I didn’t think it was possible but Robert Earl has outdone himself.
The newly rebranded Planet Hollywood Observatory is a theme restaurant of Cecil B. DeMille proportions. The massive dining venue is on three open levels — think orchestra, mezzanine and balcony — and is dominated by a huge, towering curved screen where videos and other images are projected from various angles. It’s a little bit like dining in an IMAX theater.
The restaurant reopened last month after a year-long renovation that took the 22-year-old original structure — a massive globe, which was pretty impressive on its own — and reimagined it as an observatory to fit in with the overall theme of Disney Springs (itself a rebranding of Downtown Disney and Pleasure Island).
(Here’s a fun fact: There was such a rush to finish the Orlando Planet Hollywood on time at the end of 1994 that most of the serving staff saw the inside of the building for the first time only on the day the restaurant opened. And although Planet Hollywood is headquartered in Orlando, this wasn’t the first to open. That was in New York.)
The observatory designation is a brilliant one — and I don’t know if the idea was Earl’s or from someone on Disney’s team — because an observatory and Hollywood have the same obsession: stars. (Click the video above for some of the sights and sounds of Planet Hollywood Observatory.)
Foodwise, this is still Planet Hollywood. One comes here for the spectacle, the memorabilia and the atmospherics, one doesn’t come here for fine dining.
Even with — or especially because of? — a section of the revised menu featuring selections by Food Network star Guy Fieri. But you weren’t expecting fine dining from him either, were you?
Fieri’s contributions are mainly in the form of sandwiches and burgers, many that bear names with references to Fierisms, such as the Mayor of Flavortown Burger, which includes grilled pastrami, swiss cheese, coleslaw and something called Donkey Sauce, which he assures us does not contain actual donkey. It was certainly impressive in size, but the mayor might want to step up his game before the next election.
Oh, here’s another bit of nostalgia: Remember when Hard Rock Cafe and Planet Hollywood first came to town and people were outraged at the audacity of charging $8.95 for a burger? This one costs $18.99.
I was more impressed with the Championship Pulled Pork sandwich, which had juicy shreds of meat tossed with a barbecue sauce tinged with bourbon and brown sugar, more slaw and crispy fried onion straws.
BBQ Ribs were presented atop a miniature picnic table and stacked like so many Lincoln Logs. Although a little too damp with sauce — the menu does say smothered — the meat was fall-off-the-bone tender and had a nice smoky note.
L.A. Lasagna is the sort of entree that will either delight or horrify you. Instead of a layered, baked affair, this lasagna is made with pasta tubes stuffed with a Bolognese-style meat sauce and then deep fried. Yes, I share your horror, and I’m even more troubled that I liked the way it tasted.
For sheer showmanship, the High Roller Platter of appetizers delivers. It features five items from the list of starters — Chicken Crunch (when did they stop calling it Cap’n Crunch, and were they threatened by the Royal Navy?), Texas Tostados, Buffalo Wings, Five-Cheese Dip and Peri-Peri Shrimp — served on a huge metal structure in the shape of a Ferris wheel. Mr. DeMille would approve.
The Peri-Peri Shrimp were my favorite of this amusement park ride, though my dining companions liked the dip best.
There’s more spectacle at dessert if you order the Planet Melt Down, which is just what the name says it is. It’s a large chocolate globe that collapses when a server pours hot sauce over it — talk about global warming! — unveiling fudge cake and vanilla ice cream inside.
Key Lime Pie Star Jar had a (too) sweet filling layered with graham crackers in a Mason jar-style glass mug.
My guests and I, who were invited to experience PHO as part of a media event, met first at a space accessible from the outside of the building called the Stargazer’s Lounge, an odd designation for an area with no view of the sky. But I did like the cocktail called the Observatory — Stoli vodka, Limoncino Bottega, Monin Peach Tea and Condoni Proseco. A few of those and you’ll see stars alright.
But sip your cocktail at one of the bars inside where you can see the projections on the screen. That’s the real reason to come here.
Planet Hollywood Observatory is at Disney Springs. It is open for lunch and dinner daily. The phone number is 407-827-7827.