Hollywood Brown Derby: A Kid’s Perspective

| September 9, 2009

The Hollywood Brown Derby at Disney’s Hollywood Studios consistently receives some of the highest reviews for a theme park restaurant.  However, it is an expensive, upscale restaurant, and leaves people wondering whether it is a suitable, enjoyable place for kids.  Of course, any restaurant within a Disney theme park will welcome and accommodate families, but whether you and your children enjoy and value the experience is something different.  My two daughters and I went to check it out and get the kid’s perspective of the Hollywood Brown Derby.  My two reporters are Evie (age 8 ) and Maggie (age 11), and they will share their impression of the evening.  So read on…

Our advanced dining reservation (ADR) was 4:45 pm.  We were running a little late because I was, well… by myself with two kids, and one of them needed to try the hairdryer in the bathroom – but I digress.  We arrived at the reservation podium at 5:10 pm, the host said being late was not a problem, and we’d be seated in 5-10 minutes.  While we waited, I asked the girls their impression of the restaurant’s atmosphere.  Maggie loved the “old-timey-ness” of the Brown Derby.  Evie was taken with details such as couches in the lobby, a book celebrities sign after eating, and all the charactertures lining the wall of actors from Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Before too long we were seated at one of the large, deep booths lining the perimeter of the dining room.  Evie quickly scarfed up her menu to report on the kid’s picks.  I asked how the menu appealed to her taste.  She was disappointed chicken strips were not on the menu.  [As if there weren’t enough places in Walt Disney World to get chicken strips, but, remember, this is the kid’s, not my, perspective.]  Evie said nothing appealed to her on the kid’s picks menu, and decided to look at the appetizers on the adult menu to see if any of those would satisfy her dinner craving.  Maggie, however, thought the kid’s menu looked pretty good, and decided quickly what to order.  She decided on the meaty macaroni made of macaroni, ground turkey, marinara, and mozzarella with a side of broccoli.  She said it sounded “really yummy”.  Now even though Maggie’s 11, and could order off the adult menu, she preferred the kid’s menu.  Maggie thought the adult meals were too big and the offerings on the kid’s picks were more kid friendly.  We ordered our drinks and the Cobb salad to share.

Unfortunately, Evie struck out on the menu.  It was one of those days where nothing appealed to her taste (any other parents have this problem?).  We asked our waiter if she could get a child sized portion of steak – “No, only one size steak.”  OK, fair enough… but I was concerned a 12 oz New York strip steak was too much for an 8 year old.  I asked to order off the lunch menu, but our waiter shot that idea down too.  Evie resolved her dilemma by ordering the adult steak dinner, but prepared more for a kid’s palate.  Instead of a 12 oz steak with herb roasted red potatoes, cremini mushrooms, onions, and Cabernet syrup, Evie got a plain steak with FRENCH FRIES!!!  Oh joy, french fries… wait, I need to remember, kid’s perspective.  For me, it was also the 12 oz New York Strip steak with all the fancy adult toppings.

We waited for our meal and nibbled on lovely, warm dinner rolls.  In fact, Maggie thought the rolls were so good she wanted to eat the crumbs off her plate (maybe nibbling wasn’t quite the right word).  The first course arrived – the famous Brown Derby Cobb Salad.  The salad had delicate, fresh greens – no cold, crunchy iceberg lettuce in sight.  There was bacon, gorgonzola cheese, avocado, hard-boiled egg, and tomatoes, but Evie wanted all the readers to know that secretly hidden among the greens was – SPINACH!  I asked the girls how they liked the salad.  BLEEEEEEEEECH!!!!!! was the instant response from Evie.  As soon as Evie tried the salad it was immediately spat back out on her plate (aaaaahhhh, fine dining with children).  However, Maggie, with the more mature palate, thought the salad was OK, not bleech, but I noticed she did not eat anymore of it.

