Monday, September 28, 2015

Walt Disney World: Port Orleans Dining (Boatwright's and More!)


Last week, I shared a post exploring one of the most popular Moderate Resorts at Walt Disney World: Port Orleans Riverside. We took a look around the beautiful grounds as well as into the charming rooms in the Alligator Bayou section of the resort. Today, I'd like to discuss the food at Port Orleans, both at Riverside and its next door neighbor Port Orleans French Quarter.

Let's begin with my favorite of the three Port Orleans dining options: Boatwright's Dining Hall. Located at Port Orleans Riverside (POR), this table service restaurant is themed like a Louisiana shipyard, and even has the hull of an unfinished boat on display hanging from the ceiling. Boat-making tools are displayed prominently on the walls throughout the space.

Although I love the theming of this restaurant, it's not my favorite part of dining here. The food definitely wins out here. Louisiana's most prominent Creole and Cajun dishes are featured on the menu, along with some other Southern-inspired favorites. Dishes like jambalaya, gumbo, and étouffée are just a few of these dishes. Let's take a closer look.

First and foremost, drinks! After reviewing the drink menu, there were lots of delicious-sounding options, but one of them really stood out as a super refreshing choice at the end of what turned out to be an exceptionally hot day. Really, it felt like an inferno. We actually had to leave the park far earlier than planned and go submerge ourselves in the resort pool instead. It's a tough life. Anyway, back to that drink!

The Raspberry-Ginger Mojito is a blend of Finlandia raspberry vodka, ginger, mint, raspberry puree, fresh lime juice, and coconut water. Between the mint and lime, mojitos by nature are refreshing drinks. This particular one is really a pseudo-mojito because its alcohol base is vodka as opposed to the traditional rum. Regardless, it was a fantastic cocktail to start this meal and I'd happily order it again. PS this drink is actually on the standard Disney Bar and Lounge menu available throughout Walt Disney World, not just specific to this restaurant, so you should be able to find it elsewhere too!

Raspberry-Ginger Mojito

Soon after, a basket of sweet, crumbly cornbread with giant scoops of soft, spreadable butter was delivered to our table. Oh yes. Seriously, two of my favorite indulgent things combined. The cornbread at Boatwright's fits the bill and ties in well with the rest of the menu.

I absolutely had to begin my meal with some of the Crescent City Gumbo, which features chicken and andouille sausage slow-cooked in a Cajun-spiced broth and served with rice. This 6-ounce portion should be offered in a 20-ounce portion because it's quite frankly one of the best things ever. I'm not from "N'Oleans" so I'm certainly no expert on the art of gumbo, but my mouth says that this gumbo is excellent and not to be missed. It's somewhat spicy, and just so well seasoned and fantastic. I just can't say enough. Order it.

Crescent City Gumbo $7.49

Onto the entrees. My sister and I actually went halfsies on our entrees, but I also partook in some of my dining companions meals as well (it's good being a food blogger). Let me begin with what I thought was the most disappointing item, the Voodoo Chicken. This is Boatwright's take on chicken and waffles, one of the best, most unexpected food combinations of all time. This dish was fine, but nothing to write home about. It features a thick maple-bacon gravy on the side which you use to dress your chicken and waffles. The gravy was fine but maybe a tad too thick to make it easy to pour. I really prefer something more in the maple syrup family for my chicken and waffles. Again, just mediocre. It's not bad, but I've had way better chicken and waffles.

Voodoo Chicken $21.99

The other dish we shared was the Cajun Bayou Catfish, served with dirty rice, seasonal veggies, cayenne-butter sauce, and chive aioli. This was more flavorful than the chicken dish. I really loved the cayenne-butter sauce especially. It added a bit of spice without overwhelming the delicate fish. Another Southern favorite, dirty rice, is a wonderful accompaniment, as is the fresh asparagus. I'd happily recommend this dish.

