The Happiest Meals on Earth: My trip through some of Disney's best restaurants
I tried everything from a Hades Hot Dog to the Grey Stuff. I can confirm, it was all delicious
Before Disney World Florida closed its doors because of COVID-19, I was able enjoy a four-day vacation with one of my best friends from high school. This was a trip that I'd been looking forward to for months, and we were able to enjoy it and get back to New Jersey before things got too intense. I am so glad that we were able to, because I had some of the greatest meals of my life over the course of those four days, and some of the best drinks too – but that's a different article.
See, we originally planned this trip to be as cost conscious as possible, but as I picked up a full-time job, our plans quickly turned into a trip that can only be described as magical. What started as a grab-and-go dining experience transformed into a tour of some of Disney's greatest restaurants (and a few of my childhood favorites too). And now, I invite you to sit back and relax, as I proudly present, my dinners... and a few "snacks" along the way.
Via Napoli: Lasagne Napoletana and San Gennaro Pizza
I was told by my friend that Via Napoli would have some of the best pizza that I'll ever eat. As a proud citizen of the Tri-State Area, that's a tall order, as there are plenty of pizzerias that have pies that could put me in a food coma within walking distance of my house.
Disney is Disney though, and it's that sentence that reverberated through my conscious on numerous occasions throughout the trip. Well, while I was picking which pizza I would be having for dinner, I saw the Lasagne Napoletana staring at me on the menu, and I couldn't resist going for it.
"You're ordering two dinners?" my friend asked me, to which I replied, "When in Rome..." which resulted in quite a stare from her. The Lasagne Napoletana was brilliant, I've never had pasta cooked that tender, and sauce that was that sweet.
There's something particularly magical about Disney and the way that they staff their restaurants. Most of the cast members working in Via Napoli are actually from Italy, which is a detail that only adds to the authenticity of the experience, and creates an experience that is more Ristorante and less Olive Garden.
It goes without saying that I stopped checking my bank account and let myself enjoy the opportunities that I was presented with. This was one of the greatest pizzas I've had in my 23 years of life. The San Gennaro is a white pie that is topped with a combination of mozzarella and fontina cheeses, then sweet Italian sausage, hot peppers, onions and cherry tomatoes. You can even watch the waiter take your order to the chefs and watch them toss the dough and prepare your pizza.
After a day of drinking around the world, that combo of pizza and lasagna was enough to cause me to doze off on the ride back to our hotel.
Sci-Fi Dine-In: Sci-Fi Specialty Seasonal Burger
I love the Sci-Fi Dine-In. Maybe it's because you get to eat in an actual car from the '50s, or the fact that they have a giant movie screen playing old cartoons... something about this out-of-this-world restaurant has always stuck in my mind since I went there as a little kid.
Of course, my pride as a Burger Connoisseur forced me to ask about their Seasonal Burger which simply states "ask your car-hop for details" under the description. What I was told was that it was a 1/3 lb burger topped with fried green tomatoes, mac and cheese, and bacon.
Having taken down several brilliant burgers in my life, I knew I was in for something special, but there's just something about that combination of ingredients that brought a tear to my eye. The burger was cooked perfectly, the bun was toasted perfectly and the mac was brilliant. It's Disney, did you expect them to botch it? The cookies and cream milkshake in the back of the photo was also flawless.
Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe: Mickey Cheeseburger
Lunch in Disney World is always an adventure. You lose your senses while you're in the parks, so when someone says "I think I'm gonna get a little something to munch on," it can turn into a full-blown meal – which led me to a burger covered in bacon and mac and cheese, fiery cheese dust and a Mickey Mouse imprinted on the bun (plus a side of fries that I covered in ketchup and jalapenos).
There's something truly special about eating lunch with Cinderella's Castle as a backdrop that makes you feel like you're king of the world, but nothing could prepare me for what we had planned for dinner.
Be Our Guest: 3-Course Dinner
There are fine-dining restaurants, and then there's Be Our Guest. There are elite restaurants, and then there's Be Our Guest. There's feeling like you're the most important person on the planet, and then there's Be Our Guest.
There are plenty of moments along this trip that I said, "Holy crap, this is insane," and then I walked into the ballroom that Be Our Guest operates in. You're effectively sat in the middle of the room that Belle and The Beast dance in – but enough about them, where's the grub?
The rules of Be Our Guest are simple. You order three things on a menu, and you say goodbye to a relatively decent sum of money, but it is worth every single dollar. First things first, I ordered a glass of Terra d'Oro Moscato, which helped satisfy my quest to drink in every park that I visited, but also because if you're ordering a three-course dinner, ordering a Coke seemed a bit off to me.
That crock of French Onion Soup will go down as the single greatest bowl of soup I'll ever have, and for one brilliant reason. It didn't need salt. Every bowl of soup I've ever had, I've needed to add salt. Be Our Guest doesn't even have salt and pepper on the table, they're THAT confident, and I don't blame them, it was brilliant.
When I was presented this center-cut Filet Mignon on a cloud of Robuchon Yukon potatoes and covered in a Cipollini Marmalade, I had to stop my knife and fork so I could document it for your viewing pleasure.
I actually teared up. A perfectly medium-rare piece of meat of the finest quality imaginable. The scene in Ratatouille when Anton Ego has that out-of-body experience after trying the ratatouille is the best way to describe my reaction to that first bite of that steak.
I'm not a big fan of steak, I think it's too expensive and leaves a lot to be desired in terms of flavor profiles – and I'm ultimately left tired after having a steak. But this IS the exception. I don't think I've ever truly wolfed down a steak before, but I was left with a feeling of sadness as my eyes stared at the empty plate after I came back to consciousness.
We were then presented dessert, which is a beautiful arrangement of a macaroon on the left, a dark chocolate truffle on the right, and a white chocolate cup, shaped like Chip, filled with the Grey Stuff.
I proceeded to take my index finger and stick it directly into the Grey Stuff and put it in my mouth. It's how Belle tasted it in the movie, and it's how I was going to taste the iconic treat that is simply described as "delicious".
It was. It was sweet without being too rich, it was light and airy, almost like a meringue, but it was creamy. It's the Grey Stuff, and it, like everything else, was brilliant.
Casey's Corner: Hades Hot Dog
While we were in Magic Kingdom, we stayed for the Villains After Hours event, which not only included additions to some of the rides, an extra parade, and a really cool show in front of Cinderella's Castle, but it also featured a bunch of limited edition food items, one of which was this, the Hades Hot Dog, available at Casey's Corner.
This all-beef hot dog is topped with buffalo chicken, spicy ranch dressing, diced celery, and fiery cheese dust, served on a bun that might as well have been pitch black. I added relish, because I don't care how high you stack the toppings on a hot dog, relish needs to be in there, somewhere.
As I watched the villains use their powers to change the castle to reflect their own darkest wishes, I munched on this brilliant hot dog, which, like everything else on the trip, was flawless and takes its rightful place on top of my "Best Hot Dogs" list.
Disney puts so much energy into their rides, shows, resorts, and parks, that you'd be hard-pressed to find a bad part to your trip besides standing in line for a ride that you don't have a FASTPASS for.
I didn't expect Disney's restaurants to be such an incredible experience, and I was left with a series of memories of truly excellent food that will not be rivaled by anything edible for quite a long time. If you have the chance to go to any of these brilliant establishments while you find yourself vacationing in Disney World, you owe it to yourself to experience some of the best food on Earth.