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The Pruning of Cypress Gardens

JHM guest columnist Kelly Monaghan recently visited Cypress Gardens Adventure Park. Sadly, Florida’s first theme seems to have lost much of its original charm at the hands of its new owners.



Cypress Gardens celebrated its “Grand Reopening” on December 19. I was there a few days earlier and the park was nowhere near ready. Nonetheless, what we lovingly call “the mainstream media,” greeted the event with fawning coverage. What were they smoking?

The sad fact of the matter is that Cypress Gardens Adventure Park (as it has been misleadingly relabeled) is a major disappointment. Those who knew and loved the old park will be shocked and saddened by how much it has been diminished. Those new to the park will wonder what all the fuss was about. And the new, younger demographic that the park hopes to draw has plenty of bigger, better, funner alternatives just a short drive away.

First, some background for those who start getting the shakes whenever they step off Disney property. Cypress Gardens, in Winter Haven, about an hour’s drive southwest of Orlando, is widely credited as the first Florida theme park. Yes, attractions like Silver Springs predate it, but that was a mere matter of capitalizing on an existing natural wonder, something that had been going on for centuries.

What *** Pope did at Cypress Gardens was fundamentally different. In 1936, he took a bug-infested cypress swamp on the shores of Lake Eloise and transformed it into a man-made floral paradise. It didn’t strike a lot of people as a great idea. Pope was nicknamed the Swami of the Swamp, but like many a visionary since, he saw something nobody else got. Within five years, Cypress Gardens was drawing half a million visitors a year.

Pope did it with publicity – free publicity. He staged photo shoots of pretty girls in his picture perfect park and mailed copies by the thousands, in gardenia-scented envelopes, to newspapers and magazines throughout the country. The media took the bait. One photograph of a skyborne water skier appeared in 3,670 publications. Of course, Cypress Gardens was mentioned in the caption. Pope lured filmmakers and television stars to Cypress Gardens. Esther Williams, Mike Douglas, and scores of others used Cypress Gardens as a backdrop. He staged outrageous stunts like playing the piano for a ballerina while both of them were being towed behind a speedboat, she on water skis, he on a piano-sized platform. Taking a cue from the Miss America pageant, he started crowning a new queen of something or other on an almost daily basis. All of it became grist for Pope’s voracious publicity mill. Pope and his wife were also inspired improvisers, creating new marketing strategies on the spur of the moment. Some of Cypress Gardens’ most revered traditions, like the water ski shows and the Southern Belles, came about almost by accident.

The story seemed to come to an end in 2003, when Cypress Gardens closed, seemingly forever, a victim to changing tastes, declining attendance, and mounting financial losses. The tourism drought caused by the attacks of 9/11 was the final straw. It looked like the park’s prized lakeside real estate would be turned into luxury home sites. But the park had its fierce partisans and the idea of Cypress Gardens refused to die.

Enter Kent Buescher, the owner of a moderately successful regional amusement park in Valdosta, Georgia. Buescher put together a deal to “save” the park and an ambitious refurbishment and expansion schedule was announced. Eventually, and after being slammed by two hurricanes, the project cost a reported $45 million.Alas, Buescher’s business model for the new park seems to be to overprice and underdeliver. Whether he will be successful remains to be seen. However, I am not terribly sanguine about Cypress Gardens’ prospects for long-term survival.

Much of what made Cypress Gardens so beloved to its fans (and, therefore, less than competitive in today’s superheated theme park market) remains, but in a much truncated form. If it couldn’t draw enough visitors when it was great, what makes Buescher think it will draw visitors now that it is merely so-so? Moreover, the new elements that Buescher has added are, in a word, underwhelming. Yes, there are now rides, but nothing you’d drive out of your way to experience.

Of the preexisting elements in the park the original Botanical Gardens were the most iconic. They were an over-the-top extravaganza of riotous color and lush greenery. They are much the same today, it’s just that there seems to be less where there once was more. How much of this is due to hurricane damage and how much to conscious redesign is hard to say. However, I get the uneasy impression that a decision has been made to cut back in the interests of easier maintenance.

