Surprising even the most news-savvy of the Walt Disney World community, Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill opened this week in Disney Springs with very little fanfare. Though reservations are available for the Bar & Grill for dates past December 15, 2018, guests can walk up from now until then to check for available seating. I was able to secure a table on opening night to sample a few dishes and give you my first impressions of the new restaurant!
Old vs New
Fans of Chef Wolfgang Puck will recall his former restaurant, Wolfgang Puck Grand Café, which was located across from Splitsville and Bongo’s, where Jaleo will be opening in just a few months. Though the location was nearly always packed back during the Downtown Disney days, I was not wowed by the old restaurant – about a year and a half after reviewing the Grand Café, all I really remember is the meatloaf and how greasy and expensive the pizza was during my one and only meal there.
Sifting through the menus, it seems like Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill picks up where the Grand Café left off, offering slightly varying lunch and dinner menus (sandwiches and some larger meals vs. heavier pasta and steak plates), along with pizza and salads at both meal times. Disney Springs is a crowded market – with nearly 20 new eateries added in the last few years, many featuring similar wide-ranging menus and items, it will be interesting to see how the new Bar & Grill will measure up to the competition in coming months.
Located just across from Planet Hollywood and adjacent to the Coca-Cola Store, Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill’s exterior is much more modern and way less tacky than the old cafe, with sleek, hard lines and wood accents mirroring much of the rest of the architecture in the Town Center area of Disney Springs. Inside, it is practically a spitting-image of Homecomin’, complete with exposed wooden beams and copper accents, with a bit of Splitsville’s red leather seating thrown in. On the back wall of the restaurant is an open view into the kitchen; once a wow-factor in new restaurants, this feature is pretty commonplace in Disney Springs nowadays. Overall, it’s not an unpleasant look, but it is fairly generic – there’s no read from the inside of this place exactly what vibe they’re going for here.
With no reservations accepted at this time (though I hear they will be available on OpenTable very soon, with reservations through My Disney Experience up from December 15 onwards), I was at the mercy of the holiday week crowds and good ol’ standby waiting for a table on opening night. The hostess was a little frazzled, as expected, on opening night, and my dining companion and I were quoted a brief wait while they set a table up for us and waited for the kitchen to get caught up.
We were offered bar seating (which features ample seating and even TV viewing, as well as the full menu), but I wanted to see how standard service would run, so we waited for a table. Management were very apologetic we had to wait, even offering an appetizer or champagne as compensation – neither were necessary, as it was definitely expected we’d see a wait on opening night, but both were great goodwill gestures that ensure I come back to visit again.
The restaurant was nearly empty when we were seated about 10 minutes after checking in, though the bar was hopping, so it was, in hindsight, a little baffling to hear the kitchen was already behind, but they’ll find their groove quickly and settle in, I imagine. Our server was very welcoming, with his enthusiasm for the menu evident; after a little prodding, he even offered up a few suggestions of his favorites for us to sample, aside from the standard answer of “everything’s great!”.
First off, the wine and cocktail menu at the Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill are extensive – the wine list measured in at nearly three pages (mostly by the bottle offerings, with about 20 daily glass selections), and the cocktail menu seemed mid-ranged priced ($12-15) for Disney Springs with several specialty spirits on hand. The beer selection is fairly extensive compared to many Disney Springs locations, with four drafts, several local canned artisanal options (Cigar City, Red Cypress, and 3 Daughters), as well as 20 or so bottled imports and crafts (most fairly standard, with a few standouts like Blue Point’s Beach Plum and Rogue’s Mocha Porter). They also included a few mocktails (“I love paying $9 for juice!”, my dining companion aptly pointed out), which rounds out a fairly standard but quality selection.
As for food, the dinner menu reads like most modern American eateries, priced around Disney non-signature restaurant standards (think $20ish for pasta, $30ish for meat entrees, with one or two more expensive options). Sharable appetizers and salads are priced on the higher end, closer to signature dining options ($14 burrata cheese appetizer, $13 Caesar salad). As always at a Wolfgang Puck eatery, the Bar & Grill lunch and dinner menus also feature several varieties of pizza, ranging from $15-20 with a specialty smoked salmon pizza topping out at $29.
Entrees at lunch are smaller portioned and a bit cheaper than at dinner, with a few paninis added to the mix for $15-17 (on par with other table service sandwich options available at Homecomin’, STK, Boathouse, and more). For dinner, you’ll find pastas made fresh in house, with three or four varieties that will rotate seasonally or more often. Most are vegetarian by default, but meatballs can be added (for a price, of course). A burger ($16 – expect this price to increase, as it is low compared to most locations at Disney Springs), several fish options (including a whole grilled sea bass for $39), chicken, and steak ($49 for a NY Strip, $84 for a porterhouse for two) round out the menu. Two standouts in the lunch and dinner menu that came recommended to us by folks were the house-made porchetta (a relative bargain at $29 compared to Terralina’s), as well as Wolfgang Puck’s signature chicken schnitzel ($27).
Dessert is pretty standard, with six offerings ranging from $8-10 including carrot cake, crème brulee, baked Alaska, cheesecake, and a seasonal fruit crumble. More notable are the gelato and sorbet tasting options ($8), which include three flavors available at the neighboring gelato window. The window opened this week, as well, and features about 10 flavors and 20 toppings – in small or large cups ($5/$6.50), a fun option for dessert while wandering Disney Springs, even if you aren’t dining at the restaurant. I didn’t have the time to sample dessert on this first visit, but I’ll be back for this both in the restaurant and at the gelato window soon.
