Disney’s Hollywood Brown Derby Review
As part of our December vacation, The Two Gay Geeks had numerous dining opportunities at Walt Disney World making use of the Disney Dining plan. The plan we chose was the top tier that allows us three full service dining credits per day. Now, you may say that is a tremendous number of credits and food per day and you would have been right 15 years ago (trust me, we did this 15 years ago…..), but the plans have changed and some restaurants at Walt Disney World now require two credits for a meal. The Hollywood Brown Derby is one of those restaurants.
We dined with my favorite sister, Lynn and her husband, John at dinner time towards the end of our week in Florida. We spent most of that afternoon in Disney’s Hollywood Studios and caught up with some fellow Arizonans, Kelly and Sue Parker, who were there celebrating their 40 year anniversary. Ben and John went and rode Tower of Terror while Lynn and I went shopping for her grandson and our nephew Oliver. It is great to have Guncles, just ask Summer, our niece.
Anyway, I digress as usual…
The original Hollywood Brown Derby was shaped like a Brown Derby hat and opened in 1926 on Wilshire Boulevard. There were several more built in various styles with a number of Hollywood elite having their fingers in the pies, if you will. Jack Warner put up the money for the first restaurant and Cecil B. DeMille had a hand in the Los Feliz property. It was an iconic place in Hollywood history with many of the big names frequenting the restaurants, as well as being featured in TV and movies. However, the one thing that the Hollywood Brown Derby is most famous for is the invention of the Cobb Salad.
The Original Hollywood Brown Derby closed in 1985, but since that time the Disney Company entered into a licensing agreement in 1987 to build replicas of the signature restaurants in several of the theme parks it owns. That is why there is a Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It most resembles the Los Feliz architecture than the original hat architecture.
On arriving there is the red awning at the entrance emblazoned with “The Hollywood Brown Derby”. Once inside you feel like you have just stepped back in time with the furniture and hardware all from the height of Hollywood glamor. We were seated relatively quickly and if I haven’t mentioned this in previous columns about dining at Walt Disney World, reservations are a MUST at most of the more popular locations. It is next to impossible to walk into a restaurant anymore and expect to be seated for two much less the four we had in our party. We were seated at a table in the middle of the dining room. I would have preferred one of the semi-circular booths as they are more comfortable but, they were extremely busy when we walked in. After being seated our initial drink order was taken while we perused the dinner and spirits menu (more on this later).
The menu is fairly uncomplicated and has a variety of classic fare reminiscent of the Hollywood of old with a few updated versions of those classics. The famous Cobb Salad is on the menu in several different forms from appetizer, salad course, and even several versions of it as an entre. I ordered the salad course version as my appetizer, how can you go wrong with that. (see below for the souvenir menu they bring out with the salad)
I don’t recall what the rest of the table had since I forgot to take photos (this was Thursday night and we were about fooded out). I believe there was a pork chop, chicken breast, duck, and a filet, as well as several appetizers. All of the food was exceptionally prepared and our waiter was more than attentive. Once again, we managed to close the place down. We were one of the last tables to leave so our waiter who has worked there for many years was eager and willing to regale us with stories of the new Club 33 they built above the restaurant.
I have a funny little story about a couple who just happened to dine at the same time and restaurants as us for three nights in a row. Lynn said, “That couple is up there,” pointing to a two top on the upper level. So, being the smart aleck that I am, I went up to them and asked if they were with the FBI and following us. Just a little throwback reminder to the old Hollywood gangster type films of the day. They looked at me with puzzled looks and then recognized me and asked me if I was the FBI agent following them. We had a laugh and I went back and sat down. I guess it was one of those, “you had to be there” moments.
The Hollywood Brown Derby is a fun dining experience and the ambience is all you expect it to be. The food is great and the staff is polished, but I must say the thing that most distracted me and made me forget to take the photos of the food and forget what we ordered was the spirits menu I mentioned at the beginning. I stared at it and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. There, buried in the cocktails section and also on the dessert menu was a flight of Single Malt Scotches. I happen to love Single Malts and have tried my fair share of them from various distilleries. There were several really good Single Malts that I like such as Lagavulan and Laphroig (notice these two are from Islay) and they had the usual Macallan 12 year, which is ubiquitous in most restaurants and bars because it is a nice Highland whisky at a reasonable price. Disney must have an agreement with the Macallan companies since they feature, on the ships and in the parks, several Macallan bottlings that are not typically found anywhere else. Macallan is a dsitllery that produces a Highland Single malt Whisky. The flight that intrigued me was $90 and featured The Macallan 15 (I have never seen this one anywhere), The Macallan 18, and……. Wait for it….. The Macallan 25 year. Oh my gosh!
On a side note, years ago we were watching a TV show called Forever, about an “immortal” character, played by Ioan Gruffudd, that had lived several lifetimes at that point. One of the episodes ends in a celebratory drink where one of the characters orders a Scotch and Henry says, “Have the Macallan 25, you only live once”. So, I have been fascinated with it since. I have priced a bottle and currently is going for $1300, I even saw it at a bar in Las Vegas and asked the price for a shot…. $250. So, to see a flight with the 15, 18, and 25 for only $90, I had to order it. The 15 was much smoother than the 12 which can be a little bitey. The 18 I have had before and it is really nice and smooth. Obviously, the longer anything stays in the barrel the smoother it gets. Single Malts are no exception, and most of the Single Malts I like are aged 14 years (Obahn) and more. I settle for the Macallan 12 when there is nothing else available. Not saying it is bad, it is just not my preferred. Now, the Macallan 25 has a very mild nose compared to most and went down very smooth (small sips Ellie, small sips…errr) and had a slightly more mellow taste than the others. The oak casks used by the distillery have been used to age Sherry in Spain for two years before being sent back to the distillery to hold the whisky. And after 25 years, what a flavor that imparts to the finished product. To quote Toddy, it was a religious experience.
So, if you find yourself at Walt Disney World and Hollywood Studios in particular, AND you fancy Single Malt whisky, head over to the Hollywood Brown Derby for the Macallan Flight featuring the 25 year. It is a real steal.
In conclusion, the Hollywood Brown Derby at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a dining experience featuring great food, nice desserts, and some exceptional Single Malt whisky. It will require two dining credits if you are on a dining plan, but it is well worth it.