The Wedding Gazebo is still there and the vista from across the big lagoon is still lovely. Unfortunately, the lush backdrop of towering trees is now ragged, with gaping holes that open onto the area where a new water park is still being constructed. Perhaps in time the gaps will fill in. At least, this is one area of the gardens where they seem to have done quite a bit of work. Elsewhere there are signs of cutbacks. The French Garden and the Rose Garden are gone, although the statuary remains, and other areas seem to be slated for easy-to-maintain groundcover.

Of course, these deficiencies may be the result of the hurricanes and the park may have plans to restore the original gardens to their former glory. Let’s hope so. However, a garden this size requires a massive horticultural staff and Cypress Gardens used to have one. They put on spectacular floral festivals throughout the year, one every six weeks or so. For those who love gardening, these were a major draw that was supplemented by regular live presentations by gardening experts dispensing horticultural wisdom.

All that’s gone now. The Flora-Dome that used to house many of these festivals has been transformed into the park’s entrance area. The massive array of behind-the-scenes greenhouses (unseen by most visitors) is now the parking lot. All of which leads me to believe that the new Cypress Gardens has neither the will nor the wherewithal to hew to the same high standards of the old park.

Another icon of the old Cypress Gardens was the water ski show, which always got the highest five-star rating in my guidebooks. The highlight was a human pyramid, in which a bottom row of six men (on water skis, mind you) hoisted six “Aqua Maids” aloft, the one on top waving a little American flag. The owners of the new Cypress Gardens, it turns out, didn’t want to pay for the liability insurance such a stunt demanded. Nor did they want to employ six Aqua Maids. Or six men, for that matter.

The new water ski show, while not bad, is a shadow of its former self. There are now just two pretty girls in the company, which to my unreconstructed heterosexual view of things, is a decided step backwards. The previous cast of twelve has been cut back to about seven. It used to be that the Cypress Gardens water ski show was the best in the world. Today, it’s just another show.

Similar bean counting is in evidence over at the Royal Palm Theater (formerly The Palace). As before, there’s an ice show in this lovely 800-seat space, but like the water ski show it has been cut to the bone. There used to be some excellent Russian-trained skaters in this show; today there’s just one Russian name in the cast list. There are now just four chorus parts and three principal skaters, only two of whom do the really fancy stuff. Once again, it’s a matter of the same but less.

Okay, so maybe this old-fashioned stuff was never a big draw to begin with and people won’t particularly mind that what they’re getting today is just a pale reflection of the good old days. But what really did in Cypress Gardens, its critics said, was the perception that it was a park for the blue-haired set, with nothing to attract kids and teens. One of Buescher’s greatest innovations was his announcement that the new, rejuvenated Cypress Gardens would be a “rides” park. Well, sorta.

For me, the best thing that can be said about Adventure Grove, the new section that contains most of the rides, is that it is set off in such a way that it’s easy to totally ignore it. If you do venture in, you may ask yourself what all the hype was about. The thirty-some rides here seldom rise above the level you’d expect in a well-appointed state fair or a traveling carnival. Yes, there are three roller coasters, but they barely make it out of the kiddie category.

Again, I had to ask myself what were they thinking? The “old” Cypress Gardens had added a section of kiddie rides (now gone) and kiddies, it seems to me, are the ones most likely to visit with the grandparents who were and still seem to be the park’s prime demographic. Then, too, the “old” park had installed a small water park area (also now gone) that was finding a willing audience among families in the nearby “drive market.” So if these innovations couldn’t halt Cypress Gardens’ slide into the red, how will adding, at great expense, a few dozen piddly rides that older kids will laugh at as they speed by en route to the mega-coasters at Busch Gardens Tampa and Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure?