For my first meal, I wanted to sample a few recommendations from our server, before coming back to try lunch at a future date. First up, the burrata appetizer, a seasonal salad option with fresh, locally made burrata cheese, topped with romesco sauce, toasted walnuts, and roasted baby carrots ($14). It was pretty easy to tell this burrata was fresh – it had the signature “ooze” of cream as soon as I cut into it, while still maintaining the firmer texture of the fresh mozzarella on the exterior. The red pepper romesco complimented the mild, tangy cheese perfectly – even as a pepper-averse person, I found myself searching the plate for any last morsel of this sauce. The arugula served on the plate was a bit over-dressed, tending towards overly salty, but when paired with the cheese, sweet sauce, and earthy walnuts, the salt was toned down a bit. Overall, this is a successful dish that I’ll order again, though I do think it could be a bit more abundant at the $14 price point.
Next, we sampled the whole wood-grilled shrimp with nduja sausage bread crumbs and garlic toast ($15). Four large head-on shrimp, smoky and tender, top two pieces of toast slathered in an unctuous garlic butter, with slightly spicy breadcrumbs elevating the standard garlic-shrimp flavors to a new level. Honestly, I could’ve eaten four plates of this, and it very quickly disappeared from our table as soon as it was put down. Again, I think this is a few dollars too expensive for the portion size, but it was so good, I will certainly head here for this dish in future visits to Disney Springs.
I think when you visit a Wolfgang Puck restaurant, you’re required by law to eat pizza, so we sampled the pepperoni ($20) with soppressata, red onion, and Fresno chilies. After eating pretty much all of the pizza in Walt Disney World previously, my grading scale for good pizza is strict – as far as toppings and topping to sauce ratio, this was fine to great. The crust was delicious – smoky from the charred spots, chewy without being doughy, and still crispy crust. Lots of soppressata covered the pizza (which, while most people can’t tell the difference, should not be called pepperoni on the menu because they are different sausages!), but only a tiny bit of Fresno chili and red onion dotted the pie, so if you are worried about these flavors invading your traditional pepperoni pizza experience, have no fear. Overall, the pie was about 11 inches (about the same size as Blaze Pizza, just slightly smaller than Splitsville’s), which is a good sharing size for an appetizer for 3-4 folks or a meal for one.
The pasta selections are pretty standard, and since everything is made in-house, I wanted to try one of the more difficult-to-execute dishes, the pumpkin ravioli ($19), dressed in brown butter with sage and hazelnuts. I feel like I’ve been eating “fall” dishes for four months now here in Florida, but this really did nail the flavors without being too in-your-face. The brown butter sauce broke a bit on the plate, but the nuttiness was still present and perfect with the crunch hazelnuts and earthy sage. The ravioli themselves were perfectly cooked, with toothy pasta and creamy pumpkin filling, without being water-logged or mushy. The portion here is eight ravioli – I have a feeling if this is all you ate, you’d leave hungry after $19 spent, but with a salad or appetizer, you’d be just fine.
Alongside the pasta, we tried a few of the roasted meatballs ($10 for three to share). At this point, you can go on a meatball progressive dinner with all of the meatball appetizer options available at Disney Springs, and these are a fine entry into the annals of meatball history. I wouldn’t rush back to try these again – they’re dense and lacking a bit of herb flavor, but the tomato sauce dotted with Castelvetrano olives along with the ricotta topping really brightened the meatballs up overall. I imagine on top of the house spaghetti they’re pretty satisfying, but again, with so many spaghetti and meatball options around, it’s hard to rush back to try these as soon as possible.
Finally, I sampled the chicken schnitzel, served with marinated tomatoes, dill cucumbers, fingerling potatoes, and baby mache ($27). Puck’s Austrian roots inform this dish perfectly – I’ve had schnitzel in Germany that was not this good. Thinly-pounded but still juicy chicken coated in a perfectly crisp breading that stayed crisp even after the obligatory lemon juice-spritz paired fantastically with the bright marinated tomatoes and the cooling cucumbers. The tiny roasted fingerling slices provided a little more heft to an already heavy portion, but the addition of all of the vegetables added some great color and lightness to the plate. I unabashedly loved this – it’s simple, elevated comfort food, and definitely will push me to visit again and again, even with so many other options nearby.
Simply put, Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill is an improvement over Wolfgang Puck Grand Café. The location is more welcoming, the menu just as accessible to simpler palates, and the food is more successful. I found service to be great – we never had an empty water glass or dirty plate on the table, and though the restaurant was half-empty, the servers seemed to keep busy helping ensure a good meal for everyone (not just their own tables – always a good sign!).
For the area (both Disney Springs and Walt Disney World, in general), I think pricing is a little high on a few items, which can and most likely will be adjusted in coming weeks, as happens at most restaurants. The flavors were impactful in every dish I tried – even the dishes I am least likely to come back just to eat again were delicious and well-prepared. I’ll be curious to see whether this quality can maintain consistency once the restaurant starts to fill up the nearly 250 seats. This restaurant, given its prime location and mass appeal menu, will become one of the more difficult-to-book reservations at Disney Springs. After a very successful first dinner here, I look forward to trying lunch and dessert at Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill soon!