One of my favorite locations in all of Disney World is the Boardwalk Resort. In terms of its picturesque location, charming atmosphere, and beautiful theming, the Boardwalk is the perfect spot to escape from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks.
By day, the Boardwalk is a great place to take a leisurely stroll or enjoy a relaxing bike ride along the shores of Crescent Lake. By night, the area comes alive with various entertainers performing magical acts and comedy routines. The Boardwalk's atmosphere is enhanced by its numerous food offerings ranging from carts selling classic seashore favorites like corndogs, funnel cakes, and fried ice cream to the Boardwalk Bakery that offers some of the best pastries and desserts in all of Disney World.
The Boardwalk also includes an impressive lineup of sit-down dining locations that includes Kat Kora's Kouzzina which features a menu inspired by the Iron Chef's Greek heritage, the signature Flying Fish Café that showcases exquisite gourmet seafood dishes, and the ESPN Club which is the ultimate bar and restaurant for any sports fan featuring hundreds of televisions, walls jam-packed with sports memorabilia, and kicked-up versions of classic ballpark cuisine. One restaurant on the Boardwalk that tends to get overlooked in relation to these other three is the Big River Grille and Brewing Works, but despite its lesser-known stature it can certainly hold its own with the other Boardwalk dining options.
While the name Big River Grille might not be familiar to many Disney guests it is actually a chain. Although, the one at the Boardwalk is the restaurant's only location outside of Tennessee, with two locations in Chattanooga and one in Nashville. Big River Grille was inspired by the great river boats of the 1800's that sailed the waters of the Mississippi and Tennessee rivers and brought fresh goods to the cities along their banks. The location of the first Big River Grille in Chattanooga is actually an old trolley barn just a short walk from a landing on the Tennessee River where fresh grains and produce were offloaded to be brought to local mills, markets, and breweries.
One of the things that makes Big River Grille so unique is that not only is it a restaurant, but it is also a working brewery that produces a variety of different beers. Some of their in-house brews (available to order individually or in a flight) include the colorfully named Southern Flyer Light Lager, Gadzooks Pilsner, Steamboat Pale Ale, and Rocket Red Ale. Even more interesting than the names is that you can actually witness the beer being produced first-hand at the restaurant. Big River Grille is open for both lunch and dinner and it should be noted that they do not accept reservations. While most guests tend to eat at the theme parks rather than the resorts during the day it is typically not difficult to get a table for lunch, but be prepared for a little bit of a wait if going for dinner.
The Big River Grille is not the largest of restaurants, but it does offer three distinct dining areas. First is the main dining room, which has a casual, relaxed feel. The décor is minimalist, simple, and streamlined, featuring very little decoration and detail. I felt the dining room had a somewhat geometric feel, enhanced by the modern art adorning the walls and the interesting design of the ceiling.
The atmosphere's greatest asset is the restaurant's large windows that offer great views onto the Boardwalk and let in plenty of natural light, giving the smaller space a more open, airy feel.
The dining room's smaller size does give it a more intimate feel, but I felt the tables were positioned a little too close together. Also, the kitchen is separated from the dining room by a just a half wall. My table was located right by the entrance to the kitchen and it was very easy to hear orders being placed and the clanging of pots and pans.
Another seating option is to dine al fresco. Big River Grille may not have the largest indoor dining space, but it does offer ample outdoor seating. While this may not be the most appealing option during the hot, humid days of summer, at night this becomes a very desirable dining location with the cooler temperatures and light breeze coming off the water. The outdoor seating area offers stunning views of Crescent Lake and, especially at night, is a great place to people watch and absorb the vibrant atmosphere of the Boardwalk.
The final dining area at Big River Grille is the bar. It is this area that I felt really defines the restaurant best and the area I will definitely request to sit in whenever I dine here again. Big River Grille is an actual working brewery and it is in the bar area that you can witness first-hand the beers you are drinking being produced. The glass walls of the bar reveal the large machinery used in the various stages of the beer-making process and each section is labeled to explain what is actually taking place, starting with the milling room, moving to the brewhouse, and then to fermentation. This helps to give the bar area a much more lively and active atmosphere than the rest of the restaurant.