And speaking of great expense, one thing that particularly irked me on my visit was the price being asked for admission. Now a $34.95 adult admission may not seem outrageous, compared to the Orlando parks, where one-day tickets are pushing the $60 mark. And, indeed, when the park is fully operational, the price might be justified. But considering that large swaths of the park are not yet open, it struck me as something of a marketing blunder.

Nature’s Way, the series of low-key animal attractions that was one of the nicest things in the old park, is not open. Indeed, an unauthorized stroll through it reveals that work hasn’t even begun on refurbishing this section. Several shows that are announced in the park brochure are likewise not ready for prime time. The Wings of Wonder butterfly conservatory was still shuttered when I visited, as were most of the shops and the major restaurants. The Conservatory Gardens , located just past Wings of Wonder, were barren, with no indication of when, if ever, they would be returned to their prime. Apparently some sort of boast ride on Lake Eloise is planned, but it is not ready. Not even all the rides in the much-heralded Adventure Grove were open. Add it all up and it’s not hard to see why some people might feel the asking price was a tad high. A lower price, touted as a Special Preview Price, might have generated some goodwill and got some positive word of mouth going. (By the way, the one-day price for kids (3 to 9) and seniors (55+) is $29.95.)

Similarly irksome is the annual pass policy. Annual passes are a reasonable $69.95, but unlike every other park I know that offers an annual pass, parking is not included. You can either pay $7 each time you visit (something that makes no sense if you will be visiting often enough to get an annual pass) or you can pony up $25 for an annual parking pass, that requires an ugly pink sticker on your windshield. So if the effective cost of an annual pass is $94.95 ($69.95 + $25), why not just say so?

Of course, even at $94.95, the annual pass is a terrific bargain if you live within driving distance of Cypress Gardens and are a fan of the sort of musical entertainment they dish up. This is one element of the old park that the new management has not only retained but actually improved on. The new Star Haven Amphitheater, an open-air field with bleachers at the back seemed way too big to me, but I was assured by park regulars that they packed the place for Kenny Rogers. There are some 35 concerts scheduled for 2005 and they include acts like Glen Campbell, Loretta Lynn, the Guy Lombardo Orchestra, Chubby Checker, and the Smothers Brothers. If there’s a show scheduled when you visit, it’s included in the one-day admission; annual passholders get into all of them.

There’s more to the new Cypress Gardens than I have space for here. I have posted my complete, if somewhat jaundiced, guide to the park as it existed in mid-December, 2004, on my web site. It’s in PDF format and can be downloaded here.

Jim Hill is an entertainment writer who has specialized in covering The Walt Disney Company for nearly 40 years now. Over that time, he has interviewed hundreds of animators, actors, and Imagineers -- many of whom have shared behind-the-scenes stories with Mr. Hill about how the Mouse House really works. In addition to the 4000+ articles Jim has written for the Web, he also co-hosts a trio of popular podcasts: “Disney Dish with Len Testa,” “Fine Tooning with Drew Taylor” and “Marvel US Disney with Aaron Adams.” Mr. Hill makes his home in Southern New Hampshire with his lovely wife Nancy and two obnoxious cats, Ginger & Betty.

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Jens Dahlmann of LongHorn Steakhouse has lots of great tips when it comes to grilling



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Sure, for some folks, the Fourth of July is all about fireworks. But for the 75% of all Americans who own a grill or a smoker, the Fourth is our Nation’s No. 1 holiday when it comes to grilling. Which is why 3 out of 4 of those folks will spend some time outside today working over a fire.

But here’s the thing: Though 14 million Americans can cook a steak with confidence because they actually grill something every week, the rest of us – because we use our grill or smoker so infrequently … Well, let’s just say that we have no chops when it comes to dealing with chops (pork, veal or otherwise).

So what’s a backyard chef supposed to in a situation like this when there’s so much at steak … er … stake? Turn to someone who really knows their way around a grill for advice. People like Jens Dahlmann, the Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef for Darden Restaurant’s LongHorn Steakhouse brand.

