Dining Out and About: The Plaza Restaurant
--A Hidden Treasure
by Jack Spence, ALL EARS® Columnist
This article appeared in the May 15, 2007 Issue #399 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
I'm willing to bet that a great many of you have walked right past the Plaza Restaurant and never realized that you were passing by one of the Magic Kingdom's most charming eateries. In fact, I'll bet that many of you didn't even know this restaurant existed. Located at the end of Main Street, right around the corner from the Ice Cream Parlor, the Plaza Restaurant is a hidden treasure.
The fact that so many people are unaware of this restaurant can work in your favor. On busy days, it's always the last table service restaurant to fill its reservations. And on less crowded days, seating is often available on a "walk-up" basis, especially if you're there before noon or after the lunch rush is over. A host or hostess is always positioned at a podium out front of the restaurant. They are happy to make reservations for you or show you a copy of the menu. This is also the spot where you check in if you have a reservation.
The Plaza Restaurant is not large. A rough count on my part adds up to less than 30 tables. And these tables only seat two to four people. Larger groups will be accommodated by joining tables together when possible.
The interior is decorated in the Art Nouveau style. I bring this up because the style is so different from the interiors found in the rest of the Main Street buildings. In fact, when I first started eating here, I wondered if the design was authentic for turn-of-the-century America. But it was silly of me to doubt the Imagineers at Disney -- of course it's authentic. For those of you not familiar with Art Nouveau (like me), it's a highly stylized art form characterized by flowing lines that incorporate plant and floral inspired motifs. It flourished in both America and Europe and reached its peak of popularity around the turn of the 20th century.
When you enter the restaurant, you walk directly into the first of the two dining rooms. There is no indoor lobby -- which is why the greeter is stationed outside. Because of this, tables near the door can be subjected to a lot of activity as guests come and go.
It's in this first dining room (the larger of the two) that you'll find the Art Nouveau touches. Beautiful gold-tinted mirrors line the back wall of the restaurant while curtained windows line the opposite wall and look out onto the Plaza. Victorian-styled wallpaper is framed by beautifully carved wood that seems to flow around corners. A number of Art Nouveau watercolors complete the setting.
The chandeliers are also works of art -- flowing brass arms that end with glass fixtures that seem to cradle each clear light bulb. Every time I look at these sculptures I wonder where Disney could possibly find replacement glass if somebody should accidentally break one of them while cleaning. They are quite unique.
The Formica-topped tables sit upon large wrought iron pedestals and for the most part are positioned spaciously around the restaurant. The chairs are also made of wrought iron and are painted pale green with pinkish-cream colored cushions. There are no booths, but some of the tables are situated against a "booth-like" cushioned bench. Here, one guest sits on the bench while the other is seated on a chair. This room is also carpeted in dark tones and the design continues to carry out the Art Nouveau theme. The atmosphere in this room is most pleasant and harkens back to a more carefree time.
There is a second, smaller seating area off of the main dining room. From the outside, this area looks quite charming, but the inside tells another story. This room is octagonal in shape with windows that wrap around seven of the walls. It's painted in a dark mint green with a pink and gold terrazzo floor. A fan turns overhead in a beautifully coffered ceiling. I know you're thinking to yourself, "This sounds charming," but let me assure you, it's not.
First of all, 10 tables are crammed into this small space -- way too many. If you like to listen in on other peoples' conversations, then this is the room for you. But if you like a little privacy with your meal, you'd better steer clear.
Second, this room has a terrazzo floor. Unlike the main dining room, which is carpeted, here there is nothing to absorb sound, only hard surfaces. It can get loud in here, especially if children are present. Every bump, scrape, cry and scream seems to bounce off of the many walls, floor, and the dome-like ceiling.
And finally, the wrap-around windows only allow a couple of tables a decent view of the Plaza area. The rest look off toward telephone booths, restrooms, and the entrance to the Noodle Station. Not exactly what I want to look at as I eat my meal.
Nowadays when I check in, I request a table in the main dining room, and if one's not available, I'll wait until one is.
