This week we have a guest post from Dan Bodenstein. Dan Bodenstein lives in South Florida, and has been a vegan since 2009 when he published his second children’s picture book, Steven the Vegan. He frequents the Disney parks annually, and is always on the lookout for interesting vegan options in, and out of the resort area.
It seems like things are always changing at the Walt Disney World resort. Those changes are also reflected in the variety of foods that are offered. This past Memorial Day weekend I travelled to Orlando to meet with my friend and illustrator to work on character development for our next book. We’ve known each other since grade school, and when we get together it’s like we are kids again. What better place to act like a kid than Walt Disney World. We visited two of the Disney parks, as well as Disney Springs on this trip. Thursday night we ventured out to see the new areas recently opened at Disney Springs.
Finding something vegan-friendly to eat at Disney Springs has never really been a problem. Most of my visits I’d have dinner at Portobello’s. It’s an Italian restaurant located near the heart of the area. I always asked to speak to a chef, and they are always accommodating. The chef would come to our table and ask what type of pasta, and vegetables we like. Just like the magic Disney is known for, the chef would create a unique dish out of thin air for me. But this time I wanted to try something different.
We went to one of the newer restaurants, Morimoto Asia, a Japanese restaurant (table service). After being seated, I quickly looked over the menu. I saw several items that piqued my interest. Our server was extremely friendly and she asked if there were any food allergies she should be aware of. I explained I was vegan and she asked if I had any questions. I asked about the Vegetable Dumpling appetizer, which, after a quick sprint to the kitchen, she confirmed they were vegan. So we started with those, and some edamame.
The edamame was, well, edamame with sea salt. Not too hard to get that wrong. As for the dumplings, there were four of them presented in a bamboo covered bowl. They were served with a dumpling sauce on the side. She could not confirm the sauce was vegan, so I skipped it. The dumplings were good, but a little awkward to grab with chopsticks, as they stuck together. I didn’t let that stop me from enjoying them. For my main dish, she suggested the Tofu Vegetable Medley with brown rice. I have to say it was fantastic. A great mixture of Japanese mushrooms, broccoli, onions, asparagus and more. The portion was huge, and I ended up taking much of it back to the hotel with me. Overall the experience at Morimoto Asia was great.
My next stop was for a to-go order at Erin McKenna’s Bakery. If you are a vegan, or not, you must stop in here. If not to buy, then to just see what they offer. A display case full of donuts, cakes, brownies, cookies, cupcake and more. All vegan. All gluten free. I ended up getting a slice of their coffee cake for later. Okay, let’s just skip ahead to when I actually ate it. It was a slice of heaven. It was so good, as I write this, I am wishing I bought another slice to take home with me.
Later that night I decided I wanted to try the Veggie Sausage at B.B. Wolf’s Sausage Company. I noticed two men standing in front of me in line, looking at the ingredients sheet for the veggie sausage. So, as a team, we looked over the list and realized both the sausage and the bread were vegan. (The sausage is by Field Roast.) You have to wait a bit as everything is made to order. Don’t expect a heated glass enclosed case with rotating sausages in it. Each customer gets their order made special. I asked if they had a to-go box, but they didn’t. I was concerned because I was still stuffed from the meal at Morimoto’s. They serve up the sausage on a paper tray, with a side of their home made pickles. I took a bite of the sausage before I realized, I should get a photo of it. The sausage was topped with delicious peppers and onions, adding a flavorful sweet and spicy sensation. The topping complimented the perfectly done veggie sausage. This is definitely something I will do again on another visit.
My problem arose when I had to figure out how to get the rest of the sausage back to the hotel. My friend Ron came up with the solution. He went to the counter and got an empty cup and lid. I slid the sausage into the cup, covered it, and carried it horizontally. Instant to-go container.
On Saturday we went to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. This was a culinary disappointment. In the past, I’ve always been able to get a vegan veggie burger in more than one place. On this trip, both places no longer served them. As a mid-day snack I got my Mickey Pretzel, something I always look forward to on my trips to the parks. Later in the day, over by Sunset Blvd, I tried to find something to eat. I ended up at the Anaheim Product Stand purchasing pretzel chips and hummus. Rosie’s All-American Cafe, sold a fried tomato sandwich in place of the veggie burger they use to have. It was served with cheese, and a jalapeño ranch sauce. Yes, I probably could have ordered it without the cheese and dressing, but it seemed silly to spend $9.49 for a slice of tomato, lettuce and a bun that they could not confirm was vegan. (Side note: the they use an egg wash on the tomatoes anyway).
I was told by a cast member that since they closed one of the restaurants in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, they have been shuffling around the menus in order to accommodate guests. Well, non-vegan guests I take it. But, like I said, I found something to eat. If I was further down the park I could have checked out the Vegetarian wrap in Min and Bill’s Dockside Diner (near Echo Lake). Unfortunately the table service restaurants were all packed with it being a holiday weekend.
I had dinner outside the park at a Mellow Mushroom near the hotel I stayed at. Mellow Mushroom never disappoints.
Sunday we spent at Epcot, one of my favorite parks. I always know I can find something in the Land Pavilion. This time they served their Vegan Korma, made with Gardein Chik’n. I’ve had this before, and I actually like it. When they hand you the plate, you’ll find yourself thinking “that’s it”. It doesn’t look like much, but it is plenty, and packed with flavor. I was told that they do periodically bring back the Beefless Tips item they use to serve. It’s possible it is a seasonal item.
Epcot offers many other items, especially in the World Showcase, including a Gardein Chick’n breast at the Liberty Inn, and Veggie Sushi in Japan. I really wanted to try the Falafel Sliders at Tangierine Cafe, but there’s only so much you can eat in one day.
Aside from the weak experience at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, there was always something to find at the parks. I wish the cast members were more educated on the difference between vegetarian and vegan, or at least as educated as the table service restaurants. The good news is that most quick service areas have laminated charts with all the ingredients for the items they sell. So if you are ever in doubt, just ask. Cast members will do their best to find the answers to your questions.