were trying to do. An impressive attempt, at least.
The current version is an improvement, though the accompaniments still leave a little something to be desired.
As always, taking a look at the $33 uncensored version of the “Whole Fried Fish – You’ll get hooked on Skipper Annette’s latest catch! Served with Jasmine Rice, Grilled Scallions, and Soy-Ginger Vinaigrette” is up to you. This is currently Yellowtail Snapper, which is similar in flavor to the Red Snapper, but is perhaps a little more flaky and a little less sweet. Otherwise, the sweet and salty sauce helps bring out the nuance in the crispy fish’s mild flavor. Carve out some time for eating it as it’s a bit of an undertaking.
Here’s the $18 “A favorite of the Crew Stew Crew (especially Stu). Seasonal Vegetables and Pineapple Tofu in a House-made Curry Sauce served with Coconut Rice.” Any excess sauce can be soaked up by the naan bread, which seems like a move right out of the Sanaa playbook and the coconut rice had a distinct taste that was a lot more interesting than your typical white variety. The Pineapple Tofu adds a fruity component that contrasts nicely with some of the spicier flavors. It’s a filling dish and a good value for the money, whether you’re vegetarian or not.
The $24 “‘Tastes like Chicken’ Because it is! Crispy-fried Chicken served with Jasmine Rice, Chili Glaze, and Seasonal Vegetables” is another dish that has retained the same name for more than 3.5 years, but has seen many iterations in that time.
The portion is probably larger than it looks, with an incredibly crispy piece of chicken cutlet fried up and then topped with a thick, spicy glaze that brings with it a nice depth of flavor. The rice underneath enjoyed the perfect texture, soft and firm along with some slices of carrot, red onion, and zucchini. It ended up being really satisfying.
This is the $24 ‘”Hardy Har Char’ Siu Pork Char Siu-marinated Pork served with Seasonal Vegetables and Jasmine Rice.” The pork was incredibly tough, overcooked, and dry, with just a faint, generic sweet-and-sour flavor that seemed to be overpowered by the fact that it had obviously been cooked too long. I would have poo-poo’d this if it was served at the quick service arm over at Yak & Yeti for $12, but it’s a downright tragedy at $24 at a table service restaurant.
Here’s what the kids are looking at these days:
It looks like Disney is finally coming around, offering dishes like Macaroni & Cheese, Steak, and Chicken with what is now a selection of sides. Interestingly, several of these sides are desserts. The “Volcano!” is a “Gooey Chocolate Cake with Caramel ‘Lava’ and Exploding Chocolate Rocks, while the “Monkey Bites” are Candied Chocolate-Sunflower Seeds and Chocolate-dipped Banana Bites. The kids can add one or more of those items along with sides like potatoes and rice. It sounds like a good gig.
There are four adult desserts on the menu:
They’re all thoughtful, but typically on the small side.
Here’s the $8 “Kungaloosh! An African-inspired Chocolate Cake with Caramelized Bananas served with Cashew-Caramel Ice Cream topped with Coffee Dust,” for example. While small, it is rich and chocolaty, both of which are good things with the an interesting, soft and sweet ice cream with a rich cappuccino flavor.
Overall, I think Skipper Canteen is a solid choice for lunch or dinner with a menu that’s as interesting as it is well-executed. With so many updates and changes to the dishes over the years, it’s obvious that the kitchen cares about what it’s sending out. Appetizers average $10.50 with an average entree price of $26.60, so the cost shouldn’t break the bank, either. Erin and I do a lot of sharing – on our last meal we split the Falafel Appetizer and Chicken Entree at a cost of $34, or $17 each, and left completely satisfied. That’s “only” $2 more than two Mickey Cheeseburgers would have cost at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe. We enjoyed our experience at Skipper Canteen much more.
Atmosphere is important and Skipper Canteen does an admirable job of creating a rich experience.
You might request to be seated in the Falls Family Parlor, where there’s a lot of interesting artifacts to inspect:
The S.E.A. Meeting Room is fun too:
And the larger Mess Hall:
Skipper Canteen is worth a second look if you’re trying to decide where to eat in the Magic Kingdom area. Cast members make the experience a lot of fun and the restaurant’s atmosphere is engaging. It’s also a relaxing experience for the most part – it’s much less of a hubbub than most other Magic Kingdom eateries and tables are far enough apart that it’s typically an intimate experience. I’m happy that the kitchen continues to improve on what isn’t working.