Travel Destination: Disney World 2018 Update – Part II
I had so much to say about my Disney World dining experience this year I had to split it up between two posts.
Before I go into the second half of my 2018 update, I want to mention Disney’s responsive communications team. While I was at Disney, I tweeted at Walt Disney World about where I ate and even shouted out my thanks to a few chefs who helped me. Disney’s team was on my tweets and frequently thanked me back for my kind words. For the chefs that I mentioned, I used #CastCompliment with my tweets, which Walt Disney Today liked and replied to. A few days later, both posts where I used the hashtag, Disney had reached out to the cast members and presented them thank you notes that included pictures of the food they made me. My lead image to this post is Chef Gene, who crafted the amazing Boma meals I mentioned in Part 1 of my update, and the image below is of Gabriel and Sean, who helped me at Pecos Bill, which I will discuss next.
Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe
Pecos Bill is a Old West saloon-themed, quick-service restaurant in Magic Kingdom that serves up southwestern grub, such as fajitas, nachos and quesadillas. It’s been years, if not a decade, since I’ve eaten here; long before celiac disease and becoming vegan. I decided to return after reading reviews about the vegan-friendly Veggie Rice Bowl. This bowl comes with yellow rice, black beans, sautéed squash and zucchini and tortilla strips on top. I was told if you swap the yellow rice for plain white rice and lose the tortilla strips, it would be gluten-free, too.
Like other quick-service places, you order from a cashier and then get a number for you to pick up your order. As I was waiting in line, I heard the woman in front of me tell the cashier that she had a food allergy and would need to speak with a manager. I was happy to see I wasn’t the only one looking to make a special request that afternoon, and was glad the manager would be there so I could speak to him as well. The woman ahead of me also had celiac disease and a dairy allergy. She navigated the menu with the manager (Gabriel) and he typed everything into the computer and handed her a receipt stamped allergy. He also told her, as I knew he would me, that it would take a few minutes extra because they had to prepare it safely.
As Gabriel turned to walk away, I said I also had a food allergy that I would need to speak with him about. I requested the Veggie Rice bowl (sans rice and tortilla strips) and asked if he could swap out those things for the fajita peppers and onions that came on other dishes. He said they weren’t vegan because they were cooked on the same grill as meat. After a brief pause, he smiled and said he could bake them in the oven. It would, of course, take a while, but he could do it. I agreed, happy to wait. Pecos Bill has a toppings bar with salsas, lettuce, tomatoes and other items. Since it’s common, I heard the woman ahead of me ask for several on the side, so I did as well.
Once the order was placed, I went to wait next to my new celiac friend. We chatted and she exclaimed her love of Disney, too. She said she had eaten at Pecos Bill many times before without a problem. She also mentioned recently taking a Disney cruise where she experienced the same outstanding service as in the parks and resorts. (A cruise is now on my to-do list.)
My order did take 15 minutes or so to make. The nice thing was they held up my mom and cousin’s order, so we could all eat at the same time. The chef (Sean) brought me out my tray loaded with the the black bean veggie bowl along with bowls of salsa, tomatoes, lettuce, limes and pico de gallo. It looked great, and I hinted that I might want another bowl. Sean said if I did, he’d start preparing the veggies now so I didn’t have to wait when I ordered a second time. I thought that was very nice of him and thanked him for the offer before going to enjoy the first bowl.
Everything was fantastic, although the star of the bowl was the fajita peppers and onions which were perfectly browned and flavored. I ended up making more of a salad with the extra lettuce and tomato and used the salsa as a dressing. As far as Disney goes, this two-meals-in-one is a bargain at around $11. My second bowl – waiting for me when Gabriel put in my second order as promised – was equally as delicious. I left stuffed! I don’t say that often at quick-service restaurants.
I will be back and recommend any vegan looking for more veggies to add the baked peppers and onions to their veggie bowls. They’re definitely worth the wait and the staff is awesome and super helpful to make that possible.
Cítricos is a fine-dining restaurant at the Grand Floridan Resort. I’ve dined at Cítricos for my birthday for the past three or four years. The first few times I had a lentil dish that was phenomenal, but last year they switched up there menu and replaced it with the Quinoa and Provençale Ratatouille that’s currently on their menu. Even though I really liked the dish last year, I was slightly sick when I arrived after getting accidentally poisoned with either gluten or soy earlier that day.
This year, however, I was feeling fine and looking forward to enjoying the same dish again. It’s gluten-free and vegan as is, even though the allergen menu I was given said it was not gluten free. Let me preface the rest of this review with repeating my high expectations for Disney, and especially Cítricos, and mention that I tend to eat a LOT of food and I was hungry when I arrived. Service at Cítricos is usually on the slower side, as you might expect at more fancier restaurants. But this experience, the dinner lasted nearly three hours. Our waitress, who did have several tables, would disappear for long periods of time without checking in, and even getting the check took more than 20 minutes.
