Tuesday, March 31, 2009

quick note

No time for a full post tonight, but I just found another wonderful Disney vegan blog - how cool is that?! Y'all have to check this out: Vegan in Disney World. Shame on me for not seeing this sooner!

I'll be back soon, with a "part 2" to my table talk. I realized two things about that post: first, I left out a LOT of restaurants (which was inevitable - there are so many!), and second, I focused completely on the "good" experiences. Of course it's more fun to talk about the good ones, but knowing what to avoid is important, too. So, look for a follow-up soon, with more good, a little bad, and maybe one or two uglies.

Happy Disney Dining!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

table talk

If money (and calories) were no object, I'd eat all my vacation meals at Disney's table service restaurants. With very few exceptions, my experiences have ranged from pretty good to outstanding - which never ceases to amaze me, since I often go hungry at regular restaurants in the real world. Now, admittedly I live in "cow country", and I've (gasp!) never actually eaten at a real-life vegan restaurant, so my experience is limited. Never-the-less, I am of the opinion that Disney does a pretty good job of taking care of us veggie people.

Because money and calories *do* count in my world, I have to choose my dining experiences wisely. While having access to all the menus certainly helps, as a vegan I've found that choosing the right restaurant is a little more complicated than that. Many of my best Disney dining experiences have been meals not found on the menu. Whether or not I go home hungry often has more to do with the attitude of the chef than what the restaurant traditionally offers. (It's worth noting, though, that as a vegetarian I did often order off of the menu, with just the occasional small modification - the menus were a much better gage for me then for making a good dining decision.)

As for general table-service dining tips, I think I've given these before, but as a quick reminder: when you make ressies, mention your dining restrictions. I'm still not certain if this helps, but it certainly can't hurt. For extra attention and better options, call the restaurant directly 72 hours in advance and speak to a chef - this allows them time to gather special ingredients and make sure they have what you want/need. And, when you're first seated (whether or not you have ressies or called ahead), always ask to speak to a chef. I can't stress this one enough - though some wait staff are more knowledgeable than others, there's no substitute for the help you can get from a chef. (I recently heard a horror story from a couple of vegans who were happily munching on some animal-laden dishes from a buffet because of a misinformed server.)

Okay, now for the good stuff - let's talk restaurants and meals. Now it wasn't all that long ago that my table service suggestion sounded a bit like a broken record: Boma, Boma, Boma. Sadly, though, I recently received a detailed food report from Lee, letting me know that things have definitely gone down-hill at Boma (Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge). The special attention, personal vegan masterpieces and total pampering have pretty much been eliminated. While it still probably ranks as one of the better buffets for a vegan (much of the regular items are already vegan), it's not the "magical, unforgetable" experience I had come to expect.

But never fear - there is good news! The force behind most of my magical Boma experiences has simply moved to a new venue. Chef TJ can now be found at 'Ohana (Disney's Polynesian Resort), where I hear is still a vegan's best friend. I cannot rave enough about Chef TJ - if you have the pleasure of enjoying a meal with him, you will never forget it. Though 'Ohana is generally known for its grilled meat-fest, thanks to Chef TJ, Lee and his wife were instead treated to a 7 course vegan meal lasting 2-1/5 hours! While I haven't tried 'Ohana yet myself, it has suddenly risen to the very top of my "must try" list.

For a special, romantic, slightly-more-extravagent meal, I would recommend California Grill (Disney's Contemporary Resort). While it has been a few years since my last meal there, it made an impression on me. We were able to schedule our meal to coincide with the Magic Kingdom fireworks. I was served something called "Vegetarian Unplugged" - not found on the menu, but was available by request. You would definitely need to call ahead to see if it's still available, but if so, I highly recommend it. They had to make a couple of slight modifications to make it vegan, but I didn't notice anything lacking - a beautiful presentation of several different and unique dishes.

One of my regular happy haunts is Kona Cafe (Disney's Polynesian Resort). Hubby and I do lunch here almost every trip - lunch crowds are small, and it makes a nice break during the middle of our day. There used to be a vegan dish on the menu. While it was gone on my last visit, and short chat with the chef produced a wonderful alternative - a sweet and sour tofu veggie dish over rice noodles. This is just one of those places where I've always felt that they're eager to work with me.

Another favorite is 50's Prime Time Cafe (Disney's Hollywood Studios). With its focus on old-fashioned family favorites, it's a bit of an unlikely choice, but again, it's the service that makes all the difference. There's currently a stuffed grilled pepper on the menu that is easily veganizable - but be sure to ask, because the jasmine rice they usually use has whey in it (thanks for the heads up on that, Lee!) This is also one of the few places where I am always offered dessert - a nice treat for a vegan. The whole gimmick behind the place is to make you feel like family - and this extends to us vegan cousins. It took me years to tackle my bashfulness enough to try this place, but I was so glad when I finally did. I always feel welcome and cared for here.

