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Why For was the Excavator never built at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park?



Fluffy-Not-Fat sent me a new Why For question earlier this
week, saying:

As a longtime fan, it’s great that you’ve begun writing
theme park history stories again. Those stories were always my favorite part of
your site.

So now that I’ve kissed your butt a little, I was wondering if you’d take a
request: I’m a coaster enthusiast. And I’d love to see a story on JHM about the
coaster which was supposed to be one of Dinoland U.S.A.’s opening day attractions
that never got built.

Please note the roller coaster that looms in the background of this piece of concept art
for Dinoland, U.S.A.’s Boneyard kiddie play-and-exploration area
. Copyright Disney
Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

You’re asking about the Excavator. Which according to the
initial marketing study for Disney’s Animal Kingdom (which The Walt Disney
Company did back in the Summer of 1993) was supposed to be …

… a rollicking coaster ride through a section of the dig
supposedly too dangerous to enter. Somehow, we’ve gotten in and are having a
real good time.

So how would the Excavator have fit in at DAK? Well, you
have to understand that Dinoland U.S.A. has a very specific backstory.
According to the mythology that the Imagineers created for this Animal Kingdom “land,”
this part of the park started out life as the site of a sand and gravel
company. And Chester and Hester’s was just the local gas station which used to
service & fuel up all of the trucks and heavy equipment that would then
rumble in & out of this worksite.

In the center of this Dinoland U.S.A. concept painting, please note the red backhoe which
has a massive dinosaur bone dangling from it. This is the archaelogical discovery that
set this area’s transformation from sand-and-gravel pit to paleontological playground
into motion. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But then one day, as a backhoe is digging up sand to load into
the back of a dump truck, the workmen uncovered this massive dinosaur bone. So
they called in the scientists. Who then discovered that – just below the
surface of this huge sand & gravel pit – is the archaeological find of the
century. An area that’s just loaded with all of these perfectly preserved fossils.

So the wealthy benefactor for a local college immediately
swoops in and buys up this sand & gravel pit – lock, stock and T-Rex bones.
And he then turns what used to be this sand pit’s on-site field offices (i.e.
where the workmen used to go change & shower after a sweaty day of hauling
gravel. More importantly, where the employee cafeteria was located) into a dorm
for the students of that college’s paleontology department. Who will now spend
their summers working this newly-discovered dig.

And if you’re really paying attention as you walk by
Restaurantosaurus, you can see ample evidence of these crazy college students.
From that pyramid of beer cans which has been built right next to those chairs which have been set out on this building’s roof to those piles of shoes,
clothes and underwear which have been placed down by the shore of Discovery River
(which is supposed to suggest that these kids have gone skinny-dipping), it’s
clear that a group of hard-working, hormone-crazed university students are now
calling this place home. At least for the summer.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“And what of Chester & Hester?,” you ask. Well, since
they could no longer rely on selling fuel to all of the trucks that used to trundle
in & out of this sand pit (not to mention selling gas & oil to all the
hard-working men who used to haul gravel here), Chester & Hester had to
kind of reinvent themselves. And since this former sand & gravel pit is now
a world-famous archaeological site … Well, they’re getting lots of looky-loos
lately. Tourists driving out to see if they can spot any dinosaur bones and
then going away disappointed, because (according the backstory that the
Imagineers have put together for Dinoland, U.S.A. ) this site is now closed to
the public.

Sensing that there’s money to be made here if they just give
the tourists what they wants, Chester & Hester transform their remote gas
station into this dinosaur-themed roadside attraction.

“And where does the Dino Institute fit into Dinoland, U.S.A.’s
overall story?,” you query. Well, that same wealthy benefactor who initially
bought this sand & gravel pit for that unnamed university then became
obsessed with the central mystery of this amazing archaeological site. As in:
Why is it that so many perfectly preserved dinosaur skeletons can be found in
this one spot? What exactly happened here millions & millions of years ago?

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And the only way to solve this particular mystery is – of course
– to travel back into time and then attempt to observe whatever it was that actually
caused this massive dino die-off. So this wealthy benefactor then pours
billions into the creation of the Dino Institute, which specialized in chronological research. Which then results in the invention of
the Time Rover. And then … Wait a minute. We’re kind of getting away from what was
supposed to be the main focus of today’s Why For column. Which was the

 Anyway … In the initial
mythology that the Imagineers worked out for Dinoland, U.S.A., the Excavator
was supposedly to be a piece of equipment which was left over from this archaeological
site’s sand-and-gravel-pit days. It was this series of ore cars that had once
been used to haul materials up out of the heart of this pit over to the area
where the dump trucks got loaded up. But over time, due to over-digging, as the
sand in this pit began to shift, the Excavator began to be really unsafe to

So the sand and gravel company then basically shut this series
of ore cars down. And the Excavator stands empty and abandoned for a few years,
becoming even more rickety and unsafe. And then that wealthy benefactor buys
this sand-and-gravel pit and sets all of these crazy college students loose on
this massive archaeological site.

Close-up of initial Disney’s Animal Kingdom concept painting
which shows where the Excavator was originally supposed to
be built inside of the borders of Dinoland, U.S.A. Copyright
Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

“And what do these college kids do with this obviously unsafe
piece of industrial equipment?,” you ask. Why they fire it up again, of course.
Not only because the Excavator is fun for them to ride. But also because they’re
now using these old, rusty ore cars to haul some of the larger dinosaur bones
that they’ve discovered around this archaeological site back to base camp.

