What do snow cones, cotton candy, hot dogs and fountain soda have in common? They’re all mainstays at theme parks. Back in the day, they came together to form a meal for desperate theme park goers. But times have changed, and it’s now possible to dine at a theme park without sending your stomach into a tizzy before the roller coaster.
Apparently, telling anyone that culinary gems can be found at theme parks causes the mind to temporarily malfunction—resulting in furrowed eyebrows and strings of conversation continuing in a questioning tone. But yes, you can truly find quality food at amusement parks.
Orlando’s Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Universal CityWalk have stepped up their culinary game; we’ve come a long way since the debut of oversized turkey legs and cinnamon-sugar churros.
A VIP experiences guide for Universal Studios and Islands of Adventures informed us that cuisine standards have increased dramatically. People have come to expect the food will match the level of entertainment provided at theme parks. And this comes as no surprise; the general populace is fascinated with food media and culture, resulting in a greater desire to dine out.
No longer will you have to venture outside the park to find delectable eats. It’s a feast for the senses and an immersive storytelling experience through food at Universal Studios and its park family.
These are the top culinary finds to try at Universal parks:
1. Duck Confit Flatbread at Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen, Universal CityWalk
In the 1990s we were introduced to “themed” restaurants outside of amusement park territory. Brands that spring to mind include Planet Hollywood and The Rainforest Cafe. While people could tolerate the kitschiness and saturation of corporate branding, once the novelty of animatronics and celebrity endorsements wore off, the food had to speak for itself. But it failed, miserably. Ratings have never been positive. The nail in the coffin was getting labeled as a “tourist trap,” and that’s precisely what these were. Burger patties were dry, pasta was gloopy, and most foods tasted like they came out of pre-frozen bags that had been reheated in the microwave.
Enter Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen, a new generation of themed restaurants. Opened in September 2016 at Universal’s CityWalk, it looks like another heavily branded and themed restaurant from the outside. But things are not always as they seem. Certainly, there’s an elaborate story to go with the building’s towering smokestacks: set against a 19th century steampunk backdrop, the restaurant’s tale centers around a female Indiana Jones, a lady named Professor Doctor Penelope Tibeaux-Tinker Toothsome. The explorer returns home to London and opens this restaurant so everyone has an opportunity to taste what she’s learned about food abroad. Penelope and her robot friend, Jacques, make rounds with the diners and ensure they’re enjoying their meals. And fortunately, the interactions are not overbearing—on the contrary, they’re actually quirky and endearing. While their story aims to provide an overall immersive experience, it is only one part of an important equation—the other being the food. It’s refreshing to take a bite of their Duck Confit Flatbread and grin from ear to ear. Behold! It is possible to have good food in “commercial-esque” places. Portions are generous and the chunks of duck meat are tender and delicately sweet. The flavors are reminiscent of a holiday meal: crisp flatbread provides the base; mushroom puree is laid over that; it gets a sprinkling of roasted Brussels sprouts, blistered red cherries, fontina cheese and scallions. Wash it all down with milkshakes that are larger than your head. The Brownie or Bacon Brittle shakes have a thick, dense and creamy texture. However, despite their sugary components, a sip will not send you into a diabetic coma; rather, they have a restrained sweetness that makes it easy to slurp up.
2. Lard Lad Donut at Springfield, Universal Studios Florida
have come to life. Everything in Springfield, located inside Universal Studios, is larger than life, including the food. In what began as a Simpsons-themed simulation ride, Springfield has expanded to include some hallmark elements; most notable has been the iconic fare to indulge in.
A slew of fast-casual eateries are in Springfield to dole out artery-clogging delights. From Luigi’s Pizza to Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck, all your favorite characters are here and ready to fill your tummies. Krusty Burger for instance, features the Clogger: two six-ounce pure beef patties slathered with secret sauce, runny cheddar cheese sauce and applewood smoked bacon. Cletus’ Chicken Shack offers Chicken & Waffles with a cutlet that gets drenched in seasoned cornflake-breadcrumb mix. After a visit to the deep fryer, it gets a smear of maple-mayonnaise and sandwiched in Eggo-style waffles. The chicken is welcomingly moist and crunchy. If you’re thirsty and need to wash all this rich food down, how about a citrus-y Flaming Moe? Theatrics aside (it fizzes and smokes, thanks to dry ice), it tastes like an extra carbonated Orange Crush drink. If you’re hankering for something alcoholic, stay at Moe’s Tavern and order a beer flight. All brews are specially made for Springfield and can only be found here. Try one or all three: Duff Dry is a stout, Duff Light is a Pilsner and Duff (original) is a lager.
But the talk of the town would have to be Homer’s favorite food—doughnuts. Prepared fresh daily, the gigantic Lard Lad Donut (pictured at top) is taken straight from the kooky world of The Simpsons. It’s a yeast-leavened dough finished with pink glaze and confetti sprinkles. More miraculous isn’t the enormous size (remember when Homer’s head becomes a doughnut in one of the Halloween specials? Yes, it’s about that size), but the taste. Its delicate chew, fluffiness and tender crumb make it a surprise winner of the day. The chef wagers that it can stand up to any overpriced artisan doughnut out there; and with one taste of it yourself, you’ll be apt to agree.