“Farm-Fresh Food with a Vision.” This is a quote from Disney World’s website used to describe the flagship restaurant of Epcot’s The Land pavilion, The Garden Grill. For decades, The Land has proven unique among Disney pavilions in not just providing guests with unique dining but making us stop and think about what we eat and where it comes from.
Through its thirty-year evolution from “The Good Turn Restaurant” to “Chip n’ Dale’s Harvest Feast”, The Garden Grill has carried this torch as a mainstay for sustainable comfort food and farm-fresh eating. However, recent changes have raised a worrisome question…
Is there actually any “garden” left in The Garden Grill?
Though resort literature still touts the Garden Grill as a healthy, sustainable dining experience, something has shifted at Epcot’s rotating restaurant. Gone is the educational vision. Gone is the farm fresh element. Remarkable food has been replaced with heaping skillets of cafeteria starches and gravy-drowned meat, and the worst part is that the prices have not adjusted with the change.
This article is part review and part lament, exploring just why it appears Epcot’s Garden Grill has lost its sustainable soul.
A step back in time…
I was just a kid when we first ate at The Garden Grill, easily one of my favorite meals every Disney World visit. The rotating restaurant was enough of an experience itself with the novelty of its changing scenery, but the food stood out on a level all its own. Baskets of warm bread and butter preceded bowls of fresh green salad harvested from the greenhouse downstairs. I remember the cucumbers in particular—juicy, crispy, and big as footballs.
Steaming baskets of sustainable fried catfish kicked off the main feast —not particularly healthy, but oh-so-tasty and unique in demonstrating The Land’s educational vision. From a kid’s perspective, it was fascinating to learn that fish could be “farmed”. Next came plates of succulent chicken or turkey, rich marinated flank steak, creamy mashed potatoes, and mouth-watering vegetables. The menu varied each time, but the result was always a stunning family feast.
Finally, the meal would end with hot steaming cobbler for the adults and—a personal favorite— gummy worms and cookie dirt in chocolate pudding for the kids.
Was it healthy? Not really, but it was rich, sustainable, delicious, and an excellent value both for the price and the character dining experience (particularly considering The Garden Grill is one of the only locations in Epcot to see Mickey Mouse).
If the restaurant didn’t impress us enough, in 2014 we visited with two family members who were vegan (some of our favorite recommendations can be found in our recent article about vegan dining at Disney). We were concerned the meal would prove a poor value for them, but the incredible vegan spread the chef produced left everyone at the table salivating-- a massive platter of roasted veggies, healthy grains, and grilled tofu that proved to be even more delicious than the meat-eaters' version. It was such an impressive experience, it became one of our number one recommendations for guests with special diets visiting Epcot.
We came back in February 2017 expecting that not much would have changed. We were wrong.