Review: The Whispering Canyon Café

Don’t let the name fool you.  The Whispering Canyon Café is not a quiet eatery—and that’s what makes it such a great place to enjoy dinner with your family.  The restaurant, found inside Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort, offers a rootin’ tootin’ good time with stick-to-your-ribs food and a wait staff that takes no guff.

The spacious restaurant is open to the main lobby of the hotel which makes it easy to peak in and hear all the fun.  It’s décor continues the resort’s celebration of the American West, with even the “chandeliers”  in the restaurant mimicking the beautiful large teepee-inspired lights of the lobby.  My partner and I chose to have dinner there one night, but the Whispering Canyon Café serves three meals a day to hungry vacationers.

The servers are colorful characters, and I am not just referring to their Western attire.  Our waitress, Gretchen, went by the name Freckles, and possessed a sass and charm that added just the right flavor to our meals.  Be warned, each one is playing up a role a little bit, but the interaction makes for a happy environment and the children just seem to eat it up.

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Speaking of eating, the main reason to have dinner at the Whispering Canyon Café is for the home-style cooking and barbecue—that and their wickedly delicious bottomless milk shakes.  I don’t know what possessed me to order one right off the bat, but my companion and I were sure glad I did.  You can choose from chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla, and choose a different flavor each time you ask for a refill if you like.  We ordered two throughout our stay, with the vanilla slightly edging out the chocolate as the better of the two.  These thick, creamy Sheriff’s Shakes as they are called on the menu can stand alone as a dessert in my opinion.

My guest ordered the restaurant’s signature dish—the “All-You-Care-To-Enjoy” Canyon Skillet—and I asked for the Griddled Home-style Meatloaf.  But before digging into these dinners, we each enjoyed an appetizer.  I loved the Cheddar Cheese Soup with Candied Bacon and Popcorn!  It’s a richly delicious soup with a luxurious, smooth texture.  The mouth-filling flavor of the cheddar is accented by the brown sugar caramelized bits of bacon (a perfect balance of sweet and salty) and the airy popcorn pieces that serve as croutons.  I wished with each spoonful that I could enjoy bowl after bowl after bowl.

My partner’s appetizer was the Mixed Green Salad with Apple Vinaigrette which kick-starts the Canyon Skillet.  The dressing brings the sweet taste of apples and the tang of vinegar to the fresh greens.  Should you wish for more at any point in your skillet dinner, just ask the server.  You may not want to fill up on salad, however, because the hearty, all-you-can-eat barbecue is not something you want to miss.

The Canyon Skillet offers smoked pork ribs, pulled pork, oven-roasted chicken, beef brisket, herb-crushed potatoes, cowboy beans, and corn on the cob.  The Whispering Canyon Café even keeps its own smokehouse on the hotel’s grounds to make sure the flavor and goodness remains authentic.  While my guest dug in to his full skillet (yes, it actually comes served in a skillet pan), I stole a bite or two just to have a taste.  The pork rib meat falls right off the bones, the ribs are so masterfully prepared.  The pulled pork is juicy and tender while the lean beef brisket has a light, smoky flavor.  The barbecue sauce comes served on the side so you can add the amount you want to the chicken and other meats.  It’s a rich, tangy sauce that has a kick in the end,  and it forms the flavorful base for the cowboy beans.  The servers make sure you get what you want, delivering seconds and even thirds of the items you like most.

The home-style meatloaf that was my dinner is solid, but not spectacular.  Two slices of grilled meatloaf with mushroom brown gravy sit atop two pieces of Texas toast, but mine seemed more like cold, soggy French toast.  Given their texture and the way the tasted, I couldn’t figure out why the bread was on the plate.  The mixed veggies, which consisted of carrots, peppers, snow peas, squash, and mushrooms offer colorful variety, but the herb-crushed potatoes were too dry that night and needed a pat of butter.

Freckles wasn’t happy with the fact that the meatloaf just didn’t do it for me and offered to get me something else in its place which I declined.  I certainly appreciated her attentiveness, but I just didn’t feel that a meatloaf that was good but lack-luster in my opinion was grounds for a replacement entrée.  Freckles surprised me, however, with a special desert from Artist Point Restaurant, also at the Wilderness Lodge.  She really wanted to see me happy (and stuffed I gather!).  I enjoyed every bite of the Dark Valrhona and White Chocolate “Sculpture” with Drunken Cherry Crunch and Blackberry Port Sauce.  The stacked dessert really delivers on chocolate with layered mousses and the blackberry sauce is fantastic.  Although I could only eat half, having filled up on delicious cornbread and those milkshakes, Freckles made sure I ate the drunken cherry on top.

F.A.S.T. Review

Food – Go for the barbecue all-you-can-eat skillet and don’t forget to order an all-you-care-to-drink milkshake.  Other entrées include New York Strip Steak, Rainbow Trout, and Pork Loin Rib Chops.

Atmosphere – This is a place to have fun, so there are no worries if the family is a little boisterous.  Children get to participate in songs and dances, and the servers shout and holler at you just like cowboys and cowgirls of the old West should do.

Service – I can find no fault with our server and the others that night who all brought laughter, big smiles, and fun to each table in a completely packed restaurant.  Kudos to our server Gretchen who went out of her way to ensure guest satisfaction.

Tips – Be sure to have someone in your party ask for the ketchup.  I won’t tell you why; it would spoil the fun.

The DisDining Mama Says – Treat the whole family to a meal at the Whispering Canyon Café, no matter which one it is.  Each mealtime has an all-you-can-eat skillet that is worth it if you have big eaters in your family.  This is also a great place to laugh and enjoy some silliness with your kids.  You are sure to create more than a few memories in this rollicking, family-friendly restaurant.

About MichelleJ

Michelle Johnston began her love affair with Disney at 2 years old on her first visit. She grew up to help the Walt Disney Company develop the Disney Institute Resort, a learning & discovery vacation resort no longer in operation. She served on the pre-launch team as a Research & Development Coordinator with a focus on program development There she created over 100 experiential youth and adult programs in the Culinary Arts, Environment, and Design Arts tracks. Michelle then progressed to the world of ideation, helping Fortune 500 companies create new consumer products and marketing communications. She is owns Word of Mouth: Writing, Editing , Resumes & Business Marketing providing freelance services and is also the co-author of Welcome to Grandparenting and the 109 Ways eBook series. To this day, Michelle maintains her passion for all things Disney, especially Walt Disney World and its wide array of eating experiences.