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Turf Club at Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa

Jack Spence Masthead


My friend Donald and I recently ate dinner at the Turf Club located at Disney's Saratoga Springs. But before I describe our evening, I'd like to give you a quick history of this restaurant.

The Disney Institute was the brainchild of Michael Eisner. He had visited a similar facility in Southwestern New York where guests had the opportunity to attend lectures, see theatrical performances, enjoy recreational activities, and attend classes designed to entertain and educate. Eisner was taken with this concept and knew something similar would be a perfect addition to WDW. To that end, construction began on the Disney Institute in 1995 near Downtown Disney.

For guest lodging, the Disney Institute would use the existing townhomes and treehouse villas that had been constructed during the property's early years. For the classes, lectures, and performances, architect Tom Beedy designed a "community" that resembled a small New England Town. Initial construction began with the expansion of the existing Buena Vista Golf Club. This building grew to three times its original size and featured the Welcome and Check-in Center, a shop named "Dabbler," a relaxation area called "The Gathering Place Lounge," and a full-service restaurant to be known as "Seasons."


Disney Institute

Disney Institute

Disney Institute

Disney Institute

Disney Institute

Disney Institute

Disney Institute


Sitting approximately where the Artist's Palette kitchen, ordering station, and registers are located today, Seasons Restaurant offered Institute guests a fine meal. Here's what the official Disney literature had to say in 1999:

"Fresh, seasonal Florida produce is the centerpiece of every meal at Seasons Restaurant, served in four dining rooms decorated to reflect summer, winter, spring, and fall. Lunch offers light salads, sandwiches, and seafood and the dinner menu allows Chef Marianne Hunnel to show off her creativity with the freshest Atlantic seafood, meats, and pasta dishes."


Seasons Restaurant


By the way, Chef Marianne Hunnel is still working her culinary magic at Walt Disney World restaurants today.

I only ate at Seasons Restaurant once during its existence. And I only have a few memories of my evening. But I do remember I came away pleased with the meal, service, and decor and I had every intention of returning. Unfortunately, the majority of this establishment's patrons came from the struggling Disney Institute and it could not compete with nearby Downtown Disney eateries and other, more themed restaurants found around property. It closed in 2000.

The concept of four dining rooms themed around the seasons of the year was resurrected at the Sunshine Seasons Foot Court in the Land Pavilion at Epcot. Although subtle, the carpet color and table tops reflect summer, winter, spring, and fall in four, walled-off areas.


Sunshine Seasons Food Court

Sunshine Seasons Food Court

Sunshine Seasons Food Court


As the Disney Institute continued to search for participants, the massive Disney marketing department continued to promote the facility. But it was a lost cause. As fewer and fewer guests signed up for classes, less and less programs were offered. The final straw came with the slowdown in tourism after the 9/11 attacks. The Disney Institute closed its doors in 2002.

Interestingly, the Disney Institute still exists today, not as a guest enrichment package, but rather a corporate development program. Disney uses their own success in the business world as a model for other companies to emulate. Their goal is to use time-tested practices, sound methodologies, and real life business lessons that can facilitate corporate culture change in other organizations.

To make a long story short, Saratoga Springs grew from the ashes of the Disney Institute. Knowing that this new, sprawling resort would need both a counter-service and table-service restaurant, Seasons Restaurant was gutted, the kitchen rearranged, and walls repositioned. Thus was born the Artist's Palette and the Turf Club Bar & Grill.

For a more thorough description of the Disney Institute and Saratoga Springs' early history, read my more detailed article by clicking here.

Many people don't realize that the lovely sitting room outside the Turf Club is actually the restaurant's lounge. A pool table is on hand as is a TV that is usually tuned to ESPN. A walk-up bar serves soft and hard drinks beginning at 4 each evening. This is a great place to sit and unwind, even if you're not planning a meal here.