Cajun Bayou Catfish $19.99

One of my dining companions who considers himself to be a rib aficionado was very impressed by the Turbodog Barbecued Ribs, served with Cajun steak fries and homemade coleslaw. I tasted a small bite and thought it was perfectly tender and very flavorful. Although this isn't a smokehouse, if you're craving barbecue, these ribs are a solid choice.

Turbodog Barbecued Ribs $21.99

My favorite entree that I tried luckily belonged to a friend who got full after eating only half of it, so she gave me the rest :) I couldn't finish it after already eating most of my two entree halves, but I just couldn't stop eating it! It was so good! The entree I speak of is the Jackson Square Étouffée. Using a popular Cajun technique known as "smothering" this dish uses crawfish as its base and boasts and incredibly delicious and spicy flavor profile. Like the gumbo, this too is served with rice. It is a massive portion with a healthy amount of heat, but not so much that a spice lover couldn't handle it. I've had WAY spicier food, but if you're sensitive to spice, this dish isn't for you.

Jackson Square Étouffée $17.99

Finally, with our meal complete, our server brought over a small birthday treat for my nephew and his friend, who were both celebrating birthdays on our trip. They each got a small plastic glowing Buzz Lightyear clipped to Mardi Gras beads and a balloon. This was such a fun birthday treat for a child that still tied in the theming of the resort.

During our stay at Port Orleans, we also visited the two quick service options for breakfast: Riverside Mill Food Court at Port Orleans Riverside, and Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory at Port Orleans French Quarter. Both of them are cafeteria style in the sense that there are different food stations where you can order certain items and then you pay for your selections and find a table. Many of the menu options are the same at both locations, but there are a few differences.

The Riverside Mill Food Court is housed in a space that actually features a water wheel or watermill. You can see the turbines and gears inside the dining area. That's the main theming of this space. It's otherwise very wooden inside. Lots of browns, very rustic. Not surprising. Breakfast here is pretty standard. I could see myself getting sick of the food a few days in, but for once or twice in the span of a trip, it's fine. Here are the menus...

Apparently the Bounty Platter differs slightly depending on the station at which its ordered. If you order a Bounty Platter at the Salads & Sandwiches station, you get a Mickey Waffle. If you order at The Grill, it comes with either French toast or a pancake. In addition to this sweet component, regardless of where you order, you get scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, a biscuit, and home fries. I selected a Bounty Platter with French toast. It had a good variety of standard breakfast items packed with protein to start the day, but with a bit of decadence as well. The food here is fine, but nothing overtly special. It's a convenient fix to your morning dining needs. They also serve lunch and dinner here, but I haven't tried it myself.

Bounty Platter $9.49

I actually prefer breakfast at Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory next door at Port Orleans French Quarter for one main reason: Beignets. Although there are plenty of other food options here, the reason to come here is the beignets. They are hot, puffy, and covered in sweet powdered sugar that just coats the roof of your mouth with molten sugar. With each bite of these crispy, chewy, fried morsels, you just feel a little closer to Heaven.

Beignets (6) $4.59

Sorry, I just zoned out for a minute.

I also tried one of the croissants here. It was simply okay, nothing special. My one complaint is that they don't have any real butter, but rather only margarine and a vegetable oil spread. I asked a cast member if they had any real butter I could use on my croissant (because we all know there just isn't enough butter in there already), and he offered to go into the kitchen and get some. He returned with a huge slab of butter (he knows my secret shame!). But alas, I didn't use all the butter, just a small bit along with some honey (available with the condiments). I felt like it was a waste for them to give me all that butter (and I almost wanted to eat it all just to prove a point), but I do appreciate that they were able to accommodate my food snobbery and desire for real butter.

Croissant $2.99

Anyway, if you're staying at Port Orleans, you really have no excuse not to stop by at least once to try the beignets. They even have gluten-free ones, although I can't comment on their quality. They're found only at Sassagoula Floatworks at Port Orleans French Quarter, but that's a short walk from Riverside, and really, you want to start burning off calories in advance. Trust me on this.

