An Family-Style Character Breakfast in a Classic Epcot Restaurant that RotatesThe Garden Grill Restaurant in Epcot serves two unique meal periods, both are served family style (aka "all you care to enjoy"). Lunch and Dinner feature the same menu items (and cost), while Breakfast features it's own menu at a slightly lower price point. All the meal periods are character meals — with Mickey dressed in farmhouse attire… along with Pluto, Chip, and Dale — whom all stop by your table over the course of the meal.
The last time I visited Garden Grill for breakfast was back in 2015 and it scored pretty well, getting a full 4-stars for food (the highest value possible in our system) and an overall score of 78, which is a really solid score here at Mealtrip. How is it eight years later? You've probably already looked at the score, but I like typing… so let's find out!
The EnvironmentI'm happy to report that the Garden Grill dining area still rotates around the kitchen. If you think about the seating area like a giant donut — the kitchen (which you never get to see), is in the center, and the giant seating area spins around the kitchen, counter clockwise, very slowly.
The shape of the Garden Grill Restaurant make it seem a little quieter than other character dining locations. You can really only see a fraction of the total area at any given time. This was taken on the second level. The first level (Dale is walking up from the first level), is separated from the upper level by a wall, so you don't even really know there's more tables down there.
It's a little like the Carousel of Progress, but much slower. You can't feel the rotation at all — it's only when you really look at a wall, that you'll notice any kind of movement. I've not actually met anyone that has had an issue with motion sickness — but if you're prone to such issues, it's something to consider before booking a meal here.
There's two seating levels, an outer/lower ring and then a couple of steps higher (like bleacher seating) an inner ring. Overall, I'd say everything is nicely spaced out at the Garden Grill. I've never really felt crowded or like any of the seating was bunched up or too close.
The outer/lower rim which features booth-style seating, and all the booths down here are in sort of a "U" shape, and face the outside of the restaurant. This is cool because the outer "wall" is actually see-though glass — and as the dining area rotates around, it opens up into various scenes of the Living with the Land attraction below.
Here's the front of Epcot's Garden Grill Restaurant. The restaurant floor plan is shaped like a giant circle and there's two levels (more like 1.5 levels). The booth style seating (lower level) is visible in this photo, along with a slight ramp (sort of on the left) that leads up 1/2 floor to the table style seating (up where the light poles are).
The inner/upper ring of the restaurant is all table and chair style seating, and while the higher, non-see though walls makes it difficult to see the Living with the Land attraction — there is more space for the characters to get around and interact with everyone at the table.
Which is better? It really depends on what's important to you… and it's also sort of a mute point, because you don't really get a choice in the matter (but I digress). If you're here to interact with the characters, the inner/upper level is a little easier. If you don't really like interacting with the characters too much and are fine with waving as they kind of dance around in front of your table — then the lower level is a little quieter, and it's fun getting to see the Living with the Land scenes slowly pass by.
The ServiceYikes. This is a tough score this time. The characters were great. The server was just okay. The "host and hostess" seating people at the front set a series of events in motion that kind of made the whole meal uncomfortable. It's not really their fault, per say … it's just a lack of foresight, and not putting yourself in the guest's shoes. What happened to me, is probably something that's going to happen to at least 1/3 of the guests visiting the Garden Grill.
The CharactersLet me back up for a second though. The characters were great — they usually are here at the Garden Grill. I think the shape of the restaurant makes it easy for them to get around, and there's enough spacing between tables, so that it's clear where they are and with which table they're visiting. Happy characters, happy guests.
Pluto and Farmhouse Mickey are just two of the characters you'll meet when dining at the Garden Grill restaurant. Chip and Dale are the other two characters you'll meet.
I've seen instances at places like the Crystal Palace (for example), where a random child will come running out of nowhere and clamp onto the leg of Tigger as he's approaching your table. That doesn't happen too often here at the Garden Grill, because you can't really see more than a couple of tables in either direction. It makes it really apparent when the characters are with your group — and that's more fun for them, and for you.
They do spend a fair amount of time at your table, and will interact with your group as much as you want them to. I think they do a great job of reading each table and seeing how much each group of guests wants to play along.
Hey Pluto! I always love to see Pluto at any character meal... he usually moves around a lot and likes to pose for the camera.