Given that Jens’ father & grandfather were chefs, this is a guy who literally grew up in a kitchen. In his teens & twenties, Dahlmann worked in hotels & restaurants all over Switzerland & Germany. Once he was classically trained in the culinary arts, Jens then  jumped ship. Well, started working on cruise ships, I mean.

Anyway … While working on Cunard’s Sea Goddess, Dahlmann met Sirio Maccioni, the founder of Le Cirque 2000. Sirio was so impressed with Jens’ skills in the kitchen that he offered him the opportunity to become sous-chef at this New York landmark. After four years of working in Manhattan, Dahlmann then headed south to become executive chef at Palm Beach’s prestigious Café L’Europe.

Jens Dahlmann back during his Disney World days

And once Jens began wowing foodies in Florida, it wasn’t all that long ’til the Mouse came a-calling. Mickey wanted Dahlmann to shake things up in the kitchen over at WDW’s Flying Fish Café. And he did such a good job with that Disney’s Boardwalk eatery the next thing Jens knew, he was then being asked to work his magic with the menu at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill.

From there, Dahlmann had a relatively meteoric rise at the Mouse House. Once he became Epcot’s Food & Beverage general manager, it was only a matter of time before he wound up as the executive chef in charge of this theme park’s annual International Food & Wine Festival. Which – under Jens’ guidance – experienced some truly explosive growth.

“When I took on Food & Wine, that festival was only 35 days long and had gross revenues of just $5.5 million. When I left Disney in 2016, Food & Wine was now over 50 days long and that festival had gross revenues of $22 million,” Dahlmann admitted during a recent sit-down. “I honestly loved those 13 years I spent at Disney. When I was working there, I learned so much because I was really cooking for America.”

And it was exactly that sort of experience & expertise that Darden wanted to tap into when they lured Jens away from Mickey last year to become LongHorn Steakhouse’s new Vice President and Corporate Executive Chef. But today … Well, Dahlmann is offering tips to those of us who are thinking about cooking steak tips for the Fourth.

Photo by Jim Hill

“When you’re planning on grilling this holiday, if you’re looking for a successful result, the obvious place to start is with the quality of the meat you plan on cooking for your friends & family. If you want the best results here, don’t be cheap when you go shopping. Spend the money necessary for a fresh filet or a New York strip. Better yet a Ribeye, a nice thick one with good marbling. Because when you look at the marbling on a steak, that’s where all the flavor happens,” Jens explained. “That said, you always have to remember that — the higher you go with the quality of your meat — the less time you’re going to want that piece of meat to spend on the grill.”

And speaking of cooking … Before you even get started here, Jens suggests that you first take the time to check over all of your grilling equipment. Making sure that the grill itself is first scraped clean & then properly oiled before you then turn up the heat.

“If you’re working with a dirty grill, when you go to turn your meat, it may wind up sticking to the grill. Or maybe those spices that you’ve just so carefully coated your steak with will wind up sticking to the grill, rather than your meat,” Dahlmann continued. “Which is why it’s always worth it to spend a few minutes prior to firing up your grill properly cleaning & oiling it.”

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of heat … Again, before you officially get started grilling here, Jens says that it’s crucial to check your temperature gauges. Make sure that your char grill is set at 550 (so that it can then properly handle the thicker cuts of meat) and your flattop is set at 425 (so it can properly sear thinner pieces of meat).

Okay. Once you’ve bought the right cuts of quality meat, properly cleaned & oiled your grill, and then made sure that everything’s set at the right temperature (“If you can only stand to hold your hand directly over the grill for two or three seconds, that’s the right amount of heat,” Dahlmann said), it’s now time to season your steaks.

“Don’t be afraid to be bold here. You can’t be shy when it comes to seasoning your meat. You want to give it a nice coating. Largely because — if you’re using a char grill — a lot of that seasoning is just going to fall off anyway,” Jens stated. “It’s up to you to decide what sort of seasoning you want to use here. Even just some salt & pepper will enhance a steak’s flavor.”

