Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen opened in Adventureland just about two years ago now.
Unlike Be Our Guest Restaurant in Fantasyland, it was not an immediate hit.
In my opinion, there were a couple of reasons for that – 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.
But that’s only part of it – Be Our Guest 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 night of the year. More likely, the culprit was the menu, the original version of which is pictured above. “Realistically,” it’s not that out there. Disney is “literally” serving the exact same steak as Be Our Guest only the description uses words like “asado,” sofrito,” “yuca planks,” and “chimichurri.” 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 got a lot of people trying to figure out whether Cosmic Ray’s is in Liberty Land or Outer Space Ville.
Ostensibly to increase interest, the restaurant has undergone two major menu changes since opening. You can pull up my original review here, a second review here, and a third review here. Above is the menu after it underwent changes in the middle of last year.
A bigger problem may be the kids’ menu, the current version of which appears above. 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 100 different restaurants or the cucumber planks and fingerling potatoes that we see offered here.
On the plus side perhaps, 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.
Below is the current menu, which changed on November 21st, 2017:
There aren’t a ton of changes here.
The $9 “Jungle Green Salad From the depths of the Jungle…Skipper Bill’s Hearty Mixed Greens, Seasonal Squash, Green Apples, Preserved Lemons, and Spiced Walnuts tossed with an Apple Cider Vinaigrette” is all-new.
It replaces the “Baladi Salad – Classic Egyptian Salad consisting of Romaine Lettuce, Red Peppers, Tomatoes, Cucumber, Parsley, Coriander-Mint Vinaigrette, and Ambasha Bread Croutons – $9.”
Despite an interesting-sounding description, we thought the new salad was pretty ho-hum. It was virtually all basic greens with a flavorless vinaigrette. I did like the walnuts, which added a really pleasant holiday spice to the flavor profile, in addition to a crunch similar to croutons. I don’t think there’s anything about the appetizer salad that compels a purchase – the steak salad that we’ll see shortly is better in every way.
The $10 “Orinoco Ida’s Cachapas – And you thought our jokes were corny! House-made Corn Pancakes, Mojo-braised Pork, Black Bean Salad, and Avocado Cream” were introduced with the last major menu change.
They replace the “$9.50 House-made Arepas – A trip down the Amazon with Slow-cooked Beef, Black Beans, Tostones, and Queso Fresco.”
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.
I’m a Shu Mai guy and I really like Skipper Canteen’s $11 S.E.A. version – “A legendary blend of Pork, Shrimp, Edamame Beans, and Spices wrapped in Gyoza Skin then steamed.”
I also got to use chopsticks this time.
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. I’m a huge dipper.
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. I’m not kidding.
Below is the current lineup of entrees:
This is a major departure with a version of a Pad Thai replacing the Noodle Bowls; the Seafood Stew replaces the Head-On Shrimp; the Steak Salad dons the same name, but is made up of entirely new ingredients; and the steak arrives with new sides.
The $22 “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, I don’t think, 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. This is an inside-the-box offering that should please most people that order it. They can make it as spicy as you like.
I think it’s a better entry than the Hardened Baked Pasta that was served here for the last year.
The $27 “Sankuru Sadie’s Seafood Stew – Shrimp, Sustainable Fish, Mussels, and Octopus simmered in a fragrant Coconut Sauce and served with Jasmine Rice” is another all-new dish.
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 meal. Surprisingly good.
Since we had gone to Tony’s Town Square earlier in the day, I apologize as I ate my banana for lunch and because of that, can’t adequately represent the immense size of 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.”
But it’s giant – easily six times more food than the appetizer salad for about twice the money. The steak is 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. Otherwise, it was really fresh-tasting with 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. You could easily share this between two hungry people; I didn’t get anywhere close to finishing it. Very good.
At $35, “Dr. Falls’ Signature Grilled Steak – Marinated New York Strip, Pico de Gallo Butter, Jasmine Rice, and Braised Black Beans with Applewood-smoked Bacon” was 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 $31 “Sustainable Fish – ‘Not Piranha,’ served over Chinese Broccoli, Carrots, Shiitake Mushrooms, and Red Bell Peppers in a fragrant Lemon Grass Broth” is currently 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.
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. And don’t let your girlfriend see you eat the eyeballs.
We revisited the $18 “Curried Vegetable Crew Stew – a favorite of the Crew Stew Crew (especially Stu). Seasonal Vegetables in a House-made Curry Sauce served with Coconut Rice.” The curry at Canteen is otherwise packed with potatoes, peppers, cauliflower, and other vegetables in a creamy, mildly spicy curry and topped with peppers and herbs. 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. It’s a filling dish and a good value for the money, whether you’re vegetarian or not.
The Canteen still hasn’t improved its beer game. I’d like to see something that I can’t get at the gas station.
Otherwise, I thought most of the menu changes were positive. The Seafood Stew in particular was excellent and the Perkins Noodles should be a “safe” choice for most people without having to resort to adding a hot dog. I’d still like to see some more accessible dishes added to the kids’ menu, but Disney could be actively dissuading families from eating here by not doing so. I’m not sure why.
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:
Overall, I think 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. Hopefully your steak will be better than mine.