The meal started off as expected – I talked with the chef and ordered the quinoa dish as well as extra roasted romanesco and the seasonal salad (I forgot what it was called.) Cítricos does offer allergen-friendly rolls, but I warn you they do turn into hockey pucks if you don’t eat them immediately. Not being a fan, I did pass on these… I may regret having done that.
The salad wasn’t filling. It had a few huge leaves of bibb lettuce, green beans and little else (at $12). After an hour and a half, my dinner finally arrived. I was super hungry, but even in my eagerness to dig in, I paused with disappointment looking at the roasted romanesco. They looked steamed at best. No color and no real seasoning to speak of. The quinoa itself was as good as I remembered it; however, after eating it, I was left still wanting more. I even debated ordering another one. Yet at $30 dollars, I didn’t think it was worth it. When we finally left, I went home and and to eat more.
I might be back to Cítricos next year or I might not. The quinoa ratatouille is a nice dish, though adding lentils or some other legume might give it more substance. I do believe my underwhelming dinner was due in part to the long wait and might try it again in hopes the service is better. I have been quite impressed with meals there previously.
Jiko is a fine-dining restaurant inside Animal Kindgom’s Lodge that serves up traditional South African cuisine. I’ve eaten at Jiko many times before and they have one of my favorite meals on property: the West African Koki Corn. The koki corn is a vegetable tamale topped with mushrooms (some of which are fried) and paired with several different sauces. The roasted red pepper puree is particularly awesome. The other thing that makes Jiko stand out is that it’s one of the few restaurants to feature a vegan menu.
I was looking forward to ordering the koki corn all day and excitedly scanned both the vegan and allergen menu to see if they had anything else I might want to go with it. I spied a new Red Kuri Squash soup that was on both menus. It appeared that if I had the soup, without any of its toppings, it would be safe. I confirmed this with the chef when he came to the table and ordered the soup to arrive along with my tamale. I also ordered a side order of roasted cauliflower and brussel sprouts because you don’t really get a side with the single tamale.
Finding a gluten-free and vegan soup is a rarity even at Disney, so I looked forward to receiving my food even more. The koki corn was exactly how I remembered it, stuffed with spicy vegetables and topped with enoki and fried mushrooms. The side of cauliflower and brussel sprouts were the best I had of the trip. Compared to the “roasted” veggies I had at Cítricos, these were golden brown and seasoned perfectly with salt, pepper and oil. The squash soup was the biggest surprise. It was actually slightly sour, which had earlier caused my mom to send it back. However, I loved it and thought it cut through the spices of the tamale perfectly. It was a great addition to my tamale and I ended up using it as sauce in addition to the ones it usually comes with.
Jiko is expensive. But it’s worth it! It could be the greatest fine-dining option at Disney. The atmosphere is more laid-back and stuffy than you’d find elsewhere, and with an extensive vegan menu, you can’t go wrong!
Tusker House Restaurant
Tusker House is the Boma of the Animal Kingdom theme park. Its “all-you-can-enjoy”, African-inspired cuisine comes with the added bonus of appearances by Mickey, Goofy, Daisy and Donald Duck, dressed in safari attire. I always, always have the chefs make me something special, but like Boma, they now offer an allergen menu with all the buffet options on it. The available gluten-free and vegan options are similar to Boma’s, but the stand out vegetables are by far the collard greens and roasted carrots. When I saw those on the buffet, I knew I wanted to request them.
Sadly, I forgot the names of the chefs who made my food. Our waiter tracked down one chef when I he saw the allergy stamp on our meal ticket. That chef led me through the buffet and happily accepted my challenge to make a black eyed-peas and collard green stew. I told him I’ve had a similar dish at other restaurants, and would love to try his spin on it using the available ingredients. When he went back to make it, I realized I forgot to ask for the roasted carrots. I also decided I was craving mashed potatoes. So my waiter ended up tracking down a second chef, who was available, to help. He said he could definitely do the roasted carrots and would see if he could make vegan mashed potatoes for me.
A few minutes later the first chef came out with a gigantic bowl of his interpretation of my black eyed pea and collards stew. It had tomatoes, collards, broccoli, carrots and spicy curry seasonings. It was delicious – the perfect balance of heat and flavor. I thanked him and told him how much I liked it. As my mouth was happily tingling from the spices, the second chef arrived with the roasted carrots, extra collards (I might have mentioned to him how much I liked those) and even vegan mashed potatoes. Everything he made was really great, and complimented the stew the first chef made.
I will say the mashed potatoes weren’t quite up to Chef Gene’s level, but they were just what I needed at the time. Next time I visit the Animal Kingdom, you can bet I’ll be back to Tusker House. To top the meal off, I even danced with Goofy!