Disney Series #1 – Paradiso 37, Sassagoula Floatworks & Food Factory, and Riverside Mill Foodcourt

Originally posted on Blogger on May 14, 2011
I am a self-professed Disney freak and have been so for pretty much my entire life. I spent my childhood visiting WDW every spring break, and then when my family moved to Celebration in my teens, I didn’t even wait a week after my sixteenth birthday before walking into the Disney Casting Center and getting my first job. I left the company (much to my dismay – that job was the best I’ve ever had but just couldn’t pay my bills) a few years ago but have continued to visit the parks time and time again, whether it be for day trips or for weekend getaways.
Even after working for “the mouse” for eight years and visiting as often as I have, I have barely scratched the surface of the amazing and varied dining experiences that Walt Disney World has to offer. Due to that, I bring to you the first of my Disney Series of restaurant blog posts. Ideally, I’d like to eventually visit, photograph, and write-up each of the full-service (and some of the counter-service) restaurants on property.
We stayed at the Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter this past weekend for a short break from reality. We had originally planned to spend one of the days in the parks but opted to just hang out at the resort for the most part instead. I had stayed there for a week when I was nine (back when it was just Port Orleans Resort), and my memory of the resort was fairly accurate, although it was clear the rooms had been renovated in the past 18 years at some point. The rooms were gorgeous, and the property equally so; the huge trees and cobbled walkways make it a great place to walk around, Sassagoula River runs the length of the property, and a boat dock is right by the pool area with a ferry to and from Downtown Disney running every ten to twenty minutes throughout the day. Speaking of the pool area, there were plenty of comfortable lounge chairs scattered about the twisty pool, and the dragon’s body that weaves its way around said pool is adorable. Port Orleans French Quarter was the very first Disney resort to get its own water slide, so I should have taken that to mind when I was recalling the slide for C. I described it somewhat as “this AWESOME AMAZING DRAGON HEAD where you slide down his INSANELY LONG TONGUE.” Needless to say, my adult brain was remembering it as it had seemed to my nine-year-old self. The slide was still pretty cool, and it IS a dragon’s tongue, but it is very short and very tame. Still fun, though.
Anyway, while at the resort for the weekend we mainly noshed at the local food courts, with a trip to Downtown Disney for a mid-afternoon sit-down lunch/dinner (linner? Dunch?) at Paradiso 37, a restaurant I’d wanted to try since it first opened (after they tore down my beloved Pleasure Island sobsob). For dinner the first night we ate at Sassagoula Floatworks & Food Factory, the French Quarter’s food court and pizza shop. It was standard Disney quick-service fare: expensive with above average flavors. C had an angus bacon cheeseburger with French fries and I had cheese steak sandwich with pasta salad. Both of the sandwiches were made to order, and the cheese steak was very tasty, even if the ratio of meat to bread was a little low. The French fries were well-seasoned but my pasta salad was pretty terrible, frankly. It was elbow macaroni, chopped celery, and chick peas with seemingly no dressing at all. No seasoning, even. It was extremely bland, and I didn’t eat more than two bites.  That night after dinner we went to the Scat Cat’s Lounge, which boasted live jazz and delicious libations. How could we turn that down? Our new friend Elliott did entertain for a few hours, although his music was not limited to just jazz. The man is talented, playing the saxophone, the clarinet, and the steel drums as well as singing during his set, and almost all of the songs were great, even if they weren’t all the jazz we’d been hoping for. Once he broke out Kool & the Gang, though, I was sort of ready to go. My Pina Colava (pina colada mixed with raspberry puree. So. Good. Especially when made with vodka instead of rum) couldn’t even get me through that one.
The next morning we slept in and then got a box of six beignets from the Sassagoula and headed to the pool for some tanning. Okay, okay, who am I kidding? I was burnt to a crisp within two hours. Oops. We then hopped a boat over to Downtown Disney for lunch at Paradiso 37. I had read mixed reviews of Paradiso 37 on Yelp but had heard only good things about it from friends and the menu looked great, so I was really excited to try it out. I don’t know if my expectations were just too high or what, but I was somewhat disappointed with the experience.
The restaurant was fairly empty, as could be expected for mid-afternoon, yet when we asked for a booth they seemed a bit put out and asked if we were willing to sit “upstairs.” The restaurant has two levels, with an upper one that overlooks the main floor, and that was no problem for us. Frankly, it was nice at the beginning, because we were the only ones up there! However, as the meal progressed and the staff got ready for the dinner rush, we realized the downside of sitting in the unoccupied section was that we were right in the middle of the staff meetings (held at a table a few away from ours) and in the middle of the dinner prep (sweeping, dusting, etc). This was not so much a problem as just something we hadn’t really anticipated when we accepted the upstairs table.
