With a market that comprises tourists excited to splash out on the novelty and retired couples enjoying the finer things in life, it’s no surprise Orlando – and specifically, Disney – is a mecca for celebrity chef offerings. Whether you’re winding down after a crazy day of roller coasters and screaming kids, or you’re hoping to get out of the sun and enjoy some expertly matched flavors in luxurious surroundings, Orlando’s celeb chef restaurants are a safe bet for some decadent, beautifully plated indulgences. Of course, as savvy buyers know, a famous names comes at a price. Can these restaurants live up to their name and their price tag? Before you whip out your wallet, here’s a rundown of five of the best celebrity chef restaurants in Orlando.
The Austrian chef with over 20 restaurants to his name brings his fare to downtown Disney at the Grand Cafe. Disney is known to be rather pricey, so with the celebrity chef label attached you might expect prices here to be out of this world, but, in fact, the menu is pretty reasonable. There’s something for everyone here, as Wolfgang’s more adventurous styles are dialed down for a wider audience. A nice variety of gourmet pizzas are on offer at the Grand Cafe for lunch while some of the more distinctive Wolfgang highlights, like the seasonal fish, are on offer in the Dining Room later. As always when eating at Disney, remember to reserve in advance here.
The first thing you’ll notice here is its much buzzed-about interior. It’s blue. Very blue. Which is appropriate, given its location in Disney’s Dolphin Resort. Turquoise dominates, with water and glass creating a zen-like atmosphere, a retreat from the Disney buzz. Boston native Todd English’s Mediterranean style comes to Disney with a seafood flair at BlueZoo. Salmon, tuna, cod and even oysters are on offer here. Flavorsome and of high quality, it offers a nice break from the hamburgers and fries endemic at Disney. A kids menu is available, but for many families this is more of an adult dining experience with a smart dress code required.
Greek and Mediterranean cuisine gets an American twist at Cat Cora’s Disney base, situated on the Boardwalk. With Cora’s Greek influence, seafood and lamb dominate the menu. For seafood lovers, the best bits of this menu include the calamari appetizer and the fisherman’s stew entree. The latter is a sensory feast with scallops and fennel, ouzo butter and some lightly toasted bread to absorb all the flavors. There’s a tasty breakfast menu on offer here too, which includes a mix of light Mediterranean olive notes fused with traditional American brunch staples.
Emeril Lagasse has built an empire as a TV chef. His distinguishing style – labelled "New New Orleans" – isn’t really on display at his Orlando-based restaurant, though. This one, on Hollywood Way, is more a Pacific/Asian fusion style and it’s great for those of us who enjoy our cuisine with a dash of soy, orange, ginger or teriyaki. Low lights, gleaming tables and colorful glasswork create an intimate, hushed atmosphere which compliments the sweet but sophisticated menu on offer. Solidly well-prepared seafood and meats are served alongside delicious sauces and noodles. Prices are certainly reasonable here, given the name attached to the restaurant (the entrees max out at under $20 at lunch, $30 at dinner), and portions are generous. At dinner, there’s the added bonus of an in-house sushi chef.
The father of fusion cuisine, Florida native Norman Van Aken is famed for mixing Florida’s styles with several ethnic styles to push culinary boundaries and represent the truly diverse American culture. Norman’s award-winning flagship restaurant is at the Ritz Carlton, Grand Lakes. Given the nature of this chef’s diverse style, summing up the style of his menu would be nearly impossible. Everything – from pan-seared crusted filet mignon to Brazilian style chowder to Mongolian marinated veal – is plated to perfection and served in luxury. Prices for the entrees range from $40 to $60, but the reputation matches the quality and more than justifies the price.