The decor at Sassagoula (named after the river that flows by the two resorts) includes fake floats (many creepy) that are reminiscent of what I imagine Mardi Gras would be like. I've never actually been. Sad face.

See what I mean? Creepy.

All in all, Port Orleans has some solid options for food. I really with Boatwright's offered more than just dinner (years ago they used to also have breakfast and possibly lunch), but otherwise, it's definitely one of my favorite dining spots at Disney, and it's more reasonably priced than some of my other favorites so that's a win in my book! Also, beignets. Definitely don't discount Port Orleans when making your dining plans at Disney. It's worth a visit. Maybe two.

Boatwright's Food Hall
1251 Dixie Dr
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830
(407) 939-3463

Riverside Mill Food Court
1251 Riverside Dr
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830
(407) 939-3463

Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory
2201 Orleans Dr
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830
(407) 934-5000

Friday, September 25, 2015

Steamed Pearl Balls for National Dumpling Day!


Tomorrow is the first official National Dumpling Day! It's perhaps the most exciting food day ever because it's celebrating one of my favorite foods of all time. The fantastic thing about dumplings is that there are so many varieties from around the world. Almost anything can be made into a dumpling.

If you're in New York City this weekend, you can celebrate National Dumpling Day by heading to the first NYC Dumpling Festival tomorrow (September 26th) from noon to 5 pm at Sara D. Roosevelt Park from East Houston Street to Canal Street between Chrystie Street and Forsyth Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

The festival will include a dumpling eating contest featuring Takeru Kobayashi, a champion competitive eater who will help host the event. The event also includes Lion Dances, Korean Drum performances, Asian Beatbox, belly dancing, a giant Dumpling Cutting Ceremony, a dumpling making class, raffles for awesome prizes, a book signing with Chinese cookbook author Kian Lam Kho, and more.

The NYC Dumpling Festival and all performances are free but there is a $20 ticket for a dumpling taster pass, which includes 4 tastes at vendor stalls. All proceeds go to the Food Bank NYC. If you'd like to find out more about the NYC Dumpling Festival you can visit their website here, check out their Facebook page here, or Twitter here (you can also use #DumplingFest2015 to chat about it on Twitter).

In the meantime, I've decided to share a unique type of dumpling that definitely doesn't fit the typical dumpling mold. About 5 years ago, I had a very memorable dinner at Yakitori Totto in New York City. One of the most delicious elements at that meal was steamed rice-coated chicken meatballs. I have fantasized about those meatballs for 5 years.

Prior to steaming

The Chinese version of this dish hails from Shanghai, and its name translates to "Pearl Balls." That's pretty much what they look like: pearlescent balls with glistening sticky rice wrapped around a juicy meatball.

The recipes I've found range from using ground pork to chicken or turkey. Basically, white meat. I used ground pork, but would easily swap it out for ground poultry if that's what I had on hand. The meat is mixed with a fragrant mixture of ginger and scallions, with some finely diced water chestnuts for crunch. A little bit of cornstarch and egg bind everything together.

The type of rice used here goes by several names: glutinous, sticky, and sweet are just three of them. Soak the rice in  plenty of water overnight and then drain and dry it thoroughly. These dumplings need a head start by soaking the rice, but otherwise are so much faster and easier to make than dumplings that require a wrapper (at least if you're making the wrappers yourself, which in my case is the norm).

The interior is juicy and flavorful, and the exterior boasts chewy, sticky rice. It's almost obscene how good these are considering how simple they really are to make. I hope this serves as an example of just how different dumplings can be. They don't all have the same equation (dough + filling). Sometimes in place of dough there are other types of starch or wrappers that fit the bill.

