Downtown Disney’s newest quick service restaurant has just opened on the West Side, and we stopped by for a bite of a Downtown Disney first - quick service BBQ.
Downtown Disney West Side has suffered over the years with a lack of quick service dining options. Disney recognized that the limited menu at the Wolfgang Puck Express location was not enough, and has made moves to add additional quick service locations. Four Disney operated food trucks have recently been added giving guests a number of new choices along with The Smokehouse.
Located in the former box office of the House of Blues, The Smokehouse expanded the previous space to make way for a kitchen and smoker, along with two service windows. As part of the redevelopment, the box office was relocated into the House of Blues gift shop, and the patio seating area was expanded.
The Smokehouse menu is limited, consisting of just a handful of options, a pulled pork sandwich, pulled chicken sandwich, smoked turkey leg, brisket sandwich, hot dog, and a half rack of St Louis ribs. Sides are similarly limited, with only coleslaw and baked beans available.
Orders are placed at one of two windows, and after a few minutes the food is plated and ready for pickup. At our time of ordering, service was not particularly good, but your mileage may vary. There are no discount available, nor is the Disney Dining Plan accepted.
The food is served in small cardboard boxes placed on a tray, with the sides in small plastic cups. We found this to be the first problem. Anyone who has BBQ knows that it is a messy affair, and you need a certain amount of space to work with the ribs and sauce. The small boxes were not adequately containing the food, and while useful for a walk-around option, we would have preferred to have seen the food served on something larger - ideally laid out on a tray like most other specialty BBQ restaurants. With the available seating, we think most people will choose to sit down and eat, so the convenience of the walk-around box becomes less important.
Seating is all outdoors and uncovered, and is found in the newly expanded patio. The area looks great after the refurbishment, and you will find ample seating here, particularly earlier in the day. Later at night, the area becomes a bar, and you will find it much busier. In the late afternoon and evening there is live music on the patio which makes it a great place to eat. Of course, if there is rain in the forecast, or you just don’t like the heat, The Smokehouse may not be a good option.
For our taste test we ordered the pulled chicken sandwich, pulled pork sandwich, and the half rack of ribs. For us these are the cornerstones of BBQ, and give a great idea of what the restaurant can do. The sandwiches are $10 each, and the ribs $13. All dishes come with a choice of side, which is either coleslaw or baked beans.
Out of the three dishes, we only found the ribs to be something we would recommend. Both of the sandwiches were somewhat dry and uninspiring. The brioche bun was nothing special, nor was the meat. There was little smoke flavor, and the meat was far from the moist and juicy goodness that great BBQ can be. The tomato BBQ sauce was also not the best, although tastes vary when it comes to BBQ sauce, so your opinions may differ. Interestingly the sauce is served warm. The baked beans were below average, under cooked and lacking any real flavor - it would not be surprising if they were actually canned. The coleslaw was good, fairly light and not drowning in thick mayonnaise.
The St Louis half rack of ribs were nice and meaty, with a great smoked bark and a juicy moist interior. As with the sandwiches, they were let down by the sides, but ignoring that, the ribs were something we would order again.
We have to consider the pricing here, and unfortunately The Smokehouse does not offer good value for money. The $10 sandwiches are not very large, the side is very small, and the lack of quality in the food makes it hard to recommend. When you consider you can get a larger, and more complex sandwich at Earl of Sandwich in the Marketplace for nearly half the price, things don’t look good. The ribs, while tasting good, are an expensive option at $13. Perhaps if they were served with a couple of sides it would be more competitive.
Orlando has a number of great BBQ restaurants that can be found not far off-property, most notably 4 Rivers Smokehouse, Bubbalous Bodacious BBQ and Harry and Larry’s. On property, the Flame Tree at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is the only specialized BBQ restaurant. So how does The Smokehouse compare? The 3 off-property restaurants are in a different league, offering much higher quality food, larger serving sizes, at a far better price. The Smokehouse can be more closely compared to the Flame Tree - with a similar price point and quality. The Flametree has not lived up to its original standards in recent years, so although a close-call, we would probably say that The Smokehouse is currently a better option purely based on the ribs.
We were hoping that The Smokehouse may become a new must-do at Downtown Disney and a real alternative to some of the offsite BBQ restaurants. Based on our first visit we have to say it is not, and we would be unlikely to return. In the quick service ranks at Downtown Disney, Wolfgang Puck Express Marketplace and Earl of Sandwich still take top honors.
Mar 06, 2014 / 10:16am EST