Our entrees arrived.  I had the steak with the Cabernet sauce, and thought the taste was excellent.  Maggie described her dinner as not the best in the world, but not the worst in the world either – she quickly added the worst dinner in the world was the Rainforest Café.  So in the opinion of one 11 year old, the Hollywood Brown Derby was a step up from the Rainforest Café.  Eight year old Evie received a steak approximately the size of her head, didn’t eat much of it, and filled up on French fries.  A highlight was the salt the server brought out for the fries.  The waiter brought out a tray that contained three different types of salt, and you spooned the salt on the fries- very cool.  I asked Evie to share a little more of her opinion of the dinner experience.  Evie said the steak was too big.  Uuuugh, $36 for a steak barely touched, definitely a parenting error on that one.  Next, I asked the girls what they thought of the service.  Evie said it was slow.  The server was nice, but never came at the right moment.  The total bill for the three of us (1 adult, 1 child – age 11, and 1 child – age 8 ) was $122; not an inexpensive evening by any stretch; especially for a meal the girls were lukewarm about.

I asked Maggie her overall rating of the Hollywood Brown Derby as a restaurant for kids.  She felt comfortable in the restaurant, but thought it was better suited for adults.  She thought the restaurant was too boring for younger kids (not her mind you, kids younger than 11).  Evie thought the restaurant was OK, but they had a lot of fancy things on the menu.  Overall, she gave it a 6 on a 1-10 scale (10 being high) as a restaurant suited for kids.  When asked about how the restaurant would be for parents and adults to use for date night with the kids staying at a kids club Maggie said, “the Hollywood Brown Derby would be perfect for a date night.  It’s romantic, they have good food, and it’s slow so you can relax and just talk.”

To sum up the kids’ opinions, if you’re looking for a romantic, date night evening for the adults, then this may be a good place to go.  Check the kids into one of the kids’ clubs.  [Note: Maggie and Evie highly recommend the Neverland Club at the Polynesian Resort.]  Mom and Dad go out for an adult evening, and everyone will be happy.  Have you taken kids to the Brown Derby or other high end Disney restaurants?  What was your experience?  I’d love to read your comments below.


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Category: Dining, Disney World

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  • Cyrano

    Dave thanks for taking one for the team.
    Good to get the girls perspective.

  • ragtopday

    Thanks Dave – I always appreciate hearing from the kids! I took my oldest (now 8) to HBD when she was 5 and she did OK, but I didn’t ask her specifically. Last summer we had 4 kids age 4-7 at Narcoosee’s and they all loved it. They all got the kids filet mignon (mature palates indeed) and loved it. Unfortunately we were there during TS Fay, so our view was quite impaired by the storm, but the kids enjoyed eyeing the bridal party who was also dining that night. One thing I love about all the Disney restaurants is they can be appropriate for everyone!

  • stitchlover

    Love the review. We took our 13 year old daughter there this past March and she really wasn’t impressed. We loved it but won’t be going back next March because it just really didn’t appeal to her.

  • wishspirit

    Thanks David! This is such a great segment to have a younger audiences perspective! Your girls seem great, I hope they can do more reviews. They may be giving Kevin a run for his money!
    Keep it coming!

  • deekaypee

    Thanks, Dave for yet another insightful post & review (I read more than I post).

    Your review of HBD was very useful to get a kids’ perspective (with the wry aside from dad that made me chuckle more than once)! It was also very interesting to the difference between the perspectives of 8yo and 11yo–this will help many people make dining plans.On a personal note, from someone who’s child-free, I just have to say Maggie’s assessment of HBD for a romantic date night is spot on.

    Looking forward to more reviews, more interviews, more history! Every time, I feel like I’ve gotten a bit more insight!!

    And my own mini-report, from the other end of the spectrum for dining with family: HBD is the perfect place to take your 70+ yo parents for a lunchtime respite from the touring rigors of Hollywood Studios! My in-laws loved it for that very “old-timey-ness” your daughter mentioned, and we spent a leisurely lunch talking about the Golden Age of Hollywood. (And they enjoyed the relative quiet.)

  • cazza

    Great review especially from kids persipective. Have to admit my 2 girls 7 & 11 love the HBD – they look always forward to going for the chicken noodle soup on the kids menu! We have been lucky each time we have been to have some of the streetmosphere characters touring and chatting with all of the tables which is a blast and really adds to the experience for the kids but I understand this doesn’t always happen.
    Thanks :-)

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