The food at the Plaza Restaurant is the most casual of the table service eateries in the Magic Kingdom. They are open for lunch and dinner and the same menu is used for both meals.
When I'm trying to watch what I eat I will usually order the Chicken Strawberry Salad ($10.29). Here you'll find fresh greens, grilled chicken breast, fresh strawberries, and Gorgonzola cheese in a white zinfandel vinaigrette dressing. It's very good and a nice change from a Chicken Caesar. On a couple of occasions, when strawberries were out of season, fresh pears have been substituted and the menu reflected the change.
Also on the healthy side is the Vegetarian Sandwich ($9.39). Served on focaccia bread, you get fresh mozzarella, hummus, basil pesto, cucumber, roasted red pepper, tomato, and lettuce. The sandwich is served with sweet potato chips, which is a nice change of pace.
When I'm not being good and I'm indulging my cravings I often order the Angus Chuck Cheeseburger ($11.49). Like most hamburgers served at Disney World full-service restaurants, this burger is big and juicy. It comes with lettuce, tomato, onion and a dill pickle slice. Also included in the price are the following toppings: cheddar and American cheese, bacon, grilled mushrooms and grilled onions. The server will usually offer catsup, but if you want mayonnaise and/or mustard, you will probably need to request it, as the burger will arrive dry.
Although I'm not a fan of corned beef, a friend of mine really enjoys the Grilled Reuben ($10.79) served here. This sandwich includes thinly sliced corned beef on grilled marble rye with sauerkraut, Swiss cheese, and Thousand Island dressing.
I've never ordered the Turkey Sandwich ($9.89), but I often order the Plaza Club ($10.89). This is your typical club sandwich with ham, turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise layered on toasted multi-grain bread. I like the Plaza Club so I have to guess that the Turkey Sandwich would also be good, since it's the same meal minus ham and bacon.
The other selection I order with some frequency is the Tuna Salad Sandwich ($9.79). Served on a croissant, Disney uses white albacore tuna, which is what I use at home, and tops it off with, what else, lettuce and tomato. When I order this sandwich, I usually feel a little less "stuffed" when finished, as compared with some of their other choices.
Two other selections round out the menu, a Cheese Steak Sandwich ($10.39) and a Grilled Chicken Sandwich ($10.79). I've never ordered either of these so I can't comment on them, but judging by everything else I've tried, I certainly wouldn't hesitate to do so.
Most of the sandwiches come with a choice of fries or German potato salad. I'm not really fond of German potato salad so I can't offer an objective opinion as to whether it's good or not. I like my potato salad smothered in mayonnaise, but I applaud Disney for serving something a little less traditional.
The desserts are basic and for the most part, quite good. Offered are a Banana Split ($5.69), New York Style Cheesecake ($4.79) (served with strawberries), Brownie Sundae ($4.09) (one of my favorites), and a Hot Fudge Sundae ($3.99).
I would like to share a nice story in regards to the service I once received at the Plaza Restaurant. This happened a couple of years ago and at that time, they did not offer cheesecake on their dessert menu. My server did her very best to talk me into ice cream, but I told her I really had my heart set on cheesecake. Finally she said to me, "Let me see what I can do," and left the table. A few minutes later she appeared with a big slice of cheesecake covered in strawberries. When I asked her where she got it she told me that she had gone down the street to the Main Street Bakery because she knew they sold cheesecake there. You better believe she got a big tip from me that day.
The beverages served here are the standard Coke products that you'll find everywhere else at Disney World. And of course, being in the Magic Kingdom, no alcoholic drinks are served. Also available are milkshakes, but not malts. I'm a malt fan and don't understand why restaurants that offer milkshakes don't also offer malts. It's only one more ingredient and it wouldn't take up much space on a shelf. Oh well.
The restaurant opens daily at 11 a.m. Closing time is determined by the Magic Kingdom closing time. Reservations can be made by calling 407-WDW-DINE (939-3463). Reservations can also be made at the restaurant or at City Hall.
Photos: http://allears.net/din/gall_res.htm#mk (Scroll down the page to see new photos of the Plaza Restaurant)
Other reviews by Jack Spence: http://allears.net/btp/jacks.htm
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