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Review Posted on Thursday, July 31, 2014
At some point, when talking about character meal buffets, one usually has to say something along the lines of "we're not really here for the food, we're here for the characters", but I'm happy to report that I've not had to say anything along those lines with regard to Hollywood and Vine. In fact, some of the standard line-item offerings here, are better than a few of the plated table service restaurants (inside the gates), that I've recently visited.
First things first though, the decor at Hollywood and Vine is sort of a modern-day 50's diner, that runs smack into the middle of a buffet cafeteria. It's not that the environment is bland, or inaccurate, it's just that there are still a few mom and pop's out there that still genuinely look like a 50's diner. In comparison to the genuine article, it's obvious that Hollywood and Vine's function, follows it's form... in offering quite a bit of space for patrons, walk-around-characters, small guests who tend to follow walk-around-characters, and parents, who inevitably follow the small guests.
At lunch, you'll find a few Playhouse Disney favorites on hand, such as Handy Manny, Doc McStuffins, Jake from Jake and the Neverland Pirates, and Sofia the First. There's plenty of time in a typical meal for each of the characters to make their way around to your table a couple of times for photos and autographs, along with a short interactive show and line dance, if you or the little ones would like to join in.
There are a few nicks to get out of the way before we get on with the food though. The waiting process outside after you check-in at your reservation time, is often hot, and always seems too long. That's not uncommon for a buffet, but it just seems worse here for some reason. As far as the overall cleanliness once you get inside... it's good...for a buffet. There are many small guests walking around with plates of food. There's no getting around the fact that there's going to be a few mishaps here and there. The serving lines themselves are well looked after and every few minutes, there seems to be someone picking up the odd corn kernel and cooked carrot from off the serving area.
On to the food! Starters include a couple of traditional salads with toppers such as sunflower seeds, marinated mushrooms, cucumbers and shredded cheese, along with a fresh focaccia bread, a more traditional dinner roll with butter and apple butter available... but the two "soups of the day" are where the fun beings. One, if not both of these soups are "sandwich-shop quality" and not the watered-down versions that you might expect to find on a buffet. Selections might include a Tomato Florentine Soup, a Mushroom Beef and Barley Soup, or a Spicy Corn Chowder Soup, they all have a quite a bit more going for them, than simply being placeholders on the buffet line.
Next up, there's a variety of cold prepared salads that you might not expect to find, such as a Italian Salad featuring giant pitted olives (someone get me a Riesling or a Retsina and I could stop right here)... along with peppers and ham and a prepared pulled chicken salad with asian-esque vegetables. You'll also find several smaller items for pairing, including fresh hummus, roasted beet, apple, and goat cheese salad, an udon noodle salad, and cut fresh fruit, just to name a few.
Save room for the made to order pasta though! While the line at the pasta station can be long, because... well, there's a cast member making pasta just for you... it's well worth the weight (pun). Would you like Campanelle or Rotini? Pesto, Marinara or Alfredo? Shrimp, chicken, peas, asiago, mushrooms? It's all here and made spot-on, just the way you want it. Nice.
Many of the hot line items at Hollywood and Vine have consistently been better than those at other "plated" table service restaurants in the parks. There's usually a Chipotle Orange BBQ Chicken and an Asiago Chicken, Beer Braised Boneless Beef Short Ribs, Pot Roast, perfectly cooked Glazed Salmon (on my most recent trip there was a maple glazed salmon with peas and onions), and Lobster & Shrimp Mac n’ Cheese (which is some of the best on property). Then there's the hot sides, from corn spoon bread, garlic mashed potatoes, to a couple of bean-based vegetable mixes, and a hot meat-based pasta... there is something for everyone... and the real surprise is, that it's all really good. Most portions are kept in small quantities and are refreshed often.
The desserts at Hollywood and Vine are small plate based, and it's a good thing because there's so many different treats to try. There are several small tarts and individual cakes such as key lime, spice cake, coconut macaroons, blueberry cheesecake and red velvet cake. Some work better than others. For example, it's tough to pack the true nature of a good red velvet into such a small cake press. It's good, but not really red velvet. Others such as the cheesecake and key lime tarts, are easier to make in small sizes, and are quite yummy.
One of the more unusual things to find at the dessert station though... is the fresh, running, chocolate fountain! Now this isn't one of those deals where you get to dip the stuff into the flowing chocolate yourself. You'll have to get your own fountain for that sort of thing. There are cast members (behind protective plexiglass) constantly dipping and plating everything from apples and strawberries to pineapples, marshmallows, and apricots, that you can pick up, just as soon as they're cool enough to safely eat.
Did I mention the soft-serve ice cream machine? Well there's one of those too, with a few toppings to sprinkle on as well, but really... a chocolate covered strawberry on top of swirled soft-serve... what more do you need?
I really do like lunch at Hollywood and Vine. In fact, if you're going to try it, lunch is when I'd recommend going. There are characters during the breakfast period, but I don't think the food offerings are as diverse or as plentiful. There are no characters at dinner, and if you're looking for a more... relaxed atmosphere, that's the period for you... but it does get a bit pricer. There are a few additions at dinner, such as peel and eat shrimp and a carved meat station in addition to everything at lunch, so the cost is justified... but really... how much can one eat? The standard line-item offerings here are so good, you might not even miss the hand carved meats.
If you'd like a quite, character-less, but still delicious meal, without paying for the dinner "premium", try and get a reservation near the end of the lunch period (2:15pm-ish). It may still be packed with small guests and dancing characters when you get there, but by the time you get to the dessert station, Handy Manny and his friends will have gone home for the day, and the activity level in the retro-style diner will be much quieter.
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