Turf Club Lounge

Turf Club Lounge

Turf Club Lounge

Turf Club Lounge


The Turf Club Bar & Grill is located just off of this lounge and offers understated sophistication. Although I've never been to a private racetrack club/restaurant, I somehow imagine this is what it would be like.


Turf Club Entrance


The walls of this establishment are made up of dark woods with tan accents. The carpet is a rich green with gold highlights. The tables and chairs have a clean look and also feature dark woods. The lighting is simple and keeps the atmosphere subdued, which is perfect. A wall of windows runs along one side of the restaurant and allows filtered sunlight to bathe the dining room. Several shadow boxes hang on the walls displaying racing gear.


Turf Club Dining Room

Turf Club Dining Room

Turf Club Dining Room

Turf Club Dining Room


Adjacent to the indoor dining room is a covered porch with additional tables for outside dining. While eating here you can see the Sassagoula River in the distance and the water taxis ferrying guests to Downtown Disney, Old Key West, and Port Orleans. When the weather is pleasant, this is a wonderful spot to enjoy a meal.


Turf Club Outdoor Dining

Turf Club Outdoor Dining


For many years, the Turf Club was open for lunch as well as dinner. However, due to a sparse afternoon attendance, the midday meal was discontinued here a few years ago. Sigh. Dinner is served from 5pm to 10pm and reservations are recommended.

I have eaten at the Turf Club many times, mostly for lunch until this meal was discontinued, but also for dinner on a number of occasions. The food is consistently prepared well and presented attractively. When it comes to service, the wait staff has always taken good care of me. On that note, I would like to single out one server in particular.

I first met Max when I was eating lunch here on a regular basis. Besides being a genuinely nice guy, Max seems to know how to time a meal correctly. I have never felt rushed or hurried when he is waiting on me. He also keeps my drinks refilled without asking. This is something I really appreciate. Max seems to be able to sense my mood and only engages me in extra conversation if I signal a desire to be talkative. Sometimes well-meaning cast members can overdue the "where are you from" routine. If you're planning a meal at the Turf Club, ask for Max. You won't be disappointed with his service.

The tables at the Turf Club are simply set. A knife and fork sit atop a cloth napkin with a bread-and-butter plate to the side. Salt and pepper shakers hold up the drink menu. There are no tablecloths.


Turf Club Table


As with most dinners served at Disney restaurants, ours started off with a basket of bread. To give their establishment a distinction from the rest, the Turf Club accompanies this with maple butter. Overall, the rolls were unremarkable, but the maple butter made up for this.


Bread and Butter


I know its tradition, but I have always wondered why restaurants serve three rolls for two people. Why can't they just serve four to begin with? I know they'll bring more if requested, but"¦

Since I was writing a review for AllEars, we ordered a three-course meal. I started with the Steamed Mussels for my appetizer. These are prepared with fennel, shallots, white wine, tomato pesto, and fresh herbs


Steamed Mussels

The mussels were excellent and plentiful. I loved the flavor. And when I was finished with the mussels, I used the bread to soak up the cooking liquid that remained at the bottom of my bowl. My only complaint was that I encountered a few pieces of grit in two of the mussels. But this is nothing more than I find at any restaurant when I order this meal.

Donald ordered the Tomato Bisque for his appetizer. This offering has been a staple of the Turf Club for a long time. It is wonderful, rich, and creamy. It is topped with a dab of goat cheese which turns a good soup into an outstanding delight. I have had the tomato bisque here many times and I'm never disappointed.


Tomato Bisque


I know for a review I should order something more unusual than prime rib, but I'm a meat lover and this is one of my favorite dishes. It has also been on the Turf Club menu for a long time so I believe it is considered one of their signature meals.


Prime Rib


I like my meat rare as you can see in the above picture. Yum. The prime rib was tender, nicely marbled, and flavorful and was served with a cherry-peppercorn sauce which was a nice addition. I was quite pleased with my selection and it satisfied my craving for beef.