Neither of us was particularly hungry, so we decided to order a few items to share. We ordered the Caribbean Crab and Fish Fritters and the Guacamole as starters and decided to share the From the Land Platter as our entrée. C also ordered a Coke to drink and I asked for unsweetened iced tea. I was told they were out of that, but they had their tropical unsweetened iced tea available. I was surprised they were out of plain iced tea right before dinner, but gladly accepted the tropical tea; it was delicious.
Considering the few occupants in the restaurant, the amount of time it took for our food to come out was a bit lengthy. That made a bit more sense, though, when to our surprise all three dishes came out at once. It wasn’t a big deal, really, as we were sharing everything anyway, but it was a bit odd that our starters didn’t come out before the entrée. We ended up with a smorgasbord of flavors across our table (thank goodness we’d gotten that four-person booth after all!) and the dishes all looked great so I couldn’t wait to dig in.
Unfortunately, everything was just…okay. C deemed the guacamole “the best part of the whole lot,” whereas I preferred the fritters and the skirt steak that came as part of our shared platter. The guacamole was definitely well-made; it had large chunks of avocado throughout and came with freshly fried tortilla chips in a cute paper pouch.
The crab and fish fritters, while a bit bland for my taste and with a bit too much filler, did have some nice visible chunks of fish and shrimp throughout them and the coconut lime dipping sauce was a nice complement. The portion size for the price was also quite large.
I was really excited about the “From the Land” platter that we’d ordered as our entrée. It was described as including “Grilled Argentinean skirt steak, spicy chorizo skewers, chicken flautas, black beans, and cilantro rice.” I was okay with the beans and rice idea, but the grilled corn cakes that came with the Surf & Turf platter excited me much more, so I asked if we could substitute those for the beans and rice. I was given a bit of a look by our server, almost as if that was a bit much to be asking, and was told we could have French fries if we wanted. C loves fries, so we went with that.
The spicy chorizo skewers were very good. They had a hint of spice but not too much heat behind them, and the tiny pita pockets that they came with held the tiny pearl onions and chorizo chunks perfectly. The only complaint I have is that the entire portion was a bit too greasy for my liking; there was a bit of a puddle on that section of our plate when we’d finished the skewers. They were good enough, though, that were I to return to Paradiso 37 I would definitely try the Chorizo & Beef Skewers appetizer.
We got two chicken flautas as part of our platter and neither of us finished ours. They were bland and greasy. They did come with shredded lettuce, some sort of crema, and queso blanco on top, but there was no real way to combine those accompaniments with the flautas themselves without making a huge mess.
The French fries were pretty basic; they were decent but nothing special, but they weren’t even supposed to be part of the platter to begin with so I’m not that concerned there. The skirt steak was slightly overcooked (we asked for medium rare and it was definitely at least medium) but well-seasoned. The combination of caramelized onions and chimichurri on top of the meat was incredibly flavorful and an excellent complement to the meat, but the mixture of raisins and mushrooms (at least I think they were mushrooms, they were hard to discern) resting underneath the steak was a little too sweet for my liking.
Overall, I was a bit disappointed as mentioned previously with our experience at Paradiso 37, but by no means was the food terrible. Had the service been a bit more attentive our experience may have been slightly improved. Would I go again? Probably. There are a few more items on the menu (like the aforementioned chorizo and beef skewers as well as the mac and cheese bites and the baja fish tacos) that sounded great to me, so I would most likely go back and try one more time, hoping that the kitchen was just having a bit of an off day. Plus, I suppose I wonder if I went in with expectations that were just too high.
Our food experiences for the rest of the weekend were pretty minimal, with a brief stop at the Candy Cauldron for assorted Jelly Belly jelly beans (for an exorbitant Disney price, of course!) and a late-ish dinner at Port Orleans Resort – Riverside’s Riverside Mill Food Court.
At the Riverside Mill, C only got a fruit salad, but I couldn’t resist trying the “Make Your Own Pasta” station. I chose a combination of penne rigate, alfredo and pesto sauces, baby spinach, mushrooms, garlic, and shrimp. It was cooked to order and came out tasting a lot better than my shoddy photo looks.
Overall, it was a great weekend getaway. There is just nothing like Disney service anywhere else in the world.

Paradiso 37, Taste of the Americas on Urbanspoon

Riverside Mill - Port Orleans Riverside Food Court on Urbanspoon

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One response

  1. Pingback: Disney Dining … Best of Quick Service « Central Florida Top 5

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