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If you ask an average Disneyland guest which area of the park may be their favorite, there is a strong possibility that New Orleans Square may be the choice. Reasons why could include that this "land" is home to the Park's most popular attractions – Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. Perhaps a favorite shop such as Cristal d' Orleans was where a treasured souvenir was located. Maybe the touch of jazz brought to life by the likes of the Royal Street Bachelors or the Side Street Strutters tempts you to relax and sit a spell? Or it could be that some of the best dining experiences in the Park are found along its streets – The Blue Bayou, The French Market and Café Orleans.Even the mysterious Club 33 is found here.
Call it the flavor of the Big Easy if you will. All of the above ingredients make for a tasty experience. And with the talents of a master chef in Walt Disney to oversee the creation of this concoction, is it any wonder that it tends to be one of the busiest areas of Disneyland all year round?
Dining in New Orleans Square has offered a trio of options for meals over the years. While the Blue Bayou handled the more formal sit-down meal service, the French Market and Café Orleans tended to the more casual approach with what was termed buffeteria meal service. Here guests would make choices along the service tables with their selections placed on trays for presentation to a cashier and then head off in search of a table of their own choosing. Not an unpleasant way to dine, but perhaps slow at times. Certainly it is not uncommon to find fairly long lines of guests queuing for meals during peak periods.
But as things change, it became apparent that Café Orleans faced more than its fair share of challenges. Over the years there may have been duplications in some of the menu items offered at both Café Orleans and the French Market. And Café Orleans did have a smaller seating capacity to contend with. Smaller capacity means fewer meals are served as fewer people can dine during a period of time. Add to that a shared kitchen and perhaps things didn't work out quite as well as they could have. So for the last few years, Café Orleans tended to be just open table space for guest seating rather than a dining location. It was rare for it to be open for meals except for the highest periods of guest attendance, and even then with an extremely limited menu. Kevin Yee (columnist for MiceAge) was one of the Cast Members who worked here during some of those days and his stories (from MousePlanet) paint an interesting picture of those times.
Disneyland Panavue Slide from the collection of Roger Colton
So, faced with an opportunity, Disneyland rose to the occasion and performed a makeover of this dining location. It seems that guests had indicated that they were looking for more formal dining options inside the Park. Taking a cue from that, Café Orleans was set to fill a role that had somewhat been handled by the Blue Bayou. And considering how often guests would find reservations completely booked early each day, adding another option for them was a great idea.
The revised facility was set to reopen in the summer of 2006. Keeping most of the décor intact, the facility was changed to reflect its new role. The buffeteria line has given way to tables and chairs to expand the seating capacity, and ultimately serve more guests each day.
The new menu is a real team effort with a definite New Orleans flavor. It was developed by Chef Christopher Maggeti, Chef Jean-Marc Viallet and Operations Manager Robert Clunie. With the exception of the New Orleans Gumbo, all of the menu items are found only at Café Orleans – right down to the desserts. But more about that later on…
With a bit of preview and adjustment, the date for reopening was set for Sunday, June 25th – the day after the Pirates premiere event. With Disneyland Ambassadors Rebecca Phelps and Andrae Rivas on hand to welcome everyone, the ceremony to reopen Café Orleans began promptly at 11:30 a.m. with a bounty of guests and Cast Members in attendance.
Disneyland Ambassadors Rebecca Phelps (left) and Andrae Rivas (right) begin the festivities at Café OrleansPhoto by Roger Colton
The Cast Members of Café Orleans dressed for the day and got the crowd into a Mardi Gras spirit with plenty of beads for everyone to enjoyPhoto by Roger Colton
Even the scissors for the ribbon cutting came properly attired for the festivitiesPhoto by Roger Colton
Gary Maggetti, the West Coast Director of Food and Beverage for Disney, welcomed everyone to the reopening of Café OrleansPhoto by Roger Colton
He then led the crowd assembled in a brief French language lesson, inviting us all to say, "Laissez bontemps rouler!" which translates to"Let The Good Times Roll!" *Photo by Roger Colton
With that the ceremonial ribbon was cut and Café Orleans was opened for lunchPhoto by Roger Colton
The official first party of guests to dine at the reopened Café Orleans, the Stapleton Family of Carlsbad, CaliforniaPhoto by Roger Colton
As we had other plans that day, we made a Priority Seating (714-781-DINE) request for lunch the following afternoon at 1:10 p.m. for a party of two. Arriving a few minutes ahead of schedule, we were quickly escorted by our hostess to a table in the shade next to the walkway between Café Orleans and the Fantasmic viewing terraces. Our waitress quickly came and took our requests for a beverage while we looked over the menu.
Today's menuPhoto by Roger Colton
So where to start? Pomme Frites! Hands and menus down, this is the way to start a meal here. We shared an order between the two of us, but I saw many tables where there were two or more orders being served and immediately enjoyed by diners of all ages. "Traditional French-fried potatoes tossed with Parmesan cheese, garlic and parsley, served with a Cajun spiced aioli." These are addictive and I see them becoming a guest favorite very quickly once the word gets out.
Our choices for an entrée were the Mardi Gras Crab-Salad Sandwich and "The Big Easy" Shrimp Salad. Beverages come with all of the usual suspects to choose from including the Disneyland Mint Julep -- with plenty of refills while enjoying your meal.
The Mardi Gras Crab-Salad SandwichPhoto by Roger Colton
"The Big Easy" Shrimp SaladPhoto by Roger Colton
Both were excellent! The light citrus vinaigrette was a perfect match for the Cajun spices on the grilled shrimp. And the zesty citrus aioli was just the right touch for the crab salad. However, we still managed to save room for dessert. Our choice? Why, of course! An order of the "Mickey"-shaped Beignets.
All that for one person? Not this timePhoto by Roger Colton
The Crème Anglaise and the Raspberry Coulis were great accompaniments to the beignets. Fresh and hot with plenty of powdered sugar… If you have enjoyed some of these at Ralph Brennan's Jazz Kitchen on a previous visit to Downtown Disney, then you have to try these at Café Orleans.
Admittedly, we were testing the waters on only the second day of operation. Giving credit where due, the Cast Members serving us were outstanding. Glasses never went empty for more than a few seconds and the team who came to our table was attentive and efficient, even letting us know who was taking over as our server after a break had been completed.
If there was anything to note, it was that there were a number of tables set, where guests had yet to be seated after making their Priority Seating requests. And I didn't see a large number of guests waiting for tables, so I have to assume that someone must have forgotten about their times. All the more the pity as they truly missed a wonderful dining experience in New Orleans Square. Here's hoping that you can enjoy the same in the near future!
* Laissez bontemps rouler! (lay-zay bone-tonh rule-ay) - Let the good times roll!