May 26, 2024

CPS

Travel Adventure

Tiana’s Palace Restaurant: Food First Impressions

11 min read

Tiana’s Palace Restaurant is a new quick-service dining option in New Orleans Square in Disneyland. This shares first impressions of the food–plus thoughts on the menu, how it compares to the former French Market, and our preliminary recommendations of what to order and what to avoid.

Let’s start with the underlying motivation for the addition of Tiana’s Palace, which is the closure and reimagining of Splash Mountain into Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, a new ride based on The Princess and the Frog. Construction walls are up around Chick-A-Pin Hill and Imagineers have been observed on and around the attraction beginning work on the overhaul.

The transformation timeline is an aggressive one, and we’re skeptical that Tiana’s Bayou Adventure will actually open in 2024. More likely, it’ll be delayed until 2025. Nevertheless, other additions to Disneyland inspired by The Princess and the Frog have already debuted, with more coming later this year and in 2024.

As intimated above, Tiana’s Palace Restaurant replaces the former French Market Restaurant on Orleans Street. Many Disneyland diehards were disappointed when this was announced and, admittedly, we were among them. However, our gripe had nothing to do with French Market being an untouchable Walt-era institution.

Rather, it’s that Tiana’s Palace wasn’t replacing Hungry Bear Restaurant, which is a larger venue. If given the budget and time, Imagineers could’ve transformed that into a table service Tiana’s Palace character dining experience, with Critter Country becoming a bayou. Instead, they had limited time to retrofit an existing buffeteria, meaning that Tiana’s Palace Restaurant would necessarily be a quick-service spot due to space constraints.

Plenty of other fans were upset because French Market is home to a lot of Disneyland history. We don’t disagree, but we also have to admit to liking the idea of French Market more than the actual restaurant as it was in 2023. We had only eaten at French Market once in the last few years and were very disappointed by the higher prices, smaller portions, and bland comfort cuisine. For those reasons, French Market fell out of our regular rotation back in 2019.

While it’s possible that Tiana’s Palace Restaurant will eventually have those same problems and end up charging “princess premium” prices, we’re cautiously optimistic. The basis for that is Disneyland’s culinary program since around 2018. Since then, every counter service restaurant that has had its menu overhauled (except sometimes Paradise Garden Grill, which is its own thing since it changes multiple times per year) has been a considerable improvement over what it replaced.

Our suspicion is that around that time, Disneyland’s culinary team saw a positive response to the dishes served at Lunar New Year and Festival of the Holidays. Many of those kiosks have offered envelope-pushing and adventurous dishes, and have been well-received by guests.

Not long after, Pacific Wharf debuted a bunch of new menu items that are fairly authentic and ambitious Southern California dishes. To that point, Disneyland’s chefs have taken things a step further in last few months with all of the quick-service options in the new San Fransokyo Square in DCA. (See our Big Hero 6 Foods to Eat & Avoid in Disneyland’s San Fransokyo Square for more on that!)

In the interest of full disclosure, I was invited by Disneyland to a Tiana’s Palace Restaurant media event to preview the new Princess and the Frog inspired eatery, taste-test new menu items, and hear from the Imagineering and culinary team tasked with the transformation. I’ve done my best to set that aside and provide an unbiased assessment of the menu at Tiana’s Palace Restaurant…

Let’s start with the 7 Greens Gumbo, with White Beans, Okra, Yams, Sweet Potatoes, and Heirloom Rice. This is available as a plant-based option that’s also free of the top nine allergens. There’s also a version of the 7 Greens Gumbo with Chicken & Andouille Sausage, which obviously is not plant-based.

Disneyland’s culinary team developed this dish as an homage to Dooky Chase Restaurant, which traditionally serves a nine greens gumbo on the Thursday before Easter. It’s one of many dishes on the menu that draws inspiration from research trips to New Orleans, or that is quite literally sourced from Louisiana.

Of the gumbo on the menu at Tiana’s Palace Restaurant, the 7 Greens Gumbo is likely to be the more approachable option. The roux base is lighter but no less complex; it features the Holy Trinity of Creole and Cajun, okra roasted with a nice sweetness and caramelization, and a variety of other ingredients. The end result is a symphony of flavors that is far more ambitious and nuanced than any other plant-based option at Disneyland. The only competition that comes to mind is the Felucian Kefta and Hummus Garden Spread at Docking Bay 7 in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and this is better than that.

I typically would not go out of my way to order a plant-based option, but the standard version of the 7 Greens Gumbo holds its own against anything on the menu at Tiana’s Palace. I’m always going to take the meat-centric option if given a choice, but I’d highly recommend this to anyone looking for a meatless dish that’s still satisfying and filling. Highly recommended.

The counterpart to that is the House Gumbo: Braised Chicken, Andouille Sausage and Heirloom Rice. This shares some of the same characteristics of the 7 Greens Gumbo, but there are also key differences. The big ones are that the base is a darker roux and there’s a 50/50 hot sauce blend that brings a decent amount of kick to the dish.

Personally, I love the House Gumbo. It’s heavy and comforting, while also having a rich and robust flavor profile. I have a decent tolerance for spicy food, and this didn’t strike me as anything excessive–but others attending the event did express concern that this might be pushing the envelope for ‘average’ tourists visiting Disneyland.