The Rose and Crown restaurant (Epcot - UK pavilion) is one I plan to go back to. If I'm being completely honest, then I'd have to confess that part of the attraction for me is those British accents. I just love chatting with the servers here! But I was also treated to a wonderful curry dish that was unique and satisfying.

A few others that I would consider good bets: Garden Grill (Epcot - Land pavilion) - they seem eager to help, and they have a lot of fresh veggies to work with. They do encourage you to talk to a chef in advance, though. Brown Derby (Disney's Hollywood Studios) - while not my personal favorite dish, they do have a vegan Noodle Bowl with Wok Fried Coconut Tofu that many have raved about. Artist Point (Disney's Wilderness Lodge) - while I haven't tried this one in quite some time, I have been assured by more than one patron that their vegan Potato Chive Pot Stickers are "to die for". And, if money was no object, I wouldn't hesitate to schedule a special one-of-kind dining experience at Victoria and Alberts. Advanced (VERY advanced) reservations are an absolute must, as is a very detailed discussion with the chef at least 72 hours in advance - but I have no doubts that they would be willing to work with you, and give you a meal you would never forget.

While that's hardly a dent in Disney's huge selection of offerings, hopefully that gives you all some ideas. Are there any particular restaurants you were curious about? Just send me a note, and I'll share what I know, or what I've heard. Happy Disney Dining!

And, since pictures are worth a thousand words, here's an example of what I call a "TJ special" - an amazing tofu veggie dish that Chef TJ created for me back when he was at Boma.

And, because I'm feeling particularly brave today, I'll even share a old (very old) photo of me! Yes, this bashful vegan, after 15 trips to Walt Disney World has yet to get up the guts to have her picture taken with Mickey Mouse. However, she somehow managed to pose with Chef TJ, after an amazing meal at Boma (which should tell you something about just what I think of him!).

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

counter-service comments

When it comes to vegan dining at Walt Disney World, it is, not surprisingly, the nice sit-down restaurants where Disney really shines. However, as much as we enjoy them, our habits and pocket book have hubby and I eating most of our Disney meals at the more casual, and less expensive, counter-service places. Fortunately, while selection is limited, Disney still does a much better job than any other amusement park I've visited.

For starters, let's talk salads. Okay, so "rabbit food" won't keep you going forever during a jam-packed Disney vacation, but I still eat more than my fair share... and Disney has some very nice ones. In the "real world", I'm lucky if I can get a plate of plain iceberg lettuce. Disney's counter-service salads are definitely a cut above that. One of my old favorites, the Chicken Salad at Pecos Bill's (Magic Kingdom) has lettuce, jicama and veggies in a lime vinaigrette... which brings me to a very important note: yes, you can order a chicken salad without the chicken. In fact, I routinely ask for my salads "minus chicken, minus cheese, with dressing on the side", and usually the cast member doesn't even bat an eyelash.

Some notes about special requests, though: while I usually have no trouble getting meatless salads, there are a couple of exceptions. The last time I asked for a chicken-free salad at Electric Umbrella (Epcot - Future World), I was told that the salads were pre-made, but "I suppose we could make you one - but it might take a while". I did take them up on the offer, and they were nice enough to bring it to our table after we were seated - but it was one of the few times that I felt a little like I had been a bother (something I really try to avoid). Also, I received word from Melody that she had a bad experience at Columbia Harbour House (Magic Kingdom) - she discovered bits of chicken in what was supposed to be a meat-free salad. I sincerely hope that this was a one-time deal - I've had nice chicken-free salads there myself - but I suppose there is always a small risk involved. And if that happened to me, I confess that it would most likely be the last time I ordered that particular salad.

But onto the good stuff, like my favorite counter-service meal: the vegetarian entree at the Asian station at Sunshine Seasons (Epcot - Land pavilion). It includes garlic udon noodles, stirfry vegetables, white rice and brocolli. While not the least expensive choice, it's a sizeable meal - tasty and filling. Second favorite would probably be the grilled vegetable sandwich at the Backlot Express (Disney's Hollywood Studios). You have to special-request it without cheese, and this does add a bit to your wait-time, but I think it's worth it. Honorable Mentions go to the vegetarian chili at Columbia Harbour House (Magic Kingdom), the whole wheat veggie pita at Starring Rolls Cafe (Studios), and the new vegetarian flatbread wrap at Golden Oak Outpost (Magic Kingdom).