The prime rib was accompanied with mashed Potatoes and broccolini. I'm not a fan of chefs stacking food. I prefer my selections to each have their own space on the plate. I don't want to have to "unpack" my meal before I start eating. But stacking food is the trend at the moment so I have to go with the flow.

Normally, if mashed potatoes are offered with a meal, I'll ask for a substitute. It's not that I don't like mashed potatoes, it's just that I think they are bland and there are usually more flavorful options. But since I was doing a review, I opted to take what was offered, and I'm glad I did. I couldn't believe how much flavor the chef packed into this mundane tuber. I could have made a meal on the potatoes alone.

As for the broccolini, it was fine. Nothing worthy of praise or criticism.

Overall, I was very happy with my dinner.

Donald ordered the Root Beer Brined Pork Chop.


Root Beer Brined Pork Chop


Donald made his selection because he was intrigued by the idea of meat being marinated in root beer. Although presented beautifully, his expectations were greater than the actual product. Although the meat tasted more than fine, it really didn't have that "wow" factor he was looking for. There was no hint of the root beer flavor at all. Next time he'll opt for something different.

For dessert I had the Warm Seasonal Fruit Crisp with streusel topping and vanilla bean ice cream.


Warm Seasonal Fruit Crisp


The seasonal fruit being offered during my visit was apple. Not very exotic. In essence, I was served warm apple pie a la mode. However, I LOVE warm apple pie a la mode and I was not disappointed with this offering. It was everything it was supposed to be and I was glad I ordered it.

Donald ordered the Lemon Curd & Berries.


Lemon Curd & Berries


This dish layers lemon curd, whipped cream, and seasonal berries in a tumbler. The seasonal berries in this case were blueberries.

For Donald, lemon flavor runs a close second behind chocolate. He was most pleased with his selection and would not hesitate to order it again.

Although I don't have any pictures, I would like to make a few more suggestions. These are based on past experiences.

For an appetizer, try the Turf Club Signature Grilled Romaine Salad. It features grilled hearts of romaine with Caesar dressing, balsamic vinegar reduction, and roasted cherry tomatoes. It is outstanding. I use to order this for lunch on almost every visit.

For dinner, try the Grilled Salmon with Teriyaki Glaze, with Cilantro Jasmine Rice and Green Peas. The salmon is exceptional. The best I've had anywhere on property.

For dessert I like the Cheesecake with Seasonal Topping. As you would expect, the seasonal topping is usually berries, but that's okay. This cheesecake is not pretentious. It's just your basic cheesecake. However, it's GOOD basic cheesecake and always satisfies my craving for this extremely fattening dessert.

I recently reviewed Shutters at Old Port Royale located at the Caribbean Beach Resort. In that review I said that the restaurant was worth trying if you're staying at that particular resort. But it certainly isn't worth a trip out of your way to get there.

The Turf Club almost falls into this same category. It's a great place to have supper if you're staying at Saratoga Springs, but I'm not sure it's worth the drive if you're staying someplace else. Well, I'm ALMOST sure it's not worth a drive. The thing is, I like the Turf Club a lot more than Shutters. I think the food is comparable between the two, but the atmosphere at the Turf Club is far more refined. This is something I'm looking for when I'm dining out. While Shutters sits adjacent to a food court and is decorated in festive colors, the Turf Club is tucked away from everything and offers a subdued atmosphere. I like this and it might compel me to drive out of my way to enjoy a meal here. Note, my recommendation is dependent on you having a car and driving yourself. It is not worth a bus ride from your hotel to a theme park, transfer, and then another bus ride to Saratoga Springs.

Bottom line, I think you'll enjoy dinner at the Turf Club whether you're staying at Saratoga Springs or if you make the drive over. It's a nice spot.

To watch a clip that highlights Saratoga Springs dining, check out the video below. If you watched the full Saratoga Springs video yesterday, you have already seen this material.



The previous post in this blog was Saratoga Springs - A Relook.

