Last weekend I joined a large group of friends for dinner at the Hollywood Brown Derby in Disney's Hollywood Studios. I haven't eaten at the Brown Derby since I had lunch there back in March of 2006 and before that I had eaten there I think in 2003 or so. It's never been a favorite restaurant of mine, nor has it been on my "hate" list (see the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater). Basically it exists in my own personal restaurant pergatory. So when I was invited to come for dinner, I opted to come and see how it is and if it deserves an upgrade to my "good list" or to be sent packing to the "hate list".
The first thing I always notice is the decor and theme of the restaurant. It's themed very closely to the original Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant from Hollywood. Unlike the other restaurants in the park, this one holds itself to be like the real restaurant and its very classy in there. The wait staff wear costumes that would easily fit into an A-list Hollywood black tie party. I always feel underdresed in the restaurant with my t-shirt and shorts and feel if this restaurant wasn't in a theme park, it would be on par with Yachtsman's Steakhouse in terms of glitz and dress code.
There were so many of us at dinner (about 10 or so) so we ordered one of every appetizer. The appetizer list wasn't all that appetizing to me as I don't eat shellfish or pork and only one item (the market greens salad) was up my alley. Luckily all the others sampled the appetizers and we came to the conclusion the best options were the world famous Cobb salad and blue jumbo lump crab cake. The cobb salad is something that I eat every time I come to the Brown Derby because it's that good. The others commented there was something about it but the crab cakes were quite good and there were enough rave reviews for me to give it the thumbs up if you enjoy that sort of food.
As for dinner, I decided to try hijiki crusted ahi tuna, which is basically rare tuna and is in essence, sushi without the rice. By design, the tuna is barely cooked (think of it as someone mistakenly put a piece of raw tuna on the grill and took it off immediatley). I'm not a big fish guy, but I do like "mild fish" like tuna and this was a great dish. Lots of great flavor and with the wasabi sauce on the plate, it gave it a nice kick. It wasn't overwhealmingly spicy, but it was enough to make it an interesting dish and something I would recommend again. Some other dishes that were good were the filet mignon and split roasted half chicken.
The real knock on the Brown Derby has always been it's expensive and the menu is limited and that's still fairly true. Brown Derby is not a great restaurant for those on a budget (about $30 for an entree) and if you're picky, you'll be hard pressed to find something to eat here. It does offer the filet mignon (steak) and a chicken, but these are hardly something out of TGI Fridays. Like the decor and wait staff, the food is sophisticated and the portions are on the small size so again, not an excellent value. If you're on the Disney Dining Plan, it requires two table service credits which again, makes it a bad value.
As for dessert, the real hit of dessert was the grapefruit cake, which for years has been the highlight of the dessert menu and I'd recommend it. The flourless chocolate cake was just okay and I wouldn't recommend it as it's average and not as good as some of the primarily chocolate cakes you find in other Walt Disney World restaurants that are pretty tasty. Like everything else, the desserts here are expensive (about $8 for a dessert) and so I'd say grab your dessert elsewhere in the Studios (like Beverly Sunset where there are some fantastic options).
So the question is should you go to the Brown Derby? Well, if money isn't an issue for you or you don't mind spending money on some interesting food, it's worth going to. Plus, if you ever decide last minute you want to eat in the Studios and want to make that last minute dining reservation, Brown Derby is the place to try since it's expensive price tag and ecclectic menu keep many guests away and often leaves room for that last minute reservation. If you want to have a romantic or imtimate meal or want to celebrate a special occasion, the Brown Derby is a great option since the meal will feel like you've gone to a ritzy place even though you are wearing shorts, a tank top and have FASTPASS's for Tower of Terror.
Overall, I'd be more inclined to give Brown Derby a shot onto my "good list" rather than my "hate list" but it's still lacking. I think they need to either lower the prices to match the portion size (I know, keep dreaming) or give you more food for the money. I don't mind the ecclectic menu so much because I like having restaurants that are different than all the rest and it's refreshing not seeing a hamburger as an option on the menu. Some of the dishes here that I didn't mention are still good and feel free to be adventurous here. None of the entrees ordered were labeled as bad so as long as you can take the financial hit, break out the American Express gold card and give it a shot.