If you're in need of some protein, veggie burgers are available in every park. Sadly, the current offering is the very veggie Gardenburger - a fine choice for many, I'm sure, but a bit of a disappointment for those of us that enjoyed the more hamburger-like Boca burgers they used to servce. Some of the restaurants have quite an impressive toppings bar, though, which can make all the difference. (It's become a tradition for hubby and me to start our trip with a veggie burger at Cosmic Ray's - excellent toppings bar, and we get to enjoy entertainment from the "out of this world" Sonnny Eclipse!)

I also must confess that sometimes I just make do with fruit and a soft pretzel. There's a fruit stand in every park, and they tend to have a pretty good selection - more than just apples and oranges. (Sometimes they even have strawberries! A personal favorite of mine.) The plain soft pretzels, also available in every park, are vegan and pretty filling. In fact, when it comes to snacks, and even treats, there are more options than you might think - but that's a topic for another post.

I try to keep a reasonably up-to-date list on AllEars.net, for all the Vegetarian/Vegan Counter Service Meals at Walt Disney World, but feel free to ask questions. Do you have a favorite counter-service meal?

Now, this is the place where I should put a photo of Sonny Eclipse, but sadly I don't have one. In fact, I have surprisingly few photos of counter-service places in general. So, we'll just have to settle for a photo of one of my favorite "menus" at WDW:

(Okay, I realize that this menu is very UN-vegan, but I thought it was important to show that even stuffy old vegans can have a sense of humor. This menu can be found in the queue for the Jungle Cruise - just one of the little details that make the Disney parks so special.)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

i scream, you scream, we all scream for...

soy ice cream! Okay, I've been inspired by an e-mail from Cheryl (thanks Cheryl!). She wanted me to know that you could find Tofutti at ice cream shops in both the Magic Kingdom, and at Disney's Hollywood Studios. It's an important message to get out there, because non-dairy ice cream is out and about at Walt Disney World, and has been for quite some time... and yet I've never seen it on any menu. I believe it's a little bit like the Divvies cookies I mentioned in an earlier post - Disney is doing a pretty good job of making a vegan alternative available where non-vegan treats are sold, but they are doing a dismal job of advertising it. My suggestion: any time you get a hankerin' for something sweet, ASK. If you're craving cookies, head for the nearest bakery and ask for Divvies. If something cold and creamy is calling your name head for the nearest ice cream shop and ask for Tofutti. And another suggestion: if the cast member you first encounter gives you one of those "looks" (you know the one, that one that makes you feel like you grew a second head), then don't hesitate to ask for a manager. It's possible that they won't have it, but it never hurts to ask... and you might just plant the seed that will help the next vegan who passes that way.

So, where are your best bets for the sweet creamy cold stuff? I've heard a couple reports from the Main Street Ice Cream Parlor at the Magic Kingdom. I believe it may also be on hand at Hollywood Scoops at Disney's Hollywood Studios. I'm afraid I haven't heard any reports from Epcot, but I'd be surprised if it wasn't lurking there somewhere. If I had to take a guess at the Animal Kingdom, I'd suggest Dino Bite Snacks.

As for sit-down restaurants, I've heard reports that Sci-Fi Dine-In keeps it on hand. And I can personally attest to finding it at 50's Prime Time Cafe. In fact, during our last visit there, Cousin Tommy started to hand me a nice sundae dish full of vanilla Tofutti, but then told me not to eat it yet. He felt it looked much too bland, so he insisted that I wait a moment while he made some inquiries. He returned shortly with some candy sprinkles and vegan chocolate sauce! Okay, so maybe it's a silly little detail, but gosh, I felt just like a little kid! He completely made my night! (Photo below is missing the chocolate sauce - he brought the sprinkles first, and I couldn't wait any longer to give it a try!)

At the Magic Kingdom, I'd be willing to bet that the Plaza Restaurant has it on hand, or can grab some from the Main Street Ice Cream Parlor. I heard a report quite some time back of someone getting a nice non-dairy sundae at the Garden Grill at Epcot. This was back when they had a sort of "ice cream social" thing, which, I believe, is long gone, but I thought I'd mention it.

Resort restaurants can sometimes surprise you, too. I've heard of Tofutti being available at Kona Cafe, at the Polynesian. Also, I've been told that Beaches and Cream at the Beach Club Resort is happy to create non-dairy sundaes with advance notice. And then there's my favorite restaurant in the whole World - Boma. On my last visit, Chef TJ was already gone, so I didn't get his special touch, but the chef was still quick to find me something. I ended up with a nice bowl of butter-pecan Tofutti, with raspberries and a Divvie's chocolate chip cookie. While it was very easy for her to put together, I still really appreciated the extra thought - it felt like so much more than just a scoop of Tofutti.

