Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Whispering Canyon's Cafe

Note:  This restaurant was visited on 15 January 2012.  The review was originally written later that afternoon.

So...the first stop on the Walt Disney World Restaurant Tour is Whispering Canyon Cafe at Disney's Wilderness Lodge.

Whispering Canyon Cafe

The first thing you should know about the Wilderness Lodge is that its hard to find and not all that easy to get to if you've never been there, or if you're not that familiar with driving around on the "back roads" found on Disney World property.  The easiest way to find the Wilderness lodge is to head to the Magic Kingdom.  When you approach the Magic Kingdom gate, stick to the right-hand traffic lane (as close as you can get to the lane the busses use), as if you're heading for the Contemporary Resort.  Then just turn right at the next stoplight (not at the next right... at the next stoplight).

Disney's Wilderness Lodge, from the approach.

The hotel itself is impressive to look at and very cool, as far as design goes.  Its done up in Pacific northwest fashion, with lots of totem poles and carved animals and woodwork.  Jared, who was my companion for the day, said it looked like it was made out of giant Lincoln Logs.  There's even an artificial river out back that starts in the lobby, goes over a man-made waterfall, and ends up dumping into the resort's swimming pool.

There's even an artificial geyser that blows off into the air every half hour or so.

The aforementioned geyser.  Its out back behind the swimming pool, which it also dumps into.

Whispering Canyon Cafe is located in the hotel's main lobby, and takes up most of the left-hand side of the lobby as you come in through the front foor.  The right side is taken up by check-in, guest services, the bell captain's desk, and the consierge desk, plus a small gift shop, so you're not going to have any trouble at all finding this place.

The welcome mat just inside the door.  I thought it was adorable.

Lobby, right side.
Lobby, left side.  The area at the bottom is the restaurant proper.

Jared and I arrived about half an hour early for our reservation, but given that the dining room was visibly empty (I counted three tables that had people eating when we arrived), I was surprised when we weren't seated.  Rather, we were given a buzzer and told that we'd be seated when it went off.  Which it did... at our exact reservation time.  During out half-hour wait, I saw exactly four other parties seated; the dining room was still very empty, but apparently the gentleman at the check-in desk was going to enforce those reservation times come Hell or high water!

The delay in our getting a table did give Jared enough time to have a little fun.  In the very, very small lobby/landing where you check in for your reservation is a pair of chairs and a table filled with Lincoln Logs.  Jared, like most little boys, found the Lincoln Logs utterly irresistable, and why not?  They're a lot of fun, and to tell you the truth I got a kick out of watching him play.  He managed to put together a couple of houses in the time we were waiting for our table, and a good time was had by all.  He's since asked for a set of Lincoln Logs for Christmas.  He might just get them, too.

Jared and the Lincoln Logs.

At the appointed time, our buzzer went off and we were seated.  We ended up at a round table that clearly was meant for a party of six, but Jared and I were the only people there.  This meant we had plenty of room, and made looking around easy.  The Pacific Northwest/Cowboys and Indians theme continued inside.  Jared, specifically, noted a painting hanging over our table that featured the image of a puppy jumping through a lariat, and a wall lamp that seemed to be made out of a drum.  It was pretty good, and suited the feel of the restaurant.  Jared, for one, thought it all very cool.

The theming of this restaurant is everywhere.  Its trying very hard to be rustic and western, and for the most part it succeeds.  There were some odd touches, like the fact that the drinking glasses were mason jars (as were the salt and pepper shakers), but overall the decor wasn't as oppressive as it could have been when it comes to shoving the theme into your face.

The painting that impressed Jared so much, featuring the rope-jumping puppy dog.
The equally impressive wall-lamp.  Jared insisted I show you folks what it looked like.
There was about a five minute delay between our being seated and our server showing up.  The guy we ended up with (a gentleman named Paul) seemed distracted and in a hurry, and in general acted as if talking to us was taking up too much of his afternoon.  He refilled drinks and got Jared and myself what we asked for only after a delay, and it was hard to catch his attention.  To be fair, I did notice that he was treating all of his tables like this.

The problem was, I was watching the other servers interact with their tables, and in comparison, Paul was a let-down.  The other servers were having conversations with their tables, and interacting with the kids seated there, and generally were making sure that their guests were not just enjoying their meals, but actually having fun while dining there.  Paul, it seemed, couldn't be bothered.

After ordering drinks, Jared and I perused the menu for a bit.  We discussed the pro's and con's of the various kid's menu options for a bit before Jared settled on a cheeseburger, french fries, a side salad, and cookies for dessert.  I, on the other hand, chose the canyon skillet, which was an all-you-care-to-eat sampler of the various barbecue items offered at the restaurant.  I figured I might as well take in an overview, since barbecue is Whispering Canyon's stock in trade.
The canyon skillet:  three barbecued ribs, a barbecued airline breast (meaning a chicken breast with the wing still attached), a link of smoked sausage, corn on the cob, "cowboy beans", and potato salad.  Not pictured:  the basket of sweet cornbread and the cole slaw.

Jared's choice from the kid's menu:  a cheeseburger, french fries, a small salad, and cookies.

The barbecue was sublime. The chicken was tender and juicy and tasty without a hint of the greasiness that can happen sometimes. The ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender.  The sausage was sweet and amazing and had just the right hint of spice. The corn was crisp, the cornbread just sweet as a baby's kiss and just moist enough to not be gummy, and the cole slaw was exquisite. I don't know what they were flavoring the mashed potatoes with, but I'm going to find out.

They even served the barbecue sauce (which was of the "brown sugary and hickory" variety) warm.  It was a truly, truly glorious meal.  And if you wanted more of something, you had bt to ask.  Paul was a bit slow, but when you got his attention he did bring you what you wanted.

Jared's opinion of the cheeseburger (which he finshed completely), the salad (which he ate half of), the french fries (which also disappeared), and the cookies (of which he ate one and saved the other for later) was that it was all "Good."  Which is high praise from the laconic eleven year old.  He did give the place a thumb's up, and admitted he wouldn't mind coming back some time.

The only complaint I had at all about the meal, other than Paul's not being personable or friendly that day, were the "cowboy beans".  Now, I've had a lot of baked beans in my time, and let me tell you folks, most of the time they are just "okay".  You know what I mean... not bad, just not anything memorable.  I've had memorable baked beans before (anyone whose eaten the beans at a Sonny's Barbecue can recognize the taste of excellent baked beans).   Honestly, given the amazing quality of the food, I expected great baked beans.

Boy howdy, was I disappointed.  These were not great beans.  These were not even good beans.  These were lousy beans.  They tasted like the kitchen staff prepared them by opening up a can of pinto beans, then squirting a touch of ketchup into the mix.

But as I said, that was the only bad part of the experience.  Overall, this was a great meal, and Jared and I had a good time eating it.

All told, I'd give the place four-and-a-half stars out of five and recommend it.

Now for the damages.  The canyon skillet was $18 and change, while the kids cheeseburger meal was about $9. With drinks, total cost for the entire meal was $32 and change.

Not too shabby for a Disney restaurant.

Next stop:  Le Cellier, in the Canada Pavillion, Epcot.


  1. Very well written and illustrated review. The border of the welcome mat reminds me of a Heinz label.

    1. Thanks, Will. And yeah, I had the same thought about the welcome mat.