Review: Big River Grille and Brewing Works
Disney’s Boardwalk possesses a quiet, understated charm and is a welcome antithesis to the kinetic, unfaltering energy of the theme parks. And while, perhaps, thousands of visitors to the happiest place on earth may find the boardwalk a bit too low-key for their liking. a Sunday afternoon, waterside stroll past the pastel-colored hotels and scattered snack carts can be a perfect way to end the week.
The boardwalk is home to Big River Grille and Brewing Works, a casual eatery which tempts such Sunday strollers with the enticing aromas of smokehouse flavors. It boasts a modest outside dining area along with an interior dining room divided into two sections: the bar area, with its high-top tables, offers some wonderful window seats and front-row views of its signature milling and brewing rooms and the open area to the right which is more relaxed but looks plainer and a bit dull and unimaginative. There is really nothing special in its decor to make it memorable.
One does not have to be a drinker or a fan of beer to enjoy Big River Grille, although the staff seems proud of its award-winning ales and lagers as they should be, since this is one of the signature features of the place. They are quick to speak of its heritage. Our waiter, Antonio, spent several minutes explaining how the beer is made on-site and offered anecdotes about some of his customers and the distance they travel to sample the beer. He was as enthusiastic about the seasonal food featured on the current menu and offered some tips and suggestions.
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The menu is not extensive but there are several choices which would appeal to most diners, from chicken, salmon and rib-eyes to nachos and burgers. Perhaps not the most distinctive offerings and some rather standard fare, but the preparation and presentation make it stand out as exceptional.
While neither my dining companion nor myself are beer drinkers, since the restaurant prides itself on being a brewing company, we decided to try their award-winning Sweet Magnolia American Brown Ale. Rich and smooth with a hint of sweetness, this brew was a good choice, even for those who lack a real knowledge or appreciation of ale. It was dark but not heavy with a medium, malty body. I could only imagine that real connoisseurs would truly delight in its unique flavor. Antonio later explained that at one time this was only a seasonal offering but the demand was so overwhelming and this beer so popular that it became a permanent fixture on their menu.
We split the beer cheese soup for a starter. A magnificent choice. Crunchy croutons floating on a delectable and creamy concoction. With perfect, subtle seasoning, the soup was dominated by neither beer nor cheese but was a delightful blend of both in brilliant proportions. While it sounds as if this would have been a very heavy item, it was surprisingly not overly thick or rich but merely delicious. I could have happily made a meal from this alone.
At this point, what we thought was a manager, saw us taking photos of the fermentation room (which is behind glass) and offered to open the locked doors and take us inside to get better photos and ask questions about the brewing process. To our surprise, Rolando, was not a manager but a chef. His incredible hospitality was amazing, and his wish to accommodate us was astounding. His apparent desire to please the patrons spoke volumes about Big River and its employees.
I chose the flame-grilled meatloaf as my entree and was floored by the size. The portion was more than generous: three thick slices of meatloaf, accompanied by garlic mashed potatoes and a grilled medley of string beans, carrots and squash. The smoky, grilled aroma was mouth-watering. The meatloaf had a distinctive pork sausage taste, not overpowering but nicely spicy. A warm, brown gravy topped the slices. A nice addition but the meatloaf was tasty enough to stand alone. The potatoes lacked a hint of garlic and were standard mashed potatoes. Nothing out of the ordinary. The vegetables were firm and nicely grilled. There was not much seasoning but seasoning was unnecessary because of the ample flavor of the rest of the meal.
My companion ordered the Kobe burger with Swiss cheese and grilled mushrooms. Again, the grilled aroma was enticing, and the burger was thick, juicy and perfectly cooked (medium). The mushrooms were charred nicely without being burnt. Not one hint of grease anywhere. A huge portion even for a hearty appetite.
Too stuffed for dessert, we noticed there isn’t much from which to choose. There are merely two offerings: a simple cheesecake and a decadent chocolate dessert consisting of mousse, Oreo brownie cake and icing. We could not even consider that after our incredibly filling portions.
Big River is Big on Taste, Big on Portions. A lovely way to end your Boardwalk stroll although they may have to roll you back out once you finish.
Food: The grilled items are flavorful but filling. You might consider sharing. If you are a fan of beer, definitely try one of their specialty ales. It’s what they’re famous for.
Service. Our waiter proudly proclaimed he had been with the company for 6 years and the chef for 10. That speaks highly of the restaurant. And their enthusiastic outlooks and first-rate attention complimented the meal.
Atmosphere: The milling/fermentation rooms are a conversation piece, and the restaurant boasts some nice window views. Other than that, this casual eatery has no special decor to make it particularly memorable.
Tips: Try the beer or at least a beer-based food item, like the cheese soup. Sit near a window for some lovely water views and to people-watch. A late lunch or early dinner may help avoid crowds. If you want a quiet meal, you may want to opt out of visiting on a big sports night when fans are sure to pile into the bar to watch the game.