Then – according to Dahlmann – comes the really tough part. Which is placing your meat on the grill and then fighting the urge to flip it too early or too often.

“The biggest mistake that a lot of amateur cooks make is that they flip the steak too many times. The real key to a well-cooked piece of meat is just let it be, “Jens insisted. “Of course, if you’re serving different cuts of meat at your Fourth of July feast, you always want to put your biggest thickest steak on the grill first. If you’re also cooking a New York Strip, you want to put that one on a few minutes later. But after that, just let the grill do its job and flip your meat a total of three or four times, once every three minutes or so.”

Of course, the last thing you want to do is overcook a quality piece of meat. Which is why Dahlmann suggests that – when it comes to grilling steaks – if you’re going to err, err on the side of undercooking.

“You can always put a piece of meat back on the grill if it’s slightly undercooked. When you over-cook something, all you can do then is start over with a brand-new piece of meat,” Jens said. “Just be sure that you’re using the correct cut of meat for the cooking result you’re aiming for. If someone wants a rare or medium rare steak, you should go with a thicker cut of steak. If one of your guests wants their steak cooked medium or well, it’s best to start with a thinner cut of meat.”

Photo by Jim Hill

As you can see, the folks at Longhorn take grilling steaks seriously. How seriously? Just last week at Darden Corporate Headquarters in Orlando, seven of these brand’s top grill masters (who – after weeks of regional competitions – had been culled from the 491 restaurants that make up this chain) competed for a $10,000 prize in the Company’s second annual Steak Master Series. And Dahlmann was one of the people who stood in Darden’s test kitchens, watching like a hawk as each of the contestants struggled to prepare six different dishes in just 20 minutes according to Longhorn Steakhouse’s exacting standards.

“I love that Darden does this. Recognizing the best of the best who work this restaurant,” Jens concluded. “We have a lot of people here who are incredibly knowledgeable & passionate when it comes to grilling.”

Speaking of which … If today’s story doesn’t include the exact piece of info that you need to properly grill that T-bone, just whip out your iPhone & text GRILL to 55702. Or – better yet – visit prior to firing up your grill or smoker later today. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Tuesday, July 4, 2017

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Brattleboro’s Strolling of the Heifers is a sincere if somewhat surreal way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont



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Some people travel halfway ‘around the planet so that they can then experience the excitement of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. If you’re more of a Slow Living enthusiast (as I am), then perhaps you should amble to Brattleboro, VT. Where – over the first weekend in June – you can then join a herd of cow enthusiasts at the annual Strolling of the Heifers.

Now in its 16th year, this three-day long event typically gets underway on Friday night in June with a combination block party / gallery walk. But then – come Saturday morning – Main Street in Brattleboro is lined with thousands of bovine fans.

Photo by Jim Hill

They’ve staked out primo viewing spots and set up camp chairs hours ahead of time. Just so these folks can then have a front row seat as this year’s crop of calves (which all come from local farms & 4-H clubs) are paraded through the streets.

Photo by Jim Hill

Viewed from curbside, Strolling of the Heifers is kind of this weird melding of a sincere small town celebration and Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade. Meaning that – for every entry that actually acknowledged this year’s theme (i.e. “Dance to the Moosic”) — …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something completely random, like this parade’s synchronized shopping cart unit.

Photo by Jim Hill

And for every piece of authentic Americana (EX: That collection of antique John Deere tractors that came chugging through the city) …

Photo by Jim Hill

… there was something silly. Like – say – a woman dressed as a Holstein pushing a baby stroller through the streets. And riding in that stroller was a pig dressed in a tutu.

Photo by Jim Hill

And given that this event was being staged in the Green Mountain State & all … Well, does it really surprise you to learn that — among the groups that marched in this year’s Strolling of the Heifers – was a group of eco-friendly folks who, with their  chants of “We’re Number One !,” tried to persuade people along the parade route not to flush the toilet after they pee. Because – as it turns out – urine can be turned into fertilizer.

