Scott's note: Garden Grill is a finalist in Theme Park Insider's search for the best theme park restaurant of 2010. To vote in the poll, visit ThemeParkInsider.com.
I’ve always been fascinated by revolving restaurants. They’re so equitable. Everyone gets the opportunity to have the most perfect seat in the house.And, somewhere along the way, each table also has the worst view, too. Most of the revolving -- or rotating, if you prefer -- restaurants I’ve encountered are atop tall buildings. Makes sense, penthouse views and all. New York’s Marriott Marquis used to have two: the restaurant on top of the hotel and another in the lobby-level lounge overlooking Times Square. For some reason, the Broadway Lounge turntable was removed several years ago. Now if you want the same experience, you have to keep scooting your chair. It’s not the same. I wonder what they did with it. Is there a secondary market for these things? Can you sell them on e-Bay? Craigslist?
I bring this up because the Garden Grill Restaurant in the Land pavilion at Epcot rotates. However, it offers neither an aerial view nor a Times Square equivalent. In fact, it has no windows at all. Instead, it moves diners along a diorama of scenes from the Living with the Land attraction. So during your meal, you will go from a rainforest setting to a desert to a prairie and farmland with a simple frame house with a really, really annoying barking-dog animatronic on the front porch.
But while Garden Grill differs from other whirling restaurants with its view, it does share one characteristic with the others I’ve dined in: the food is no more than just average. I suppose the thinking is that people will dine for the view and the experience (it’s like a ride that lasts a whole hour!), so the food doesn’t have to be the focal point. This is not an attribute unique to revolving restaurants. You can find other eateries where the food takes a backseat to the view, some very close by to Garden Grill (I’m talking to you, Coral Reef).
And the food here is not bad, it’s just not as good as it could be, or take advantage of the opportunity to teach some food basics, but I’ll come back to that.
Garden Grill offers family style dining, which in my family would suggest leftovers but here means the food is brought out on platters to pass around. And don’t worry if your pig of a brother-in-law takes all the chargrilled strip loin before the platter gets around to you: it’s an all-you-care-to-eat ordeal, so your server will gladly bring more. The pricing is reasonable. It’s $29.99 for “adults” 10 and up and $15 for kids 3-9. You’d think they’d wise up and have a third price of $74.99 for teenagers, but they don’t.
The meal includes breads served with maple butter; “harvest-inspired” farmer’s salad; chargrilled beef strip loin; roast turkey breast with dressing; a “sustainable” fish of the day (although in an all-you-can-eat venue it might be endangered by the end of the meal); and mashed potatoes, vegetables and a strawberry-rhubarb crisp dessert.
The beef was the best and was sufficiently tender, but there wasn’t a lot of flavor, certainly nothing from the herb sea salt it was supposed to have. The fish fillet was a bit overcooked, and the turkey didn’t rise above your basic cafeteria type. I did like the dessert, which had a nice balance of sweet and tart and was served with a vanilla-bean cream.
It’s a shame Disney’s culinears don’t take the opportunity to connect the setting to the food. The restaurant’s page on the Web site says, “Some of your food might even be grown in the land greenhouse!” but there was no indication of that being the case on the menu. Pity. We bandy about words like "sustainable" and "harvest inspired" but don’t try to explain them, even when the opportunity is literally passing by.
The closest we get here is Farmer Mickey dropping by the table, and won’t say much. Yes, this is a character dining experience, and along with the head mouse you may see Chip ‘n’ Dale and Pluto. I tried to get Pluto to talk to get that yapping dog on the farmhouse porch to shut up, but nothing.
Service was the Disney standard, which is to say friendly and efficient.
GG no longer serves lunch. The restaurant opens at 4:30 p.m. and serves until the park closes. Garden Grill Restaurant is in the Land pavilion at Epcot. Here’s a link to the Web site (although it has a lot less information than I’ve given you here). The reservation phone number is 407-939-3463.