Perhaps one of the biggest changes to the Walt Disney World landscape in recent months has been Disney Springs – new shops and restaurants galore, with many more still on the way. Recently, I dropped in for a meal at one of the mainstays of the West Side portion of Disney Springs, Wolfgang Puck Grand Café (located just across from the AMC theater and next to Bongo’s Cuban Cafe) to see if it was still worth a visit with all the new competition. This restaurant is divided into three portions – an outdoor Express location with a limited menu, the main downstairs area (the Grand Café itself), and the Dining Room upstairs. An easy way to think of these three portions: Express is like the quick service-y option, Grand Café is the standard table service (think of The Wave at Contemporary Resort), and Dining Room is a little like the signature table service – this should help understand the offerings (and prices) available at each. Conveniently, they place menus for each of the three outside the restaurant, so you can sneak a peek before committing to your chosen location.
The Grand Café is 90s décor heavy, and looks much like the gaudy exterior on the inside – you’re definitely not here for the ambiance, though there are nice views of the water through the large window walls on the back side of the restaurant. My first impression of the restaurant upon being seated for my early dinner reservation was one of utility – based on the worn carpet and tables, it’s pretty clear this restaurant sees a lot of people every night. That made me pretty hopeful for great food. I was a little worried I’d never find out, though, as it took about ten minutes for a server to greet my table (odd, considering there was only one other table seated in the entire dining area – clearly not very busy at that time). Eventually, a very nice server came over to take my drink order and offer a few recommendations. I was pretty excited that she was clearly not just trying to sell the most expensive thing on the menu to me by suggesting it as her favorite dish, like you often see at other restaurants. I was selecting my meal from the dinner menu, which features moderately-priced, simplified American and Italian classics and sushi. I chose the Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf with mashed potatoes, crispy onion strings, & port wine sauce and one of their famous pizzas, Pepperoni Pomodoro with caramelized onions, basil, & parmesan. Pizzas are available all day (as well as at the Express portion of the restaurant), and the meatloaf dish makes an appearance on the lunch menu as a sandwich (and was recommended by my server), so these seemed to be pretty representative of the food most diners would get from this location.
About twenty minutes after I ordered (continuing the theme of “there’s no one here; why does everything take this long?”), my food arrived. I decided to try the Pepperoni Pomodoro pizza first – probably a good choice, in hindsight. The pizza was about 11 inches across, pretty reasonably sized for a single serving, dotted with pepperoni, but noticeably greasier than I’d expected – not exactly a great visual impression. The base of the pizza was a sweet, garlicky roasted tomato sauce (the titular “pomodoro”), and was probably my favorite part of the dish; unfortunately, it was all condensed in the center of the pizza which made it nigh impossible to eat with your hands – this was beyond NY-style floppy pizza, so I had to break out the knife and fork to combat the sogginess (criminal, I know). Covering most of the pizza was a congealed (not really creamy or melty) layer of parmesan cheese. Not covering the pizza? Any evidence an onion (caramelized or not) had made an appearance near the dish. I was a little bummed out by this, as I felt like that was the one bit of the pizza’s menu description that made it stand out to me compared to others. I eventually excavated one lone slice of onion, which was pretty tasty, but alas, the pizza ultimately did not live up to its menus description, my server’s recommendation, or my own tempered expectations. It definitely checks the boxes for being “pizza”, but it’s not the best execution I’ve seen, especially considering Splitsville just across the street makes a pretty mean pizza, as well (at $15 for their larger pepperoni pizza, as opposed to the $16 price tag for this one).
I was hopeful the meatloaf would be better and it definitely hit that mark. The bacon wrapped around the meatloaf is meant to prevent it from drying out, and it served that purpose well, but it wasn’t totally cooked (even though I had an end piece of the meatloaf). The piece of meatloaf had been seared with the port wine sauce already on it, which meant its fruitiness and some caramelization really dominated the first few bites I got of the dish, after which saltiness took over. I expected salt here because it’s a pork-heavy dish, but it wasn’t particularly balanced. I couldn’t taste any of the little mushrooms or herbs in the meatloaf – disappointing because you could definitely see them! The mashed potatoes underneath the meatloaf were neutral; fine mashed potatoes, just like the menu description, with no bells and whistles. The crispy onions on top gave some welcome crunchiness to the meal. Overall, it’s a classic dish that passes just fine, but it’s nothing I’d make a special trip just to the Grand Café just to eat. It seemed like something I could easily find elsewhere or make for cheaper than the $20 price, but if I ended up here again by some chance, it’d probably be my first choice for a meal.
I wasn’t offered dessert (or a drink refill, sadly), but I asked to try the key lime pie since I’d heard nothing but great things about it (and I’m a sucker for it anywhere it’s on offer). I was immediately (no kidding, 30 seconds later) brought a huge key lime tart, beautifully decorated with whipped cream and topped with a bit of meringue. It was, perhaps predictably, very sweet, with only a slight bit of tartness and flavor from the lime. The whipped cream around the dish was very pretty, but offered no flavor, unlike the sweet and fluffy meringue atop the tart. The graham cracker crust was moist (it was hard to tell if it was greasy or just from condensation from it sitting in a fridge before being served), but a good thickness for the tart’s size. For $9, this was a suitable dessert to satisfy your sweet tooth (and easy to share with a friend), but not dissimilar from anything you could find at a local grocery store bakery.
At the end of the day, that’s sort of the theme of the meal overall – the food was fine. It was just fine. Nothing mind-blowing, nothing that really made me want to rush out and tell everyone they had to eat here, but I had a decent meal, efficient enough and I didn’t leave hungry. Service was adequate, and I never felt rushed. But it’s a tough sell for me, honestly, especially considering the whole time I was eating my salty meatloaf and greasy pizza, I was staring out the large picture windows towards The BOATHOUSE and Morimoto Asia, wishing I was spending the same money there. Wolfgang Puck will always appeal to families looking for middle-of-the-road choices that will satisfy everyone – for an adult picky eater, you won’t encounter any mystery herbs or vegetables sneaking their way on to your palate, and the menu runs the gamut from adventurous to very tame. However, with Splitsville across the way offering a similarly-shaped menu, Morimoto Asia upping the game on sushi available in Disney Springs (and Walt Disney World as a whole), and The BOATHOUSE elevating classic American cuisine, Grand Café may be losing its market share on “simple and delicious”.