Emeril’s Orlando: Very Nice, but Skip It

Share This!

My culinary tour of Universal Orlando Resort has, thus far, hit all the highs: the best food, best dessert and breakfast, best theming, and, of course, the best restaurant, in both full-service and counter-service varieties. But now it’s time to hit a low – one of the biggest lows, in fact, that Universal has to offer.

Emeril's Orlando

Before CityWalk’s recent renovations – which have, to date, unleashed eight brand-new venues on the area – Emeril’s Orlando was the flagship eatery at the dining/shopping/entertainment district. And, really, it’s easy to see why: slick, upscale décor, an expansive (and decadent) menu, and a staggering collection of wines (all impeccably stacked in a 12,000-bottle gallery) all make for an impressive dining destination. Eating here is undeniably an experience.

Unfortunately it’s still an experience that, for most people on most schedules and with most budgets, is an experience I recommend be skipped – particularly considering all the other gastronomic delights that Universal Orlando has on hand, from the exclusive themed offerings of The Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter and Springfield, USA to the more traditional (but still excellent) likes of Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food and The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar.

Here’s why you’re better off spending your hard-earned vacation dollars somewhere else:

The menu

Let’s get the good parts of the equation out of the way first. As one would expect when they see Emeril Lagasse’s name on the joint, there are a number of really tasty dishes on the menu. The Apple Cider-Glazed Pork “Ham” Chop, the Andouille-Crusted Florida Drum, and the Bourbon-Mashed Sweet Potatoes are all yummy and refined. They each offer a level of dining that is hard to come by anywhere else at the resort (save for, perhaps, the other Lagasse establishment, Emeril’s Tcoup Chop, located down the waterway at Royal Pacific Resort).

Sadly, the bad parts aren’t too far behind, and they actually take two different forms. First up: such extravagant offerings come at a price, and it’s a pretty steep one. With entrees running anywhere from $21 to $45 – even a single slice of pie weighs in at $10 – Emeril’s is easily the most expensive restaurant at CityWalk, which, considering how pricey everything else at the complex is, means it’s also automatically the most overpriced. In order to justify eating here, deep pockets and/or a pretty deep-seated desire to munch on some bam-powered dishes are absolutely required.

Bam!

For me personally, the food didn’t offer the bite (no pun intended) needed to satiate my appetite or assuage my bruised wallet. To put it bluntly – and to forever label me as the arch-nemesis of foodies everywhere – the menu was just too fancy for my admittedly picky tastes (and, I wager, the tastes of the majority of theme-park-going guests). I had to search and search for something that I would enjoy (and this coming from a guy who dines in Michael Symon’s backyard). To make matters worse, even my wife, who has nowhere near my limited palate but is a vegetarian, struggled to select a suitably appealing dish.

Was our meal expertly crafted and beautifully presented? Yes, absolutely…no question about it. But did we enjoy our dinner enough to justify the stiff bill? Alas, no.

The service

Here’s where things get dicey and public opinion gets more polarized than discussing politics at the family Thanksgiving table.

Emeril's Orlando dining room
Image © Universal

A brief survey of reviews on popular food sites results in two quick observations: the restaurant may have an overall favorable – or better! – rating, but it still has a huge level of negative comments, with the single biggest contention easily revolving around service. (I suppose everyone is already aware of, and on board with, the idea of being charged an arm and a leg for her meal.) While it’s important to note that many purported instances of bad service actually seem to be nitpicking to the extreme – apparently, when a consumer pays a premium for a service, he (understandably) wants to be made to feel like he’s the supreme leader of all things – it’s still a big enough issue to be made aware of when deciding whether Emeril’s is the place for you.

Personally, my wife and I found our wait staff to be perfectly acceptable, but they couldn’t hold a candle to the wonderfully charismatic server we had at Mama Della’s Ristorante the day before. Let that factor into the cost considerations as you will.

The end result is that Emeril’s Orlando becomes something of a gamble. Will you find a dish rewarding enough for your taste buds? Will your waiter meet – or, the theme park gods be good, actually exceed – your expectations for your meal? And will the whole shebang cost you your first-born son?