At the end of the meal, each table should get a double-sided full color glossy card with all of the characters signatures on it. I have seen instances where the characters try to do autographs table-side in guestbooks as well… that probably depends more on how busy the restaurant is, more than anything else.
This is the back of the autograph card from the Garden Grill. It features signatures from all the characters that were roaming around during your visit. Each table gets one of these (which might be a problem if you have multiple children that like calling dibs on things).
Table-Side ServiceThe server was just okay. This is probably going to be hit and miss depending on which server you get. I asked a couple of food related questions, which he didn't really have answers to… kind of an "it's whatever is on the plate that I bring out" kind of vibe. My soda ran dry a couple of times and I had to ask for refills.
In order to test the "all you care to enjoy" concept, I always get a little more of my favorite things at these style restaurants. Here, I asked for more of a couple items — and the whole table was cleared… silverware, plates… everything. Once my "second round of food" showed up, I had no fork, spoon, or knife. I asked for those, but some time went by and my food was getting cold. This was all around 10:00am and the restaurant was only about half full.
Finally, Farmhouse Mickey came by and so I asked him for a fork. He at least, looked shocked… and he went and got a character handler. The character handler asked what I needed — and then he got another server (not my sever, but who cares at this point) — and eventually I got my fork. Sadly, by the time I got more silverware — my food was cold. But you gotta love Mickey's determination on this one — you want to get something done around here — ask the mouse.
Ahhhh, the big cheese himself... it's Mickey Mouse dressed in his farmhouse attire. Thanks for getting that fork for me Mickey!!!
Putting Your Caboose In The Middle of the Train Isn't Very Fun or PracticalIn an effort to keep my paragraphs in order, I'll have to jump back in time in order to talk about the "host and hostess" cast at the check-in area of the restaurant. I think, in most successful restaurants, it's common place not to stack guests. What I mean is — if you've got a server named "Bob" you don't give Bob four guests, and then 60 seconds later give Bob another table of three guests, and then 60 seconds later give Bob a table of five guests — before moving on to a server named "Sally".
The tables are set with a hidden Mickey! The dining format at Garden Grill is "family style", so a large platter of food is brought out, and then you dish out what portions you want to eat, onto these smaller plates and bowls.
The problem is, everyone is going to want drinks at the same time, and to place their order at the same time — and their food will all come out at the same time. So generally — you give Bob one table … and then seat the next group with Sally… and then go back to Bob — staggering your guests with servers.
I'm not sure how they keep track of tables on the first level... but on the second level, there's table numbers on each of the light posts next to every table.
That's not exactly what happened here, but my point is — the host or hostess should know where the servers are, how many they have, and where everyone is (generally) with their meal. Strolling characters, (I'm sure), make this more complex... but it should still be possible to plan when to "load in" another table and where. At the very least, it's something that the "seating computer" at Disney should be able to deal with — rather than just leaving it up to fate.
Getting Back to My Caboose Showing Before the Whole Train Went BySo here's what happened with me… as soon as I sat down, before I was even settled, Chip came over and visited. Then my server took my drink order. Dale (the chipmunk) and the server showed up at the same time — Dale seemed a little miffed frankly, and went on to the next table while the server dropped off my soda, some watermelon and a cinnamon loaf. So I missed Dale, he didn't come back (but I did manage to track him down before I left for a couple of photos).
In the next minute, I was able to put my napkin in my lap and started to figure out how to cut into the cinnamon loaf without looking like a caveman — when I noticed Pluto was approaching my table. Before he got there, my waiter swooped in and started putting the second "warm course" of breakfast foods down (before I even got to taste any of the first course)… Pluto also seemed a little irritated, but waited around to visit with me after the server left.
It may not seem that bad when reading about it — but within the period of about four minutes of me sitting down — 80% of the "character breakfast experience" came and left and was over. Do I… interact with the waiter, or console Dale as he walks by, or eat hot food, or get my camera to take a photo of Pluto — and then decided if I should eat my first course which is now luke warm first or eat my second course hot — oh look, here comes Mickey.
It's a lot — all at once. It might time out perfectly — and you won't have this problem… but unless there's some system where the hosts and hostesses have the ability to know where the servers and character are — and the waiters and waitresses have the ability to adjust the timing of the meal with all of this in mind when there's a run-on — it's probably something that around 30% of the guests are going to encounter.