Which explains the whole ” …. section of the dig supposedly
too dangerous to enter” part of the Excavator’s mythology. And for the ” … Somehow,
we’ve gotten in and are having a real good time” part of this backstory … As Guests
moved through the queue for this proposed Dinoland, U.S.A. attraction towards
the load / unload area, they were to have walked past literally dozens of “Condemned”
signs. Not to mention all sorts of safety barriers that this
sand-and-gravel-pit’s workmen had set up that the college students have recently
pulled down.

As for the layout of this proposed DAK thrill ride, the
Imagineers were looking to one-up Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. So instead of rolling
past a T-Rex fossil that was sticking out of this attraction’s rockwork …

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

… On the Excavator, your ore car was actually supposed to
zoom through a massive dinosaur skeleton.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And before you came back into the load / unload area, your
ore car was supposed to loop by Chester & Hester’s. Where one of the folk
art dinosaur sculptures that they’d built for their roadside attraction would
suddenly lurch to life and then menace a trainload of tourists.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

This sounds like a really fun attraction, don’t you think?
So why wasn’t Dinoland, U.S.A.’s Excavator ever built?

Well, to be blunt, the Imagineers learned a lot of hard
lessons on Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Chief among these is that – when you’re
building an attraction which is supposed to be used to display animals – much
of your budget is going to spent on things that the public never ever sees or
appreciates. Perimeter fencing and safety moats, for starters. Not to mention all
of those back-of-the-house barns where your ridiculously expensive menagerie then
goes to bed down for the night. Which has to be custom-built because (of course) a
facility that fits a giraffe isn’t going to work for an elephant or a hippo.

And as the projected cost of what was then-known-as Disney’s
Wild Animal Kingdom began to mount (quickly moving from its originally-budgeted
$600 million to over $850 million), pieces of this project began falling by the
wayside. First to be dropped was Beastlie Kingdomme, which was cut as an
Opening Day “land” for this theme park back in January of 1994.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Next to be pushed back was the Excavator. Mostly because the
Imagineers felt that – if they just reused the ride vehicle & track
layout which had been developed for the Indiana Jones Adventure (which – let’s
remember – was supposed to open at Disneyland Park in March of 1995) for Countdown to Extinction / Dinosaur … Well,
that was a way to get a thrill ride into Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s opening day
assortment of attractions without then having to spend all of the time &
the money necessary to design & develop a custom-built coaster like the

“So once Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened in April of 1998,
why didn’t the Imagineers then circle back around to the idea of building the
Excavator?,” you ask. “I mean, clearly WDI thought that this theme park needed
a coaster / runaway mine train ride. Otherwise they never would have built
Expedition Everest. So why didn’t they just go ahead with construction of the

Well, you have to remember that – right after Disney’s
Animal Kingdom opened – two of the main complaints that Guests had about this “Nahtazu”
was A) there weren’t enough rides, shows and attractions here to warrant
calling DAK a full-day theme park and B) very few of Animal Kingdom’s
attractions were kid friendly.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So given that WDI felt that it had to address these
particular Guest concerns quickly, the Imagineers took the DAK expansion pad which
had been set aside for the Excavator and then built Chester & Hester’s
Dino-Rama right on top of that. Which was this brand-new mini-land that featured
kid-friendly carnival rides like TriceraTop Spin and Primeval Whirl.

And as for the Excavator ride concept … Well, for a time, it
was part of the initial ride line-up for Hong Kong Disneyland.  In the official November 1999 announcement of
this 126-hectare theme park, Adventureland was supposed to have been home to a
high-profile attraction which was supposed to have given Guests …

… the opportunity to venture into a wild untamed world and
ride a roller coaster through a dark jungle filled with mysterious surprises.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

And according to what I’ve heard from the Imagineers who
actually worked on this proposed HKDL attraction, this coaster was initially
supposed to have been the replacement for Adventureland’s Jungle Cruise. Which
(back in 1999, anyway) was thought to be too slow, low tech & old-fashioned
to really appeal to the sophisticated folks who live in Hong Kong.

So in the place of The Jungle Cruise, the Imagineers wanted
to build a thrill ride that took the Excavator’s ride system and then married
that to all of the AA figures that Guests see as they roll through DAK’s “Dinosaur”
ride. Now place this coaster / runaway mine train inside of a thick,
Primeval-looking jungle and you’ve then got a thrill ride which would blow the doors
off of Universal‘s Jurassic Park River Adventure.

And as for this proposed coaster’s post-show area (i.e. where
the kids who were too small to ride could wait while their parents / older
siblings were experiencing this HKDL attraction) … Well, WDI was looking to possibly
reuse that Boneyard play-and-exploration area which they had initially designed
& built for Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

But as happened with Disney’s Animal Kingdom back in 1994,
the financial realities that the Imagineers were dealing with when it came to the
Penny’s Bay worksite eventually resulted in a severe reduction-in-scope on this
particular project. So instead of building a version of Disneyland which would
have replaced Frontierland‘s placid Rivers of America with a whitewater raft
ride (which – for all of you Disney’s America fans out there – was WDI just attempting
to repurpose the Lewis and Clark Expedition attraction concept which had initially
been developed for the Native American section of this history-based theme
park) … What Hong Kong Disneyland wound up with instead was a super-sized
version of Adventureland.  But instead of
having Frontierland’s steamboats and canoes float past Tom Sawyer’s Island,
this theme park’s central waterway had Jungle Cruise launches chugging past Tarzan’s

But that’s kind of the nature of the beast when it comes to
Disney theme parks. The Imagineers propose something during the initial
development phase of a project. And then the construction timeline shifts
and/or the budget gets revised. And as a direct result, an attraction which
sounds like it would have been a heck of a lot of fun never quite makes it off
of the drawing board.

Anyway, that’s the story of DAK’s Excavator. Please remember
that if you have any Disney-related questions which you’d like to see answered
as part of a future edition of this JHM column to send your queries along to

Your thoughts?

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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