The next post in this blog is Landscaping the World - Magic Kingdom - Part One.

Comments (16)

Bill:

We ate at the Turf Club during our first stay at SSR. We ended up eating there on Ash Wednesday, and were pleasantly surprised that they had at least 3 seafood entrees available. All were very good.

Our server Ron was also excellent - attentive without being overbearing.

For an appetizer, we had the onion rings that come with a few different sauces and that was very good (I think Olivia's at Key West serves something similar).

Jack's Comment:

You are correct that Old Key West serves a similar onion ring appetizer. Last I knew, the same chef overseas both the Turf Club and Olivia's.

Heather:

Always a great review! I LOVE how you said "unpack" my meal! Honestly, why cant resturants "present" a dish without stacking everything on top of each other.

Kevin:

Jack, a great review, and we agree with every word. We eat at the Turf Club pretty much every trip, and it never fails us. Always excellent food and service. You might try the chicken breast at some point. Very, very good!

Rickb:

Hello Jack I just want to comment on your comment: "But stacking food is the trend at the moment so I have to go with the flow."
Actually the very upscale restaurants has been out of that mode for a while. Stacking was a big trend about 15 years ago.
Now the big trend is to serve food in micro bites that are meticously laid out on large square or rectangular plates wth overhead flourishes.
This is no tonly in molecular cuisine restaurants but spreading all over the fine dining world. The big problem with that is that you, as the Customer, feel like there was 10 pairs of hands working on your plate which is not always an happy thought. On the management point of view this new trendy style of presentation is so labor intensive that only very high end places can really afford it. So I don't think that it will spread in the WDW fine dining places. At the moment only California Grill and Victoria and Albert are sitting on the fence between stacking and micro plating. Even Chefs de France has not switched.

Josh Weiss:

Hey Jack
I was able to dine at the turf club during my visit to Saratoga Springs a few years ago and ordered the calamari. It was one of the best meals I had ever had in my life. I hope to dine there again sometime soon. Can't wait for your next blog and as always keep up the great work.

Tammra:

Turf Club is a great option if visiting Downtown Disney. We had tickets for the early La Nouba Cirque show and had a late lunch/early dinner at this restaurant. It was great to ride the boat over and enjoy a nice meal.

Susan Spence Cole:

Timely review, Jack. I made a reservation this morning for the Turf Club. We've eaten there a few times, always outside. I feel as if this is one of those "hidden gems," and that it IS worth the drive over if you have the time. We rarely stay at Saratoga Springs, usually opting for our home resort of Old Key West. We've also enjoyed the tomato bisque, but I was fond of the French onion soup, too. Take care.

Jack's Comment:

Oh. You're right. They're French Onion is wonderful. I haven't had it in a while. I guess I'll have to go back. LOL

David:

In regards to three rolls for two people. It goes beyond tradition there is a psychological reason for giving a table an odd number of rolls. But I don't recall the reasoning.

It just doesn't apply to two tops, it also applies to tables with even number of people. When I work in restaurants, if the number of people were an even number we would add one more roll to the basket. For example if it was a four top, they would receive five rolls.

However if it was a three top or a five top they would receive three or five rolls, respectively.

Laura:

We ate at Turf Club the last time we stayed at POR & loved it! Since we drive to WDW, the concierge at POR recommended we take our own car to SSR. It was such a quick drive! I highly recommend anyone staying at the Port Orleans resorts with a car to try Turf Club.

I can't remember our server's name right now but he was the best server we've had anywhere. That includes away from WDW. I sent an email to Disney when we returned home to let them know what a gem they had in this cast member.

Great review, Jack! Thanks for sharing!

Ann:

Hi Jack, love your reviews and blogs, it makes my day when there is a new one. To finish the above comment, the psychological reasoning behind giving 3 rolls for 2 people, 5 rolls for 4 people, etc, is that if everyone takes one roll, that leaves one left over. Many parties will leave the last roll due to feeling awkward or stingy taking the last one. Thus the restaurant doesn't have to bring more rolls and the server doesnt offer them, because there is one still siting on the table. Now whether this is Disney's intention or as you say, Jack, has become more Tradition, I can't say.

