Living in Florida, I'd always assumed that the restaurants at Disney World were terrible. Yes, we visited a lot and loved the parks, but we never ate on site except for counter service food. It's true that my dreams were filled with rice pudding from the Norway pavillion, but that was the exception, I believed. All Disney World food was some variation of Pecos Bill's: Hamburgers, fries, and chicken nuggets, all slightly worse than you might find at McDonalds. But then I moved away from Florida and was involved in the serious business of law school, buying a house, and getting married. Although I missed it, I didn't go to Disney for years. What I discovered when I finally planned a much anticipated trip back, was that you could find a great deal of information about Disney World on the internet and that people actually loved the food! How did this happen? Had I been wrong all these years? And why did this pudding from a place called Raglan Road in Downtown Disney have such a following?
I'm a big dessert fan. One of my husband's first impressions of me was that I refused to share a dessert when we went out on one of our earliest dates? How could I? What if his fork crossed the imaginary Maginot Line I'd set up and he ate part of my key lime pie? How would this affect our budding relationship? No, it's better to order your own dessert; if you're lucky, your dining partner will give you a bit of their's as well. I've been known to make an elaborate dessert in the middle of the day and "forget" to make dinner, so it shouldn't surprise you that I sometimes choose a restaurant based on dessert alone. This also explains, at least in part, my love of Raglan Road.
Raglan Road is an Irish pub located in Downtown Disney. Because it's Disney and they are experts at getting the theme of a place just right, it's not the standard faux "Irish" pub you might find elsewhere in the states. The owners and the chef, who are from Ireland, gave a lot of attention to the authenticity of the pub, with four antique bars, one of which is nearly 150 years old, and furniture, light fixtures and wall coverings all created by craftsmen in Ireland. Adding to the ambieance of the place, most nights an Irish band plays and there is an Irish dancer who dances on the tables. This is much more wholesome than it sounds. Even if the food weren't good, the overall feel of the place is fun, the rooms gorgeous.
Appetizers are creative. How can you not love deep fried sausages? If you do, order the Dalkey Duo, which comes with an addictive mustard sauce. Or speared scallops on a fork? Yes, please. If you're looking for something a bit healthier, the seared beef salad is probably one of the best items on the appetizer menu, with lots of fresh greens and flavorful meat. The dressing tasted as close to homemade as you'll find in a large restaurant. It might even be homemade.
Entrees varied slightly from what you'd find at a similar restaurant. There are steaks and burgers, of course. My steak was very good, but for the price there are better steaks at Disney. Conventional wisdom regarding this place is that if you order your steak slightly less done than you normally like it, it will come out perfectly. I followed that advice and it appears to be true. Another time I had Kevin's Heavenly Ham. It was incredible; even the cabbage was delicious. I don't know that I would order anything else here. The fish and chips are good, although both times the "fries" could have been cooked a bit longer. The fish was close to perfect, however. Not too fishy tasting and the coating was very crispy.
But enough of this talk about meat. The entrees are, afterall, a formality, a mere ruse designed to get me what I really want: Dessert, specifically the much lauded Ger's Bread and Butter Pudding. Since I live in the south, my expectations of bread pudding are pretty high. Considering that I can get good bread pudding at just about any small, locally owned restaurant and more than a few chains, I wasn't going to settle for just so-so bread pudding. I wanted great bread pudding. Ger's Bread Pudding didn't disappoint. The pudding itself was good, just sweet enough, but the addition of a small pitcher full of butterscotch and another full of creme anglaise brought the dessert from good to spectacular. And really, who doesn't like interactive desserts? It's fun to make a little dent in your bread pudding and pour in the syrup. My only quibble is a small one and probably one that most people (who aren't obsessed with baking) might not notice: The creme anglaise tasted like it had been made with vanilla extract rather than vanilla bean, thus the flavor of the sauce was somewhat one-dimensional. But the butterscotch sauce? I went home and played around with the recipe and made it myself. A few times. I might even make some today.
I've generally found service at Disney restaurants to be excellent. Several visits to Raglan Road have shown the service to be adequate, but never outstanding. In fact, our first visit, which might have been the last had it not been for the bread pudding, was so bad that it actually stands out as the rudest service I've ever had anywhere. I understand that Raglan Road is a busy place and that the influx of sometimes demanding tourists can be overwhelming, but this night? There were empty tables all over the restaurant. Without going into a lot of details, I'll simply chalk up our first experience at Raglan Road to a bad night for the waiter and for us. It's one thing to have spotty, inattentive service. It's another to have service that is downright hostile. Ironically, it was so bad, I have to think that it was an anomaly, particularly given that subsequent visits have been perfectly acceptable.
I've enjoyed each visit to Raglan Road, even the one with the disgruntled waiter. The space is beautiful, the food is good and at times excellent, and of course, there's the pudding, which deserves its following. I think what the chef is trying to do here is admirable, which is to stretch his own and our vision of what "pub" food can be. The results is often surprising and innovative, but not so foreign that diners who prefer more familiar fare will not find something to enjoy. Reservations aren't too hard to get, particularly by Disney standards. Use Disney dining or make them online here.
If you can't get to Raglan Road, you can still have the bread pudding. You can use the chef's recipe or your own for the pudding, but you'll want to recreate the butterscotch sauce using his recipe. I've used it on everthing from bread pudding to ice cream. It will keep in the refridgerator for about a week, but if you're like most people, you'll finish it before then. This recipe comes directly from the chef at Raglan Road. Don't be afraid to play around with the it a bit; it's pretty foolproof. I sometimes like to throw in a dash of salt at the end, but it's not necessary.
½ stick unsalted butter
4 Tbsp. light muscovado sugar*
2 ½ Tbsp. honey
2 ½ Tbsp. double (heavy) cream
Place butter sugar, and honey in a small pan. Bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Reduce heat. Add cream and simmer 2 to 3 minutes until thickened.
Pour on everything and enjoy. Try not to dance on your table, though.
*Those nice boxes of Domino light brown sugar that you find in your loal store work just fine; no need to search out "muscovado" in a specialty store. Additionally, if you prefer not to use honey, you can substitute corn syrup.