Universal Food Finds: Pat O’Brien’s
A popular evening hotspot at the Universal Orlando Resort’s CityWalk, Pat O’Brien’s has long had a reputation for strong drinks and food with New Orleans flair. I discovered the establishment one day by happenstance when a group of friends invited me to join them, and while I only sampled a few of the appetizers they ordered during their late-afternoon visit, I was sold from that point on that I should return to try out a full meal and some drinks. I’m an admitted fanatic when it comes to New Orleans cuisine, as well as an active seeker when it comes to trying new mixed drinks, so this seemed like the perfect place for me!
I started by sampling some drinks… The Disneyland fan in me immediately gravitated to the Mint Julep, but the traditionalist in me knew that I must order the restaurant’s signature Hurricane. With my friend in tow I could indulge and try both without overdoing it—a wise decision, as I would find out that the alcohol content of these drinks is high, despite their well masked flavor profiles. The Mint Julep was totally clear (unlike the Scope-green syrup delicacies I love from the Mint Julep Bar in New Orleans Square) with a decent filling of ice, mint leaves, cherries and an orange. Despite the clear visibility, this drink is loaded with two ounces of strong Bourbon. This being my first alcoholic mint julep, I was a little surprised at how powerful the bourbon was in relation to the mint, but after a few sips it become much more smooth and pleasant to drink. If you’re not a mint or bourbon person, this isn’t the drink for you, but it is definitely a strong kick to start your meal with!
The Hurricane is a huge, 26 ounce serving with four whole ounces of Pat O’Brien’s Hurricane Rum mixed with the company’s Hurricane Mix (which you can buy to make your own at home). The Hurricane has a distinctly “hurricane flavor” with a fruity twang that masks the rum beautifully. An orange and cherry topper hangs above the glass but will likely sink to the bottom as you drink, or will be placed on the table to avoid the bulk in an attempt to get a greater sip. The Hurricane presents a dangerous prospect for the indulgent: the alcohol is almost invisible to the taste, meaning that the drink gives of the sense of being light on the booze. This may prompt you to want to drink more (and a few are fine), but this drink packs a hidden wallop that given time will come back to show its face. Be careful with this great drink and don’t be fooled by its taste. It is strong; you just won’t know it until the drink has set in.
The Mint Julep cost $8.99 and the Hurricane $11.49, the latter being the better deal in terms of the size of the drink. One benefit I neglected to realize until the end of the meal is that by paying the full price for the drink you are actually able to get the souvenir glass as a takeaway (a lower priced, smaller serving size is available without the glass). Even better, this isn’t just the case where they wash out your glass to return it to you to take out, still wet. Rather, after your meal has been paid for you can take your receipt to the gift shop counter outside of the entrance to the restaurant to redeem your glass, delivered brand new in a transportable box for safe keeping!
But we hadn’t come to Pat O’Brien’s solely for drinks and souvenirs… We wanted to indulge in some great “N’awlins” cuisine! We opted to share two appetizers and one entrée. Being the seafood lover I am (as is my friend), we had to go with the intriguing Crawfish Nachos, described as a serving of fresh tortilla chips covered with New Orleans-style Crawfish Etouffee and topped with melted Cheddar Cheese and Sour Cream. Save for the sour cream we ordered the plate as is, enjoying the rich flavor of the etouffee and the whole pieces of crawfish meat strewn about the nachos. This is a hearty serving to be sure with the right amount of cheese, meat and etouffee sauce to give this dish a surprising amount of balance. We left no morsel untouched, as it was just that great! I can honestly say I’ll be returning based on those nachos (and the Hurricane) with all other reasons simply a bonus at this point!
The New Orleans Spicy Cheese Fries sounded like a good idea as we were both in the mood for something with a little heat. Listed as “Pat O’s Spicy Fries Piled High, smothered with Cajun Cheddar Cheese Sauce, topped with Bacon & Sour Cream,” we were expecting a similar serving size to that of the crawfish nachos, with a good deal of cheese sauce, a decent amount of bacon and a reasonable amount of spice. Sadly we were mistaken on all accounts. The appetizer portion looked to be more like a side dish with a meager amount of cheese sauce and bacon included and the “piled high” fries being a layer or two thick in height. We inquired to our waiter as to why this wasn’t what the menu advertised and he simply replied “that it is a cheesy theme park cliché” to list them on the menu like that and that they are intentionally not spicy. It was a confusing answer but one that we weren’t going to argue. At the end of the day, the fries were pretty good as was the cheese sauce (where there was some), so it wasn’t like we hated what we received, rather it wasn’t what we expected. I’d probably avoid this one in favor of getting the crawfish nachos (or another drink), especially when the fries are $6.99 for an order and the Mint Julep is only two dollars more.
The final piece to our meal was the Jambalaya, “a combination of rice, andouille sausage, chicken breast, and shrimp cooked with Cajun spices, served with a sour dough roll. While not the absolute best jambalaya either of us had ever had, we were certainly pleased with the plate overall. The serving size while initially small to the eye ends up being more than enough as the rice is filled with tons of good proteins and vegetables. The rice itself was moist and clumped together like some of the good risottos and paellas I’ve had before—more stuck together than some of the other jambalayas I’ve had but it fit both of our tastes perfectly. Not listed but present were black eyed peas, scallions and diced green peppers all of which added to the great and variable flavor profiles found between the grains of rice. Overall, this was a great entrée that we would both happily order again!
Despite a disappointing spot with the “Spicy Cheese Fries,” we really loved our experience at Pat O’Brien’s and will undoubtedly return soon to get more of those delectable crawfish nachos and a Hurricane or two. The food and drinks are entirely affordable and a great meal can be purchased for a more-than-reasonable price. That coupled with a great atmosphere in the already wonderful evening setting of CityWalk makes Pat O’Brien’s a gem in Universal Orlando’s table service dining line up that some (myself included) seem to have overlooked in the past. But now this one is on my radar as a go-to place, to be added to my “frequent visits” list…