Photo by Jim Hill

And speaking of fertilizer … At the tail end of the parade, there was a group of dedicated volunteers who were dealing with what came out of the tail end of all those cows.

Photo by Jim Hill

This year’s Strolling of the Heifers concluded at the Brattleboro town common. Where event attendees could then get a closer look at some of the featured units in this year’s parade…

Photo by Jim Hill

… or perhaps even pet a few of the participants.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as for the 90+ calves who took part in the 2017 edition of Strolling of the Heifers, once they reached the town common, it was now time for a nosh or a nap.

Photo by Jim Hill

Elsewhere on the common, keeping with this year’s “Dance to the Moosic” theme, various musical groups performed in & around the gazebo throughout the afternoon.

Photo by Jim Hill

While just across the way – keeping with Brattleboro’s tradition of showcasing the various artisans who live & work in the local community – some pretty funky pieces were on display at the Slow Living Exposition.

Photo by Jim Hill

All in all, attending Strolling of the Heifers is a somewhat surreal but still very pleasant way to spend a summer’s day in Vermont. And that’s no bull.

Photo by Jim Hill

Well, that could be a bull. To be honest, what with the wig & all, it’s kind of hard to tell. 

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Sunday, June 4, 2017

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Looking to make an authentic Irish meal for Saint Patrick’s Day? If so, then chef Kevin Dundon says not to cook corned beef & cabbage



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Let’s at least start on a positive note: Celebrated chef, author & TV personality Kevin Dundon – the man that Tourism Ireland has repeatedly chosen as the Face of Irish Food – loves a lot of what happens in the United States on March 17th.

“I mean, look at what they do in Chicago on Saint Patrick’s Day. They toss all of this vegetable-based dye into the Chicago River and then paint it green for a day. That’s terrific,” Kevin said.

But then when it comes to what many Americans eat & drink on St. Paddy’s Day (i.e., a big plate of corned beef and cabbage. Which is then washed down with a mug of green beer) … Well, that’s where Dundon has to draw the line.

Irish celebrity chef Kevin Dundon displays a traditional Irish loin of bacon with Colcannon potatoes and a Dunbrody Kiss chocolate dessert. Photo by Tom Burton. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Green beer? No real Irishman would be caught dead drinking that stuff,” Kevin insists. “And as for eating corned beef & cabbage … That’s not actually authentic Irish fare either. Bacon and cabbage? Sure. But corned beef & cabbage was something that the Irish only began eating after they’d come to the States to escape the Famine. And even then these Irish-Americans only began serving corned beef & cabbage to their friends & family because they had to make do with the ingredients that were available to them at that time.”

And thus begins the strange tale of how corned beef & cabbage came to be associated with the North American celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day celebration. Because – according to Dundon – beef just wasn’t all that big a part of the Irish diet back in the 19th century.

To explain: Back in the Old Country, cattle – while they were obviously highly prized for the milk & cheese that they produced – were also beasts of burden. Meaning that they were often used for ploughing the fields or for hauling heavy loads. Which is why – back then — these animals were rarely slaughtered when they were still young & healthy. If anything, land owners liked to put a herd of cattle on display out in one of their pastures because that was then a sign to their neighbors that this farm was prosperous.

“Whereas pork … Well, everybody raised pigs back then. Which is why pork was a staple of the Irish diet rather than beef,” Dundon continued.

So if that’s what people actually ate back in the Old Country, how then did corned beef & cabbage come to be so strongly associated with Saint Patrick’s Day in the States.? That largely had to do with where the Irish wound up living after they arrived in the New World.

“When the Irish first arrived in America following the Great Famine, a lot of them wound up living in the inner city right alongside the Germans & the Jews, who were also recent immigrants to the States. And while that farm-fresh pork that the Irish loved wasn’t readily available, there was brisket. Which the Irish could then cure by first covering this piece of meat with corn kernel-sized pieces of rock salt – that’s how it came to be called corned beef. Because of the sizes of the pieces of rock salt that were used in the curing process – and then placing all that in a pot of water with other spices to soak for a few days.”

And as for the cabbage portion of corned beef & cabbage … Well, according to Kevin, in addition to buying their meat from the kosher delis in their neighborhood, the Irish would also frequent the stores that the German community shopped in. Where – thanks to their love of sauerkraut (i.e., pickled cabbage) – there was always a ready supply of cabbage to be had.

“So when you get right down to it, it was the American melting pot that led to corned beef & cabbage being found in the Irish-American cooking pot,” Dundon continued. “Since they couldn’t find or didn’t have easy access to the exact same ingredients that they had back in Ireland, Irish-Americans made do with what they could find in the immediate vicinity. And what they made was admittedly tasty. But it’s not actually authentic Irish fare.”

Mind you, what Kevin serves at Raglan Road Irish Pub and Restaurant at Disney Springs (which – FYI – Orlando Magazine voted as the area’s best restaurant back in 2014) is nothing if not authentic. Dundon and his team at this acclaimed gastropub pride themselves on making traditional Irish fare and then contemporized it.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“Take – for example – what we serve here instead of corned beef & cabbage. Again, because it was pork – rather than beef – that was the true staple of the Irish diet back then, what we offer instead is a loin of bacon that has been glazed with Irish Mist. That then comes with colcannon potatoes. Which is this traditional Irish dish that’s made up of mashed potato that have had some cabbage & bacon mixed through it,” Kevin enthused. “This heavenly ham – that’s what we actually call this traditional Irish dish at Raglan Road, Kevin’s Heavenly Ham – also includes some savory cabbage with a parsley cream sauce as well as a raisin cider jus. It’s simple food. But because of the basic ingredients – and that’s the real secret of Irish cuisine. That our ingredients are so strong – the flavors just pop off the plate.”

Which brings us to the real challenge that Dundon and the Raglan Road team face every day. Making sure that they actually have all of the ingredients necessary to make this traditional-yet-contemporized Irish fare to those folks who frequent this Walt Disney World favorite.

“Take – for example – the fish we serve here. We only used cold water fish. Salmon, mussels and haddock that have been hauled out of the Atlantic, the ocean that America and Ireland share,” Kevin stated. “Not that there’s anything wrong with warm water fish. It’s just that … Well, it doesn’t have the same structure. It’s a softer fish, which doesn’t really fit the parameters of Irish cuisine. And if you’re going to serve authentic food, you have to be this dedicated when it comes to sourcing your ingredients.

Copyright Mitchell Beazley. All rights reserved

And if you’re thinking of perhaps trying to serve an authentic Irish meal this year, rather than once again serving corned beef & cabbage at your Saint Patrick’s Day Feast … Well, back in September of last year, Mitchell Beazley published “The Raglan Road Cookbook: Inside America’s Favorite Irish Pub.” This 296-page hardcover not only includes the recipe for Kevin’s Heavenly Ham but also it tells the tale of how this now-world-renown restaurant wound up being built in Orlando.

On the other hand, if you happen to have to the luck of the Irish and are actually down at The Walt Disney World Resort right now, it’s worth noting that Raglan Road is right in the middle of its Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival. This four day-long event – which includes Irish bands and professional dancers – stretches through Sunday night. And in addition to all that authentic Irish fare that Dundon and his team are cooking up, you also sample the fine selection of beers & cocktails that this establishment’s four distinct antique bars (each of which are more than 130 years old and were imported directly from Ireland) will be serving. Just – As ucht Dé (That’s “For God’s Sake” in Gaelic) – don’t make the mistake of asking the bartender there for a mug of green beer.

“Why would anyone willingly drink something like that?,” Dundon laughed. “I mean, just imagine what their washroom will look like the morning after.”

This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on Friday, March 17, 2017

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