Great Food, Odd Feeling Dining Area
— The somewhat hard to find Gasparilla Island Grill
at Disney's Grand Floridian
is tucked away… far, far away at the backside of the high-end resort, like an ugly pair of sneakers that you would never wear anywhere, but just can't bear to part with.
It's true, the Grand Floridian does need a counter service location. It is a large resort, and even though there are quite a few amazing restaurants on property, it does still need a walk-up counter service dining spot. When it was announced a few months ago (probably more like a half a year ago)… that Gasparilla was going to be refurbished, I had hoped it would have meant a head-to-toe kind of refurbishment job, so that the poor hidden location could stand out as the shining star that it could be. Sadly, that's not what happened.
Very little has changed with the interior. Oh sure, some "moving stuff around" has taken place, the food ordering area feels a bit bigger, the electronic menu boards remind me of McDonalds (I'm not sure that's what they were going for though), I'm sure the register system has been updated, and the pastry display case does look nicer now.
Once you get into the seating area though, it's the same, oddly disjointed space that it had been. Part of the dining area is bathing in natural light and offers some view of the outside. A couple seats even have views of the top of Cinderella Castle far off in the distance! While another equally sized dining area is completely in the dark and feels more like a bottom floor meeting hall in the bowels of small cruise ship.Missed Opportunities
Both dining areas seem like they're trying to aspire to the same ornateness that the main lobby of the Grand Floridian hits, but things like mass produced faux marble tabletops stand out like a sore thumb. To me, this is one of the more recent "missed opportunities" when it comes to refurbishing a dining location.
Gasparilla should break with tradition and attempt a more casual, yesteryear elite, turn of the century, historic Florida Flagler Resort theme... rather than being a distant step-child of the main lobby of the resort. It's far enough away, there is outdoor seating that could be turned into an amazing covered patio (so much better than it is now), and even the darker back-room could have photos, wall coverings and decor from Florida's history circa the 1900's… a "gentlemen's quarters" of sorts.
Instead, it sort of feels like a bizarre hospital waiting room. Cold, sterile (which is not the worst thing in the world I suppose), but wholly uninviting. I've never really felt comfortable in the any of the dining areas. Your millage may very. (And for crying out loud… Disney, Coke… Coke, Disney… now that you all know each other, can we please figure out how to make a Coke Freestyle Machine that doesn't look like a washing machine from the future? I mean really.)The Cast
The service here was fine. The cast behind the food prep area, the cashiers, and the people watching over the dining area... were all keeping up with things, knowledgeable and as personable as they need to be, so that's all good.The Food
The lunch and dinner menu did get an overhaul, but it is still largely comprised of sandwiches, a couple of flatbreads and a burger tossed in here and there. Some pre-made salads were on display in a chilling unit, but for me… the pastry display counter is the real highlight.
Now the food here is actually pretty good... there is just nothing that really stands out as being a "signature" item that would lead me to recommend Gasparilla over some of the other counter service locations in the system. If you're staying at the Grand Floridian, it makes sense I suppose. If you're staying at Riverside or Boardwalk, etc., there's not really much of a reason to come out here.
My Mahi Mahi "Reuben" featured House-made Cabbage Slaw and was sandwiched between two slices of Marbled Rye and served with French Fries and a pickle. It was a great sandwich actually.
The Mahi is most probably a packaged, pre-weighed and cut product, but a good product to be sure. It was skillfully seasoned and grilled, the cabbage slaw provided a nice crispness and a bit of sweetness next to the fish, and the fries were (as most Disney fries are) hot and delicious.
After my sandwich I sampled an Almond Fruit Tart from the somewhat small, but well-stocked fresh pastry and dessert case. The typical cookie-like shell was not filled with cream, but a more traditional almond paste (that was a little like a pressed Blondie type cookie) and covered with fresh berries that had a gorgeous sugar and cornstarch glaze just sitting perfectly on top. This had been made that day, because the outer shell and inner almond layer still had distinct flavors (the delicate almond can disappear quickly in day-old things), and a glaze like this one (even chilled) will start to break down after a while.
There did seem to be more cookies, danish and muffin type offerings in the display and only a few "special" desserts like the Almond Fruit Tart. That's too bad, because it was a great tart. If there were a half dozen of this kind of pastry in the case… it might well be the reason one would make a special trip to Gasparilla.Conclusion
All in all, I enjoyed my lunch at the newly refurbished Gasparilla Island counter service location at the Grand Floridian. The space hasn't changed much and the styling is not really my cup of tea, but the food here is quite good. Is it enough to pack guests into the location 24/7? Probably not. But if you would like a fresh pastry in a pinch and are close by, it's worth a visit.