Julia:

Jack,
I always enjoy your writings so much.
The comment about unpacking your plate was spot on.
Regarding root beer--
CrockPot beef roast with a can or bottle of root beer. So easy, and adds flavor (and a little color too, so it doesn't come out grey. It is very tender. Pour off root beer when done, and slice.
Crockpot Pulled Pork--pork roast with a can or bottle of root beer. Cook until meat shreds easily with forks. Pour off root beer, shred with forks, and add favorite bbq sauce. Pulled pork so easy, and keeps the kitchen cool too.

Jenny Sperandeo:

Hi Jack! This is my next "must do" on my list of restaurants at WDW. I trust your reviews and you have never let me down.

I remember awhile back, you reviewed Olivia's at OKW. It is now one of my favorite places to dine while at Disney. We make reservations every trip, and even if we are just passing by. I especially love to sit on the terrace and eat breakfast when it's open on a nice day. :)

Jen:

Want to agree with this...we stayed at Saratoga Springs for the Princess Half Marathon weekend, and Turf Club is now one of my favorite restaurants at Disney! I don't eat red meat, so i'm a bit picky, but the fried chicken with mac n cheese was amazing. The chicken was lightly battered and fried up crispy, and the mac n cheese was just delicious. I also had the mussels, which i enjoyed. i'm looking for excuses to go back already!

Linda Malloy:

My family and I just returned from a 7day trip to Disney, celebrating my son Dennis' 7th birthday. We stayed at Saratoga Springs and had the pleasure of dining at the Turf Club for two nights. We had Max as our server both nights...and couldn't have been happier. Max is hands down one of the best servers I know, both in and out of Disney! Not only did he make Dennis' birthday dinner so magical, he remembered all of our names and what we ordered two nights later! The food was excellent both nights and would recommend both the Turf Club and requesting Max to all that visit.

Carolyn:

We have eaten at turf club too. We have gotten Max too. Even when he has not been our waiter he has remembered us. He has come over to say hi, wish us happy holidays and even ask how our kids are when we have traveled without him. Wish disney could see this and wish max could see this too so disney knew how good he is and how much he is loved.

Rusty:

We have enjoyed a meal in the Turf Club on our first trip with a dining plan.

We were seated first in the seats with the bench along the back of the room. We had cleaned up for dinner (after going to the pool that afternoon) and the first few patrons were dressed for dining.

Then the lower tables filled out with weary families who waited too long to eat. They were overheated, sweaty, loud and complaining. The men wore basketball jersies that revealed their chests near to their nipples. They came in, sat down and used the pretty napkin to wipe the sweat from their shoulders. It was borish and cheapened the entire meal experience for us.

I realize we aren't getting 'sports coats required' dining atmospheres but I believe at least a full tee shirt that covers hairy pits is minimum. the couple drank their fill of liquor party drinks while their children scratched their crotches and tossed rolls at each other.

Has there ever been any sort of dress code enforcement to maintain some 'magic'????

The meal plans have sold meals but the public seams less polished to alloy the majority to enjoy the 'ambiance'

Jack's Answer:

I did a little research regarding your question, and you're not going to like the answer.

Only the signature restaurants ban tank tops and the Turf Club is not considered a signature restaurant. For the most part, only restaurants that requires 2 points on the Dining Plan are considered a signature restaurant. The Turf Club does not fall into that category. It's considered a casual restaurant.

I personally don't agree with this policy. I believe that any table service restaurant located in a resort should require proper cover-up, but that's not the case. Sorry.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on August 19, 2014 8:11 AM.

The previous post in this blog was Saratoga Springs - A Relook.

The next post in this blog is Landscaping the World - Magic Kingdom - Part One.

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