Just beware, similar to when making meatballs, you may have a bit of the meat's "juices" ooze out and coagulate on your pearl balls or in your steamer tray. I find that this tends to happen more when you are using meat that has previously been frozen (which mine was). It's simple enough to use a spoon or butter knife to just swipe away some of these little bits before you serve these up.

I hope everyone has a wonderful National Dumpling Day tomorrow. If you're near the Big Apple, please head on over to the NYC Dumpling Festival to celebrate. And if you're farther away, pick up a bag of sticky rice and make these exquisite dumplings!

Pearl Balls (Zhēnzhū Qiú)
Makes 24 balls
(Adapted from Dumplings All Day Wong)

1 cup (210 g) sticky/sweet/glutinous rice, long or short grain variety, soaked overnight in cold water (cover by 2 inches)
1 pound (450 g) ground pork, chicken, or turkey (preferably dark meat for the poultry options, although pork is preferable, and has the best flavor)
3 tablespoons (10 g) finely chopped scallions
3 tablespoons (20 g) finely diced water chestnuts*
2 teaspoons (10 g) minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons (10 ml) light (regular) soy sauce (if you use tamari or another gluten-free soy sauce, this entire dish will be gluten-free!)
1 tablespoon (15 ml) Shaoxing rice wine, sake, or dry sherry
1 tablespoon (10 g) cornstarch
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon (5 g) salt
A few grinds of black pepper

Drain the soaked rice and dry the grains well, spreading them out on a sheet pan and patting dry with a paper towel. Drier grains adhere to the mix mixture better.

Combine the ground meat, scallions, water chestnuts, ginger, soy sauce, rice wine, cornstarch, egg, salt, and pepper in a mixing bowl until well blended. Divide the mixture into 24 meatballs, lightly wetting the palms of your hands with water to help shape them. Refrigerate for 20 minutes to firm up.

Roll the meatballs in the soaked rice, ensuring each meatball is covered in rice grains (I put the rice in a bowl or tupperware with tall sides and gently shook the bowl around to coat each meatball with rice).

Prepare bamboo steamer trays by lining with lightly oiled parchment paper. Ideally, three 9-inch steamer trays will comfortably hold all 24 balls (8 per tray). If you don't have enough trays, you can steam them in batches.

Place the dumplings on the steamer tray, spacing them about 1 inch apart so they are not touching. Stack the trays carefully and cover with a lid. Place the steamer over boiling water, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Steam the dumplings for 15 to 20 minutes until the rice grains are cooked through.

Serve with soy dipping sauce such as the one included in this recipe, if desired. Refrigerate leftover dumplings, return them to room temperature, and steam them for about 5 minutes to reheat.

*Note* I find that whenever I purchase canned water chestnuts for a recipe, I only use a small amount and the rest goes to waste (I can never use it all in time). In the future I'd try substituting finely diced carrots to take the place of the water chestnuts and offers a similar crunch with a bit more color.

*Disclaimer* This is a sponsored post. The company who sponsored it compensated me to write it. As always, my thoughts and opinions are always my own.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Walt Disney World: Port Orleans Riverside


My Disney obsession love is no secret on Mission: Food. I've shared many posts over the years discussing delicious eats from trips to Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Disney Cruises, as well as sharing fun Disney recipes. You can find links to all of those posts here. Disney truly is the happiest place on Earth. There's really no contest.

I recently spent a few days at Walt Disney World, and will be sharing several posts over the coming weeks. I think it's fitting to start by discussing my resort. Then in my followup posts, I will discuss the food options at my resort, and then hop from park to park (and even to a couple other resorts) to share my dining experiences from the remainder of the trip. So let's get started!

Port Orleans Riverside Lobby

This was my second time staying at Port Orleans Riverside. This is perhaps the most popular Moderate Resort on the property. It's divided into two main sections with a main building housing the lobby, restaurants, store, bar, etc. The actual resort rooms are found in smaller buildings spread around the resort area. There are two main sections for the resort: Magnolia Bend and Alligator Bayou.