At $42 per person, I shouldn't have to be the "air traffic controller" for my meal — it's something that should be taken care of for me — to ensure my experience is fun, relaxing, and full of good, hot food.
So How's The Food?Back in 2015, the food at Garden Grill's Breakfast got four stars from me, the highest score I could give food. It was extremely well thought out, beautifully plated, and made great use of the "living with the land" concept. I would encourage anyone reading this review... to take a look at our photo gallery page for this location (click here) — and have a look at the breakfast from 2015 (toward the bottom of the photo grid). It was really quite good, on many different levels.
I can best describe my 2023 breakfast at Garden Grill as being a missed opportunity to showcase "the land" and lacking any kind of advanced culinary processes. It was more like something you could pick up at a budget-level resort, served on a paper plate, for a third of the cost. I'm sure there's a "Mickey's Bounty Platter" at one of the All-Star Food Courts that would be very close to the quality of anything I ate here at the Garden Grill.
It's worth noting, that my Garden Grill breakfast in 2015 was $29 per adult person, and in 2023, it's $42 per adult person. Both meals were character meals and served family-style, all you care to eat.
I don't have a problem with the price increase — the cost of everything has gone up in eight years — but the price increase should be enough to keep the quality of the food the same as it was in 2015. If a 45% price increase isn't enough to do that — then price the meal higher — don't make the meal less good. I only eat here once every eight years, I want it to be a great, memorable experience.
The meal starts with a platter of cut watermelon.
All of these slices of cut watermelon were nice and juicy. Probably not the sweetest watermelon I've ever had, but it did have that distinct watermelon flavor.
I really don't want to turn this into a blow-by-blow comparison, but it's hard not to — here's a look at 2015 -vs- 2023.
A comparison :: In 2015 (left), the seasonal fruit contained 7 kinds of cut fruit. In 2023 (right), the seasonal fruit was sliced watermelon only.
Also part of the first course in 2023 is a Cinnamon Breakfast Loaf.
Before I do a comparison here… just to avoid any misunderstanding about my feelings for the new Cinnamon Breakfast Loaf — if you really want to try it... pull off the crunchy parts at the top and leave the rest of it in the plastic skillet — the bottom part of this loaf doesn't deserve a place in your stomach. The top 1/2 inch, is edible… it has a light cinnamon flavor but not much sweetness. The bottom 90% of the Breakfast Loaf is a flavorless, dry clump of bland soda bread.
I try really hard not to make editorial comments in photo captions, but the Cinnamon Breakfast Loaf is about as dry and bland as it looks. Sorry. I'd really rather write glowing happy things... but I'd much prefer having a pre-packaged Little Debbie Cinnamon Cake — then to ever see this breakfast loaf again.
In 2015, this course items was called a Sticky Bun Bake — which was a warm, soft yeasty bread that had ribbons of cinnamon and sugar running through it and was topped with sweet icing. Let's take a look at the two side-by-side.
A comparison :: In 2015 (left), the "bread service" item at breakfast was a "Sticky Bun Bake". In 2023 (right), the bread service item is a Cinnamon Loaf.
Well… you see where this is going. They're all small changes. Individually, they might not seem like much, but once you start adding up all those small changes — it changes the meal.
There used to be sweet icing on the cinnamon bread, now there's none. There used to be seven kinds of cut fruit, now there's one kind. There used to be warm Chocolate-Hazelnut Sauce for the Mickey Waffles, now there's "syrup". There used to be Buttermilk Biscuits and Sausage Gravy, now those have been cut entirely. How much farther can all of this be reduced, all while the price keeps going up?
The hot main plate of breakfast items contained Mickey waffles, scrambled eggs, 50/50 bacon, cheesy potato casserole, and grilled flank steak. The number and quantity of anything in the initial skillet really doesn't matter, since you can get more of whatever you want.
Here's a look at the "warm items" skillet at Garden Grill. So after the "first course" of fruit and cinnamon bread — the second main course is served in this black (plastic) skillet, and contains all the warm items, bunched together.
I've just got to do another comparison photo here (it's the last one, I promise) ... the hot main plate of breakfast items in 2015 contained buttermilk biscuits and country sausage gravy, scrambled eggs, potato barrels, thick sliced bacon, ham streaks, and Micky waffles with warm chocolate-hazelnut sauce.
