As far as character dining experiences go, one of my all-time favourites is the Garden Grill in Epcot. I’ve been two times, and both times were terrific!
Now one thing I’ll say up front, before I delve into the review, is that I am not a picky eater. I can be happy with somewhat mediocre food so long as the experience is unique or exciting over all. (We’ve all heard about me and the Sci-Fi Dine-In.) So when it comes to Garden Grill, I’m definitely ranking it based more on the character interactions than on the actual MEAL.
With that said, read on for some specifics!
Garden Grill, as I said, is located in Epcot. Specifically it’s in the Land Pavilion, on the same floor as the entrance; you enter, walk past the Circle of Life, and the restaurant is just before the escalators that take you down towards Soarin’, Living With the Land, and Sunshine Seasons. As I also said, it’s a character dining experience with visits from Chip and Dale, Pluto, and Farmer Mickey.
One novel aspect of the restaurant is that it rotates – very slowly, throughout your meal. It’s such a slow rotation that it’s not at all disorienting and you can’t even really feel the motion; you just see your view changing, bit by bit, the whole time. Usually you’ll get a little over one full rotation in the timespace of the average meal. Another novel aspect of the restaurant is that it actually overlooks part of the Living With the Land ride; there is a balcony section you’ll rotate past, and when you look out over that balcony you can see the boats going past, and the buffalo and farmhouse scenes.
The character interactions have been top-notch, both times I’ve eaten there; the first time was without kids and the second time was with. Both times, we got a lot of attention, particularly from Chip. In fact, I’d say our best actual experience was with just me and my husband and Chip; Chip messed with my husband incessantly. He put packets of sugar onto his head and at one point he picked up a pile of sugar packets, opened each, and started pouring them one at a time into my husband’s lemonade. Staring at him the entire time. “You gonna stop me? Does this bug you?” OMG I died. He also gave us his “agent’s” name and phone number when Dan asked if Chip would come live in our Christmas tree that winter. “Mickey M” and a “Big Cheese” 800 number. XD Dan also got complimented on his Pink Floyd shirt by Pluto, who apparently has a classic rock taste in music.
Our second visit was a birthday dinner (slightly early) for my daughter. We were given VERY attentive service from the waitress, who towards the end brought out a birthday card signed by all the characters; visits from the Disney friends were all excellent. Man, my daughter was so beyond thrilled to meet Mickey, she just loved him! And she’d already met him twice that trip! But this was our first character meal, and having him come to the table to hang out with us was like, new and different. ;) I still feel like the chipmunks were the top of the experience; they were charming, danced with my daughter and played with my son who was 18 months at the time. They really seemed taken with him. Pluto was also super sweet with him and a super-hugger for both kids.
Funny story: at one point the kids and I got up to look around the full restaurant and see all of it without waiting for it to come by (haha), and as we walked, my daughter saw Mickey arrive at a table of other kids. “MICKEY!” she squealed, and if I hadn’t caught her around the waist and lifted her off the ground she would have run off to him and tackled him. XD OH THE EXCITEMENT!
So regarding food; well, I like it. It’s not amazing food, this is not one of their high-end restaurants, but it’s food I enjoy. You can find the most up-to-date menu here from AllEars.net. The restaurant is a Family-Style meal, meaning it’s fixed price, fixed menu (although they will always accommodate allergies or dietary restrictions; it’s recommended that you ask in advance!) and that you can ask for more of anything you want seconds on – or thirds, fourths, etc.
I believe that all – and if not all, definitely most – of the food served at the Garden Grill is actually grown in the Land. I guess probably not the turkey or beef (lol), but the fish are raised there, and all vegetables are from their greenhouse.
The bread basket comes first, and is pretty standard. I remember it being pretty tasty, but I am generally easy to please when it comes to bread. I can actually go without the maple butter, as I’m not a fan of sweeter spreads on my bread products. (Conversely I rarely put butter onto pancakes, ick.) Most everything else comes all at once. The meats are good. We had tilapia for the fish. They consistently have beef, turkey, and fish, but the presentation changes; rather than “red wine butter” we had a cranberry relish, and instead of “lemon caper sauce” we had gravy and stuffing with the turkey breast. The fish was breaded. It sounds like they’re trying to move away from the “country style” food presentation here and make it more of a classier selection. Not having had any of the new presentation I can’t comment, but I’ll miss the gravy and stuffing. On the other hand, the caramelized onion mashed potatoes actually sounds really good, as does the red wine butter with the beef. (Again, I’d rather avoid sweetened stuff with dinner for the most part.)
The childrens’ meal when we were there was not turkey breast as above, but chicken legs, served with sweet potato French fries, and macaroni and cheese. (The broccoli was the same.) There’s a clear effort to health-up the kids meals in effect now since they’ve subbed out rice pilaf for the mac and cheese, turkey breast for the chicken legs, and fruit cup for the sweet potato fries. I know I’m not the one eating it, but I won’t miss the mac&cheese (though my m&c-loving daughter sure would), but I do kind of miss the sp fries. My daughter didn’t care for them but my son did and I was happy to eat the rest.
Now to be honest, I don’t remember our dessert. Currently it’s bread pudding, and skillet cake with vanilla bean whipped cream; I’m wanting to say there was something to do with berries when we went but I might be making that up. However, I know for a fact that they used to have a special kids-only dessert, a variation on dirt and worms; they definitely had that on our first visit, though we didn’t get it since we were kidless. On our last visit the kids got a kind of cookies-and-cream… thing; they came with two oreo-style cookies and a blob of what I thought at first was cookies and cream ice cream, but came to realize was a kind of whipped cream instead. Now, I’m not clear on whether this was their standard kids’ dessert of the time or if they were doing this as a birthday special for my daughter; hers came with a candle in it :D But either way, it was CRAZY popular.
So. I love this restaurant and will definitely go back, not on my next visit (not enough time for a sit-down meal), but the next family visit. It is always worth it, and I highly recommend.