View of Magnolia Bend from Ol' Man Island (main pool area)

Magnolia Bend, where we stayed on a previous visit 2 1/2 years ago, is designed to look like Southern mansions. These regal looking buildings sit along the Sassagoula River, which connects this resort with its sister resort (Port Orleans French Quarter) next door and Downtown Disney (soon to be called Disney Springs). We previously stayed in one of the updated Royal guest rooms, inspired by princesses. The bedding has been updated since that visit (the photographs in my post from that visit are now a bit outdated, at least in reference to the beds), and now all Disney resort rooms feature bed runners instead of full bed spreads. I think this looks much sleeker than the original bedding.

Alligator Bayou - Building 27, where we stayed (preferred rooms = closer to the main building but extra $)

On this most recent visit, we stayed in the Alligator Bayou section of the resort. It feels less polished than the Magnolia Bend area, but to be honest, I think I liked the theming at Alligator Bayou a little bit better. The rooms are more rustic in decor with furniture that is made to look like it's made with logs. The lighting fixtures look like lanterns.

The curtain separating the bathroom area from the rest of the room is patterned with designs for old fashioned bags of flour and sugar. The shower curtain is covered with fish (I'm thinking it's bass?) and the shower walls are made with faux wood, while the carpeting in the room also looks like wood.

Washboard accent on the bathroom sink


But best of all is the alligator accents! I love the accent pillows showcasing an alligator holding a horn. And even better yet, most of these rooms actually sleep five, not four. There is a hidden murphy bed which you can fold down to access a short twin sized bed (length is best for children and adults under 5'2"). There is an ADORABLE illustration of a sleeping alligator on the wall when you fold down the bed. It's absolutely priceless and one of my favorite features in the room! It's not only precious, but useful if you are traveling with a party of five, or even less and just want to spread out a bit and not share beds.

There are four different bus stops around the resort--something to keep in mind if you stay here, you may not only be a longer walk from the main building, but also when you take Disney transportation, you may have to wait for additional bus stops before you can get on or off the bus (and at the end of a long day at the parks, you just want to get to your room). Also, you can actually pay more for preferred rooms, which are found in the buildings closest to the main building (on the other hand, the bus stop closest to the main building is the last one to drop off, so it's a catch 22--less walking but more waiting). We did that on this recent visit and thought it was totally worth it for the convenience.

Also, please beware that the two-story lodge-style buildings in Alligator Bayou do not have elevators. We learned this the hard way and had to drag a giant rented double stroller (collapsible, but still bulky) up and down the stairs each day. If you stay in Alligator Bayou and are concerned about the stairs, request a ground floor room. The three-story buildings in Magnolia bend do have elevators though, so that's a plus.

I also really enjoyed the main pool area at Port Orleans Riverside. It's called Ol' Man Island and features a large pool with varying depths (but none that exceed 5 feet--perfect for us shorties), a separate wading pool for children, a hot tub, and a slide! There are also five smaller "quiet pools" spread throughout the resort (mainly because of its vast size), but we didn't visit any of these on our trip since we were such a short walk to Ol' Man Island (another plus for paying extra for a preferred room).

I'm a big fan of Port Orleans Riverside. If given a choice, I'll still pick the Animal Kingdom Villas over Riverside, but that's a Deluxe Resort versus a Moderate one. You can't really compete directly. But with that said, I love the convenient location of this resort (very close to Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Downtown Disney/Disney Springs), and the theming is really fun. Also, it's much cheaper!

Lots of great information about Port Orleans (Riverside and French Quarter) can be found on this unofficial site. It's a wonderful reference, and tends to have more information in one place than the official Disney site.

My next Walt Disney World post will discuss restaurants (both table service and quick service) at Port Orleans Riverside and French Quarter. Stay tuned!

Port Orleans Resort Riverside 
1251 Riverside Dr
Orlando, FL 32830
(407) 934-6000


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