A comparison :: In 2015 (left), the main warm breakfast platter course contained 7 items. In 2023 (right), the main warm breakfast skillet course contains 5 items.
I'm not going to drone on any more about the price increase — but it's worth mentioning one more time — the 2015 breakfast was $29 … while the 2023 breakfast is $42. It contains fewer items and the items that are here, are simpler to make and have fewer core ingredients.
The Garden Grill Breakfast family platter for two people (there is also a one, four, and six guest platter.) (Photo from 2015.)
We can't go back in time, so the old breakfast offering is now — nothing more than a historical footnote — but if you're reading reviews online about how great breakfast at Garden Grill is — be sure to check out when the article was written. If they went before 2023 — they're talking about a breakfast that doesn't exist any more.
Getting back to the current offering… the scrambled eggs had no form and looked more steamed than scrambled. They basically had the texture of a nerf ball and the flavor of… steamed eggs.
The bacon is what I call 50/50 bacon. Some people like bacon to be crispy, some like it when it's a little soggy — so they give you a little of both. Which could mean this bacon makes everyone happy… since it's all you care to enjoy, you can just pick off the parts you want to eat and order some more.
Here's a closer look at the Smoked Bacon from Garden Grill's Breakfast menu. It's good quality bacon, however... I would probably call it "lightly smoked". The "smokiness" really wasn't a major flavor component.
They've printed "Smoked Bacon" on the menu. I really wasn't getting any smoked flavor in the crispy or the soggy slices. Mine was pretty much… just bacon.
Next up, there's Cheesy Potato Casserole… which was kind of cross between hash browns that have not been browned all the way and "Potatoes Au Gratin" (but without the gruyere cheese, onions, or any spices other than salt).
In the center of the photo (between the Mickey waffles and the bacon) is the Cheesy Potato Casserole.
These were actually really good and were one of the items I got a second helping of. I do wish there had been some more "brown crunchy" bits in there — but that's the nature of Casserole — the top parts get browned and the bottom parts stay creamy.
Now, I have no proof of this... but I suspect there is some chicken stock in the Cheesy Potato Casserole. You can't really taste it, but there's a savory umami hit in these that's not coming from cheese and dairy alone. Putting a little chicken stock with potato-based items is not as uncommon as you would think at restaurants… it's a cheap way of giving an otherwise bland item a little extra kick.
The other item I got "seconds" on was the Grilled Flank Steak with Ranchero Sauce. It doesn't look like much when it's folded and stuffed into the skillet, but for flank steak… it was pretty good.
Here's a closer look at the Grilled Flank Steak with Ranchero Sauce — as it first appears in the family style skillet.
Just to get a better look at it, I took the flank steak out of the skillet and plated it with the Cheesy Potato Casserole.
The Cheesy Potato Casserole is on the left and some Grilled Flank Steak with Ranchero Sauce is on the right.
The meat was cooked fairly evenly and just about perfect for me — a little pink in the center but not bloody. There was a little fat, but that's the nature of flank steak. I generally trim off the parts I don't want and just eat the prime meaty parts.
My second helping had a little more of that "Ranchero" sauce on it, which I was glad to see. If I'm being honest, both portions could have used a little more. It would be nice to see the Ranchero sauce in a table-side cup so I add as much or as little as I wanted — but a small amount is ladled on top of the meat as it's being plated.
Here's a closer look at the Grilled Flank Steak with Ranchero Sauce from the Breakfast Menu at the Garden Grill Restaurant.
The Ranchero sauce itself wasn't anything too special — it's more like some V-8 juice with a little extra pepper kick — that had been reduced slightly. It doesn't have the consistency of spaghetti sauce or a romesco (which would have been really great) — it's more like … well come to think about it, pretty much like straight up V-8 juice. I've never tried using V-8 as a condiment for flank steak before, but this ranchero sauce came pretty close and was very thin. Consistency aside, it added a vinegary, tomato, and pepper flavor contrast to the steak — an that contrast is what keeps things interesting.
Because Garden Grill is "all you care to enjoy" you can ask for second (or third) portions of anything. While the initial items are served in a skillet, additional helpings are served on a white plate. This way, you'll only get more of what you asked for, and not a second helping of everything in the skillet.