Now, back in the day when Chef TJ was at Boma - wow. He used to go all out! One year I got a fancy fried banana dessert with non-dairy ice cream. (Tasty, but it melted too quickly for a decent photo.) My favorite dessert *ever*, though, was the year he made me some chocolate soy ice cream (and, yes, I think he actually "made" it, as opposed to serving me Tofutti) with blueberries, and a fruit topping, and vegan chocolate-covered strawberries! Amazing just doesn't begin to describe it!

Well, I was actually going to share my thoughts on "non-Disney" frozen treats as well, but it seems that I managed to ramble quite a bit already on this tasty subject. I will say that while I'm at Disney, Tofutti always feels like such a treat. However, in the "real world" there are plenty of even better non-dairy ice creams. Soy Dream's Mocha Fudge is one of my favorites, and another is It's Soy Delicious Chocolate Peanut Butter. But it's seems I've run out of time, so let me just leave you with one more: Turtle Mountain's Purely Decadent - absolute heaven. :-)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

some potentially great news, and a shout-out

I heard the most wonderful news about Walt Disney World a couple of months ago, and thought that I probably should have shared it here with all of you. Sadly, though, when I went to double-check this news this morning, I found that it might have been innaccurate. But just in case there is any truth at all to it, I want to share. Thanks to the All About the Mouse Podcast (which, by the way, totally rocks), I heard that Walt Disney World is no longer going to serve fois gras in any of its restaurants. According to the report, Disney was making no claims of an intentional "humane decision" - they would only state for the record that "menus change, etc." For those of you not familiar with this culinary "delicacy", let's just say that it is just about the most inhumanely produced food item I've ever had the displeasure to learn about. However, sadly, when I went to double-check the menus, I still see it listed at Bistro de Paris. Now, it's possible that the menu is old and has since been changed. That's what I am sincerely hoping. I did immediately write to Disney when I initially heard the news and told them "Thank You!". (I just got the usual generic response that they received my message and appreciated the feedback.) If it's true, YAY Disney!

And while I'm here tonight, I just wanted to take this opportunity to sing my praises for the best Disney website on the planet - AllEars.net. If you haven't checked it out before, you really need to have a look-see. Every question you've ever had about Walt Disney World, and a whole lot of questions you never even thought of, are answered in detail here. You'll find menus for every restaurant, pix and descriptions of every resort, reviews of all the tours, and even charts of the vegetarian and vegan meals available (updated by yours truly, though not nearly as well or as often as I should).

In other news, "bashful" is trying very hard to come out of her shell a bit, in order to share a bit more with the vegan community. I've added a link below my picture so you can all e-mail me if you have any ideas, suggestions, thoughts, complaints, whatever. (Please be gentle with me, though - I'm still learning!)

Happy Disney Dining!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

disney vegan news

From the beginning, I've been a little lost about what to do with this blog. However, my goal has always been to share helpful or useful information, most likely related to Disney, or veganism (or bashfulness). So, after pretty much ignoring this poor blog for months, I've decided to give it another go. With no other plan in mind except to share info, here's a couple of random vegan Disney notes:

I have learned from some helpful vegan correspondents that the amazing Chef TJ has moved. The bad news is that he is no longer creating incredible dining experiences for us vegans at Boma. The good news is that he can now be found at 'Ohana, at Disney's Polynesian Resort - and first reports tell me that he is as eager as ever to please those of the veggie persuasion.

I've also heard that there are some good options at Captain Cooks, if you're staying at the Polynesian - chocolate soy milk (becoming more common all around the "World"!), chocolate chip cookies, Lays potato chips, and frozen desserts.

For anyone who hasn't already heard, Disney is now selling Divvies at many of their bakeries. These little goodies are prepackaged vegan sweets. I've encountered chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, and caramel corn. They are out in the open at the Magic Kingdom's Main Street Bakery, and they have been available at the Boardwalk Bakery by asking (but not visible from the line). I've also encountered them at a couple of sit-down restaurants when I asked about dessert. While they aren't the most amazing treat ever (most likely because they are prepackaged), they will do in a pinch when a cookie craving hits. My guess is that they are kept behind the counter at all the bakeries now, so don't hesitate to ask, even if you don't see them on display.

Was this helpful? Should I keep posting news and updates, when I get them? I could really use some feedback, to know if I'm on the right track. Thanks!