While you’re already juggling various permutations of touring plans around in your head, and weighing a potential meal at this restaurant with all the other sure-fire offerings literally right next door, the simple truth may be that the answer is actually a no-brainer. Maybe going with a more reliable, and cheaper, restaurant is safer, leaving the gamble for guessing which Wizarding World Universal will decide to have open at Early Park Admission the following morning.

Emeril’s Orlando’s lunch menu can be found here, and its dinner menu, here.

Marc N. Kleinhenz

Marc N. Kleinhenz is a freelancer who's written for 27 sites, including The Huffington Post, Theme Park Insider, and Orlando Informer, where he is the contributing editor. He owns his own ebook publishing company, has co-created and -hosted two podcasts, and has even taught English in Japan.

8 thoughts on “Emeril’s Orlando: Very Nice, but Skip It

  • June 7, 2015 at 7:41 am
    Permalink

    I’ve given this place a try many times and have been disappointed every time. The food was hit and miss and it is probably the loudest restaurant I have every been to. I used to be a waiter and I would have to agree that the service has been sub par at times. The last time I went the main server just wasn’t around and didn’t give any level of customer service that you would expect for a “higher end” restaurant…. But the server who was helped by him was wonderful and attentive. He took time to chat with us and he was the one doing all the work like running the food and refilling our drinks. I didn’t know how the tips are split so I gave 15% on the bill and gave the helper a $20. Not extravagant but a way to let him know he’s doing a great job. I don’t think I’d go back again but who knows.

    Reply
  • June 7, 2015 at 7:51 am
    Permalink

    We have never eaten dinner there but love going to the bar area and ordering an appetizer and one of our favorite desserts ever–banana cream pie! The bartenders have worked there many years and say they are well-treated by management. It’s a favorite City Walk experience for us. Don’t skip it altogether!

    Reply
  • June 7, 2015 at 9:38 am
    Permalink

    We’ve dined here once. I didn’t think the bill was out of line, but I thought the quality of the food was subpar for the experience. I felt it was on the same level of chain-restaurant food: overly salty and overcooked.

    Reply
  • June 7, 2015 at 1:16 pm
    Permalink

    With all of the fine dining options in the area, Emeril’s is definitely not worth the $$$. However, our family does enjoy Tchoup Chop for more casual fare.

    Reply
  • June 7, 2015 at 7:38 pm
    Permalink

    Sad to hear the service is no longer as impeccably top drawer, as it once was. I haven’t dined a Emeril’s at City Walk for about 10 years. Since that time, we have dined at all of Emeril’s restaurants in New Orleans, and now how three relatively locally (Bethlehem, PA, hosts Emeril’s Chop House, Emeril’s Italian Table, and Emeril’s Burgers and More).

    I have always found the food at Emeril’s restaurants to be creative, flawlessly prepared, and made with the finest ingredients. I completely understand that not everyone understands or appreciates that level of quality.

    To each his own. It’s great there there is so much variety and choice in Central Florida. That said, anyone who finds Emeril’s lacking, really should try Steak ‘n Shake! You won’t leave hungry, and you’ll get your money’s worth!

    Reply
  • June 8, 2015 at 4:03 am
    Permalink

    I tend to agree with this comment. Many places on WDW property are in this price range and don’t even begin to pretend to be ‘Fancy’. The review says their dishes were ‘tasty’.

    This review seems to have been very quickly written, with no detail of the food.

    Sounds like this guy want cheap food, but will still buy an interactive wand from WWOHP, unless he really is a cheapskate!

    Reply
  • June 8, 2015 at 10:37 am
    Permalink

    Review sounds about like the one in Las Vegas – Decent food, but pricey for what it is and service is hit or miss. I used to travel to Vegas a lot for work – so I would also recommend skipping that one also. Wonder if it is a trend in his chain?

    Reply
  • June 8, 2015 at 2:57 pm
    Permalink

    Thanks Marc for an interesting perspective. May I ask when the last time you personally ate there was? As an Emeril’s regular, I’ve had inconsistent service but the food is always been good. And though pricey it is a much better value than WDW’s signature restaurants like Le Cellier.
    Also, you should mention the deep happy hour discounts & free app or dessert with a UOR park ticket.
    I enourage anyone considering Emeril’s to also read our official review:
    http://touringplans.com/universal-orlando/dining/emerils-restaurant-orlando

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *