Monday, January 3, 2011

dining in the 50's

50's Prime Time Cafe, at Disney's Hollywood Studios, has been a favorite of ours for a few years. The idea behind this restaurant is that you're back "home" in the 50's, eating in your mom's kitchen, complete with a Formica table-top, and 50's kitchy knick-knacks on the walls. Each table has a view of a black and white TV set, playing clips from old sitcoms. The servers refer to themselves as your cousin, or big sister. If you order a milkshake, you might be told that "Grannie will be happy to whip one up for you - she makes the best shakes - but it's going to take a few minutes because her arthritis is acting up today". You will be expected to "set the table" (the silverware is all delivered together in a little basket), and be prepared to get reprimanded if you're caught with your elbows on the table.

I will confess that it took me a few years to finally try this place. It sounded a bit like a bashful person's worst nightmare. But curiosity finally won out, and I ended up having a lot of fun. Plus, my "uncle" in the kitchen was so eager to please me. He went out of his way to give me a couple of vegan meal options, and make me feel special, instead of a bother. I believe we ate here three times, over several years, and had a wonderful experience each time.

Fast forward to early December. Once again, we booked an early lunch here, expecting a good, if not great, meal. Our cousin came to the table, gave us menus, saw my "allergy" note and got the chef. The chef said "I see you are allergic to dairy, eggs and shellfish". (When you book dining online, there is no box for "vegan". The best you can do is to mark all the relevant boxes under allergies.) I explained that I was actually a vegan (and clarified what that meant). While he remained polite, he did seem a bit unprepared. He finally said "well, I guess I could leave the cheese off the pasta dish - modify it a bit". I accepted, and hoped for the best. He did ask if I wanted dessert. This is one place I often like to get dessert, so I asked if he had anything for me, and he offered some Tofutti, which I accepted.

Our server made sure we got drinks, and had what we needed, but with very little personality. I found myself waiting for her to say something "cute", but it never happened. I also watched other servers, with other diners. The place was unusually quite - not just that it wasn't that crowded, but there was no singing, no hollerin'... it just seemed to be missing that fun atmosphere that we'd experienced in the past.

Our meals arrived, and mine was... okay. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't that good, either. Perhaps the "non-vegan" version isn't all that good - I just don't know. The vegetarian version of this dish now found on the menu is relatively new. The previous two standard vegetarian dishes were easily veganizable, and very good, so perhaps the problem is the menu, and not so much the chef. The dish I received was mostly zucchini and mushrooms, with lots of cous cous, in a tomato-y broth. The veggies were pretty good, but I'm not a huge fan of soggy cous cous.

After the entree, the server asked my hubby if he wanted any dessert (as I was already going to be getting some Toffuti). He asked if he could see the dessert menu. This is a tradition for us. Even if we didn't want dessert, we would ask to see the dessert menu, because it's presented on a Viewmaster. Sadly, it appears that the Viewmaster is gone. All we got was a plain old paper menu. Hubby ordered a shake (still good, for you non-vegans out there), and it arrived with my Tofutti -a single small scoop of vanilla, with a tiny cup of chocolate sauce. Now, this isn't the smallest serving of a frozen dessert I've ever received, and honestly it was enough for me, but it sure looked wimpy next to the normally HUGE desserts they serve here. I have to give them credit for the chocolate sauce, but compared to previous experiences (and stories heard from others), it was a little disappointing.

So, I hesitate to call this a bad meal. Anywhere outside of Walt Disney World, I would probably label this a "good" meal, and be very happy that I didn't walk away hungry. But compared to my expectations for this place, it was disappointing. I am hoping that this was a fluke. Maybe we caught the chef, and the server, on a bad day. If I continue to hear good reviews from this place in the future, I'll probably give it one more chance. The place is just so "Disney" - I really hope it doesn't lose its spark.

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