Thursday, October 7, 2010

Guest Post: Veggie in the Heart of Surf & Turf Land

I was 21 the first time I went to America. This was also the first time I went to Walt Disney World as a graduation present from my now in-laws. By this time I had been a strict vegetarian for 5 years. In England this did not cause much of an issue. Most restaurants would cater for non-meat and fish eaters, even if it was just a basic pasta and tomato sauce on offer. I knew to stay away from chains such as KFC but even McDonalds and Burger King had a veggie burger – when it hadn’t sold out.

I have to say back in 2001 the USA was a slightly different matter. My now husband and his family had been to WDW twice before but as big meat and seafood lovers they had never had the need to look for meatless dishes.

Our first day of the vacation was Magic Kingdom. This was a very nice surprise as my first Disney meal just happened to be at Cosmic Ray's Starlight Cafe and the ‘garden burger’ with the toppings bar was a delight! Rays is actually one of only two places we’ve ever eaten at MK (and we visit several time each trip) as we go there every single time.  They now serve a range of sandwiches and wraps too which are equally yummy. To this day this is one of my favourite counter service places in the whole of The World. The other place I've eaten at MK was The Pinocchio Village Haus and I did not enjoy the salad there at all, mainly due to the icky dressing.

The first trip to Animal Kingdom resulted in just some fries, but in its defense, it was a very quick visit. The next few trips have always resulted in pizza at Pizzafari; it’s quick, easy and they taste great. Oh and we saw Chip and Dale one year up real close on their way to a meet and greet! Restaurantosaurus do a nice veggie burger and Rainforest Cafe do a tasty sounding Portobello mushroom burger.

EPCOT has, as would be expected, a huge range of veggie plates. I’ve eaten at The Electric Umbrella Restaurant (veggie wrap) and The Liberty Inn (used to do a lovely salad but now do a nice veggie burger) as to be honest we only do counter service at the parks. We’ve also had the most wonderful deli sandwiches from the Boardwalk Bakery and of course, numerous cakes and snacks from the World Showcase. There are mainly table service restaurants here too which serve some yummy looking meals – I especially want to try Paninodell ‘Ortolano (forcaccia with zucchini, eggplant and roasted peppers) at Tutto Italia Ristorante and falafel wraps at Tangerine Cafe.

Disney's Hollywood Studios, then MGM, has a fair few good treats for the vegetarian palette too. The first year we were so excited we didn’t want to stop to eat so we grabbed some fries from ABC Cafe. The next years I have had scrummy grilled veggie sandwiches at The Backlot Express and Studios Catering Co., and we’ve also enjoyed pizza and salad at Toy Story Pizza Planet and ... the one place I’ve always wanted to go at DHS is The Writers Stop for coffee and cakes – an obvious place for a caffeine lovin’ sweet toothed veggie but alas we’ve yet to go there!

Downtown Disney has lots of great dishes. My personal favourites so far have been spaghetti at Planet Hollywood, Ravioli at Portobello and yummy grilled sandwiches in the now gone Virgin Megastore cafe. I really want to try the Butternut Squash soup and Pumpkin Ravioli at Wolfgang Puck Cafe and the Triassic Tortellini at T-REX.

My now favourite Orlando restaurant, The Olive Garden, had an interesting reception to my enquiries about veggie dishes back in 2001. It is still a standing joke 9 years on in the family when the young waiter announced,

"Gee ma’am, some of our veggie dishes have hardly any meat in them at all!!!"

I was then given a ‘meatless’ pasta dish ... full of shrimp ...

But they’ve much improved over the years, lots of pastas and pizzas and the chef is only too happy to help.

There were a few food stations in the parks, and off-site restaurants back in 2001, and even still in subsequent visits that do not offer a veggie option. But I have long since come to realise that I am in the heart of burger and surf ‘n’ turf land so sometimes having to have a salad is ok! The US is most definitely not the least veggie friendly place I’ve been to – in France for the last few years I’ve often had to have just a green salad or a lot of eggs.

WDW, Orlando and the USA as a whole for vegetarians gets better with each trip – it will be exciting to see what new treats there are to offer when we return in a couple of years.

Thanks for stopping by!

Contributed by Janine Pipe from Swindon, England. She is a proud wife and mommy to Felicity. You can follow her on Twitter, @Disneynine. She is also one of our Minnie Moms.

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