The bar area also has a more open feel than the main dining room, with the tables positioned less closely to one another. The bar area really helps make dining at Big River Grille a more unique dining experience (especially when the beer is being brewed), whereas the main dining room felt much more generic. If you are going to eat here I would definitely suggest requesting a table in this area.
The Big River Grille is a restaurant that prides itself on its hand crafted beer and "made-from-scratch" regional cuisine that provides a perfect complement to the varieties of beer that they have available. The menu may not be the most elaborate nor the most gourmet, but it features a wide selection of offerings that pair well with the relaxed, laid-back feel of the restaurant.
The menu begins with several appetizer offerings that are great for sharing with large groups. There is a Jalapeno Spinach Cheese Dip ($9.50) that comes served hot with tortilla chips, an Asiago Artichoke & Crab Dip ($12.50) accompanied by pita chips, a Chicken Quesadilla ($9.99) with grilled chicken, peppers, onions, tomatoes, and pepper jack cheese, and Beef or Chicken Nachos ($11.99) loaded with pepper jack cheese, sliced jalapenos, and topped with pica de gallo and sour cream. While I did not order the nachos myself I did notice many other tables getting it and the serving size looked absolutely huge. This is definitely something I want to try the next time I go back.
For entrees, the menu features a plethora of sandwiches and salads. The California Chicken Sandwich ($10.50) is topped with Swiss cheese, avocado, lettuce, tomato, and ranch dressing. There is also the Blackened Mahi Mahi Sandwich ($13.50) with a chipotle mayonnaise, the Honey Dijon Chicken Sandwich ($10.99) topped with crispy smoked bacon strips and Swiss cheese, the Blue Ridge Pork Sandwich ($9.50), as well as a trio of burgers: the Big Brew Cheeseburger ($10.99), the Mushroom Cheeseburger ($11.99), and the Hickory Bacon Burger ($11.99) with smoked cheddar cheese, bacon, and sweet magnolia barbecue sauce.
On the lighter side, the salad choices include a Grilled Chicken Cashew Salad ($12.99) served on a bed of mixed greens with artichoke hearts, feta cheese, tomatoes and cashews, with balsamic vinaigrette dressing, a Grilled Salmon Caesar ($12.99), and a Grilled Chicken Caesar ($11.99).
If you are looking for something a little more than just a sandwich or salad, there are many other choices available including many traditional favorites. If you are in the mood for pasta there is the Chicken Alfredo ($15.99) or the Shrimp & Scallop Penne Pasta ($22.99) served with a pesto cream sauce. From the grill there is the Signature Ribeye ($25.99) or the New York Strip ($22.50). The menu also features Rocket Red Ribs ($22.50), dry-rubbed, slow-cooked, and basted with Rocket Red Barbecue sauce, the Flame-Grilled Meatloaf ($15.50) made with ground beef and Italian pork sausage and topped with rich, brown gravy, as well as Atlantic Salmon ($22.50) topped with dill butter.
For my meal I started with a cup of the Beer Cheese Soup ($4.50). I was very interested to see how this compared with the Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup from Le Cellier, which I have always said is one of my favorite things to eat in all of Disney World. The Beer Cheese Soup from Big River Grille was good, but nowhere close to being on the level of Le Cellier's soup. Whereas Le Cellier's has a stronger cheese flavor and just a hint of beer to give it a little kick, the soup at Big River Grille had a much more distinct beer flavor.
That being said, the soup at Big River Grille was still very rich and creamy. It was also very filling. I was glad that I ordered just a cup of the soup rather than a bowl because I might not have otherwise had room for the rest of my meal. It may not be the same high quality of Le Cellier's Cheddar Cheese Soup, but it is definitely a viable alternative if you have a craving for it and are not able to get reservations there.
For my entrée I decided on a dish that stood out as something unique among the otherwise straightforward and traditional offerings on the menu. When I ordered the Hazelnut Crusted Chicken ($16.50) I was a little skeptical because I have never heard of this combination before, but my curiosity and intrigue got the better of me and I am glad that they did. The combination of chicken and hazelnut was surprisingly good. Not only did the hazelnut crust give the chicken a very unique texture, but it also complimented the flavor of the chicken rather than being overpowering.