Finally, there's Mickey Waffles served with an air whipped butter-like substance and maple syrup!
Ahhhh... I never get tired of seeing that happy Mickey Waffle face. Thankfully, the Mickey Waffles with fluffy butter and syrup are the same everywhere — they're a familiar flavor and texture you can count on.
Love the shape… how can you not be happy with a plate of Mickey waffles staring back at you. Butter-wise, the air whipped butter ball was fine, I wasn't really expecting much more and I was very happy to see the maple syrup in a tiny pourable ramekin (technically, I think it's a plastic creamer, but it's cute and interactive — so I like it).
Flavor and texture-wise, I do tend to find myself cutting off the ears and just eating those. They're crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside — the perfect waffle bite. I've been to quite few Disney breakfast places here of late, and I've noticed that the area in-between Mickey's eyes — tends to be too doughy and still a bit "batter tasting" — so I end up eating the just the ears and maybe the chin.
Hey Mickey!!! Here's the Mickey-shaped Waffles that are served in each Garden Grill Breakfast skillet. (There's also some fluffy butter and syrup that are served in separate dishes.) Because Garden Grill is "all you care to eat", you can totally get seconds or third helpings of the Mickey Waffles. I can see them being a popular item at the table.
It's hard to say, if I would feel the same way about this breakfast — if I had not previous enjoyed a great breakfast here eight years ago. In trying to think about just this breakfast — while blocking out any previous meals here, I can say that it's a missed opportunity to embrace the restaurant's "garden grill and living with the land" concept.
What's being served all seems like it contains the bare minimum amount of ingredients and culinary effort to prepare — with very little forethought to showcase "garden grilling", a "farm-style breakfast", or "land-to-table" food items.
There's nothing more memorable here than what you'll find at a counter service "bounty platter" breakfast entree at one of the resorts, for a third of the cost.
Value and ConclusionAll of this brings me to that phrase I hear quite often … "You're not going to the Garden Grill for the food, you're going to meet the characters." But I totally disagree with that notion. If that's what the problem is here — it's a food culture issue that has to be corrected by whomever is running the restaurant.
If I just wanted a photo with Mickey, I'd grab an Egg McMuffin before going to the park and then stand in line at Main Street and get my photo with Mickey.
It's Farmhouse Mickey! The time you spend with the characters at Garden Grill does seem a little more private than at other dining locations. Because the restaurant is a giant circle with a wall in the middle, you can only see three or four tables in each direction at any time. This makes things seem a little quieter.
I am going to the Garden Grill for breakfast… and based on the meal I had eight years ago — it is possible to do something that fits thematically — is "food-memorable", and leaves me saying "gosh, that was a great meal". This current version of the breakfast — did not do that.
For me, this was an "expensive for what it is", unnecessarily rushed and miss-paced experience with unmemorable food — that left me wondering "how much less can they do and still call it breakfast" rather than the usual "wow, they did a great job with the culinary theming... I want to go back again and bring friends."
At $42 per adult person, it's not out of line with other character breakfasts at Disney. At the time I'm writing this review, the Crystal Palace is charging $45 per adult person. Granted, you're getting four Winnie the Pooh characters and not four Disney classic characters — and the Crystal Palace is a buffet. Both locations though, are "all you care to enjoy" so the amount of food you're eating, is up to you.
For just $3 more than what Garden Grill is charging — the Crystal Palace food is one or two steps more complex, and there's way more diversity with what you have to choose from.
I'd gladly pay $3 more to bring back my Garden Grill Breakfast from 2015 — if that's what the issue is. Either location, for a family of four (two adults, two children) plus tax, plus tip — you're going to be just short of parting with $200. If my reasons for going to a restaurant were getting a good breakfast and to see a couple of characters — I'd recommend Crystal Palace over Garden Grill, in it's current state.
The Garden Grill does still rotate around very slowly and depending on where you sit, you can see scenes of the Living with the Land attraction go by as you eat — that is unique… and was part of the original, ever fading Epcot concept for this building.
Also unique, is getting a chance to see Mickey in farmhouse attire. If those things are important to you, than Garden Grill is the only game in town… and breakfast… is less expensive than dinner.
To see how the Garden Grill Breakfast period is stacking up with other dining locations at Epcot, click here and sort the list by hitting the green "score" button. Happy Mealtripping!