Overall, this was actually a very light tasting dish, much more so than chicken coated in just regular breadcrumbs. My only complaint was that it was a little dry. The chicken came topped with a sun-dried cherry sauce, which I was surprised was actually more brownish in color than red. I am not usually a fan of cherries, but this sauce was delicious; the chicken and hazelnut actually would have been a little bland without it. The sauce added just enough sweetness to the dish without being too overpowering. I wish there had been more of the sauce served on top of the chicken.
The chicken also came accompanied by mashed potatoes, which paired well with the chicken and were especially good with some of the cherry sauce on top, as well as a mixture of vegetables including green beans, carrots, peppers, and squash. The vegetables were probably the most disappointing aspect of the meal as they were just steamed and had no real flavor. Overall, this was a very original dish that offered a unique combination of flavors and textures. I would certainly order it again, but would make sure to request additional cherry sauce on top or on the side.
This was the area in which I was most disappointed with the restaurant. Big River Grille is owned and operated by an outside company, not Disney, so the service was not quite on the same level as you would receive at other restaurants across Disney World. After being seated at my table it took a very long time for my server to come over and greet me. There was really no excuse for this because the restaurant was not very crowded at all.
I ordered my soup and entrée at the same time and then I waited a very long time until the soup was brought out. I actually think my server forgot to put in the order for the soup because it was not brought to me until I reminded my server about it. Then, just after I began enjoying my soup, my entrée was brought out. This is one of my biggest pet peeves when dining out and I was very disappointed. My server was apologetic and redeemed himself a little by taking the soup off the bill.
The overall feel of the restaurant is very laid-back and relaxed, and the service matched the atmosphere in that regard, but a little too much so. If you are looking for a quick meal, then this is not necessarily the restaurant for you. It may be that the service I received was a fluke and I am certainly not going to use it as an excuse to condemn all the servers at the restaurant (and neither am I going to use it as a reason for not going back to dine here again).
Dining on a Budget:
If you are looking for a good sit-down meal at an affordable price, then the Big River Grille is a great option. With most of the sandwiches in the $10 to $12 price range, there are a wide variety of economical options available on the menu. Even if you are not in the mood for a sandwich and want something a little more substantial there are still many affordable alternatives. The Grilled Salmon Caesar for $12.99, Chicken Alfredo for $15.99, and Flame-Grilled Meatloaf for $15.50 are all reasonably priced selections. Even my meal, the Hazelnut Crusted Chicken, for $16.50 is a good value in terms of both quality and portion size.
My suggestion, if you really wanted to save money, would be to sit at the bar an order a couple of appetizers to split as a group for your meal. The Spinach Cheese Dip for $9.50, Asiago Artichoke & Crab Dip for $12.50, and Beef or Chicken Nachos for $11.99 are great for sharing and would make for a very affordable meal shared amongst family or friends.
The Overall Experience:
While the Big River Grille & Brewing Works might not be among my favorite restaurants in Disney World, I would certainly dine there again. I always like to tell people that I have yet to have a bad meal at Disney. While there are certainly some restaurants that are better than others, I have never left a restaurant at Disney World saying "That was terrible. I am never going to eat there again."
If you are looking for a quiet, relaxing lunch away from the crowds of the theme parks then Big River Grille is a great option; I was able to walk in, without a reservation, and get seated immediately. If you are staying at the Boardwalk Resort the restaurant is definitely worth a try. In addition, it is just a short walk from Epcot so it is a possible alternative if you are unable to get into a restaurant inside the park. Also, if you are a connoisseur of beer (which I confess I am not) the restaurant offers a variety of freshly-brewed beers that cannot be found anywhere else in Disney World.
Big River Grille might not be as well-known as many other restaurants at Disney World (or even the other restaurants along the Boardwalk), but it still offers a tasty, affordable, relaxing meal, making it a good restaurant to try if you are looking for something different or new.
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