While it’s the only one that I didn’t get a chance to try, my presumptive favorite of the three gumbo dishes will be the 7 Greens Gumbo with Chicken & Andouille Sausage. This is also what I would (again, presumably) recommend to anyone worried about spiciness. Combining the base of the 7 Greens Gumbo and adding the meat (which was delicious) sounds to me like the perfect marriage of the two options. There’s also a self-service hot sauce station at Tiana’s Palace, allowing for those who desire more intensity to add it themselves. Best of both worlds.

Next up is the Gulf Shrimp and Grits simmered in Creole Sauce with Cheesy Grits.

This is another dish that really delivers. The Gulf Shrimp are hearty and heat-y (is that a word?), with about the same level of spiciness as in the House Gumbo. In this case, I think the intensity doesn’t come on as strong unless you eat the shrimp by themselves, as the creaminess of the grits does a good job of cutting the heat. While not as complex as any of the gumbo, there’s also a lot going on in terms of flavor and texture here; this is another incredibly satisfying and comforting dish as a result. Again, highly recommended.

The final and first-place entree is the Beef Po’Boy Sandwich: Slow-cooked Beef in Gravy dressed with Shredded Lettuce, Tomato, Pickle and Duke’s Mayonnaise on a Toasted New Orleans French Bread, served with Red Beans & Rice and House-made Pickles.

Look, I’m always a sucker for sandwiches, so it should be of little surprise that one rated so highly for me. But I was also really impressed by the complexity and ambition of the gumbo and grits, which are truly table service caliber. Even so, this is the best dish at Tiana’s Palace Restaurant.

The highlight here is the bread, which is sourced from New Orleans. No, not “inspired by” or “using the same recipe as” breads in NOLA, but literally shipped in from New Orleans. And the extra effort absolutely shows. Before you even get your first taste of that dressed slow-cooked beef, you are treated to some of the best sandwich bread you’ll ever taste. A slight crispness on the outside giving way to softness inside, with great flavor from start to finish. Duke’s mayo gives the juicy beef just the right creaminess and tang, and the whole sandwich is way better than it has any right to be. Highly, highly recommended–to the point that it’s a top 5 dish in Disneyland.

At this point, there honestly isn’t much that I’d strongly recommend you “avoid” at Tiana’s Palace Restaurant.

The only item that fell flat for me is the Joffrey’s Coffee Chicory Cold Brew with Sweet Cream. I don’t particularly care for Joffrey’s Coffee, so that’s probably part of it. To its credit, the sweet cream did a bit to cut the flavor of that coffee, but it still tasted like Joffrey’s with cream in it, which is nothing special in my eyes. Do with that information what you will.

Finally, we have what I suspect will become the most “controversial” menu item at Tiana’s Palace Restaurant: the House-filled Beignet Featuring Lemon Ice Box Pie Filling topped with Lemon Glaze.

As soon as I saw this, I knew it would be greeted with a chorus of complaints about being inauthentic. Disneyland’s culinary team explained this as being a take on New Orleans Ice Box Pie. I don’t know if that’ll pass muster for those from the South, but that’s not really my key concern with this dessert.

Disney always takes creative liberties with authenticity, and I believe that doesn’t much matter. There’s nothing more American than fusion food, and the notion that cuisine is static and there’s only one “authentic” version of various dishes is hogwash. But I won’t climb up on that particular soap box yet again.

For me, the bigger questions are whether it’s any good, or at least, as good as the classic beignets served in New Orleans Square. My answer to the latter question is a straightforward no. The former is a bit more complicated. While I’m not native to Louisiana and am hardly an expert on Cajun or Creole cuisine, I am a native Michigander, and have extensive experience with pasties or hand pies. This reminds me of that, but in the shape of a beignet.

It’s very heavy on the glaze and is quite sugary, but the thick pastry has a great flavor and the tartness of the delicious lemon filling helps offset the sweetness a bit. My preliminary assessment is that this is “too much,” but I feel that way about most Disneyland desserts. I plan on giving this beignet another try; for now, the jury is still out on this one for me to some degree.

It probably doesn’t much matter what I think, though. No matter what I write here, I can’t imagine many Disneyland fans are going to go to Tiana’s Palace without trying her House Beignet. Just maybe consider starting by splitting one, as it’s a lot.

Ultimately, my first impression of the food at Tiana’s Palace Restaurant is highly favorable. Without question, this is a better menu than what was available at French Market when it closed. To the best of my recollection, it’s also better than the food at French Market several years ago, when it was actually good.

Disneyland’s culinary team indicated that their goal was to deliver table service quality in a counter service environment, as they wanted more guests to be able to experience Creole and Cajun cuisine. Mission accomplished. The entrees I tried from Tiana’s Palace Restaurant easily could’ve been menu items from Cafe Orleans; they’re that good and ambitious.

With that said, the first true test will come when Tiana’s Palace actually opens on September 7 and we can see what actual portion sizes for regular guests. The second test will occur after that in about 6 months once the ‘new restaurant smell’ wears off. The food at Tiana’s Palace Restaurant could change a lot between now and then.

For one thing, there’s the aforementioned spiciness of a few of the dishes I tried. Personally, this is no issue whatsoever to me, and I love that Disneyland’s culinary team is aiming higher, delivering ambitious and excellent dishes. If people want bad or bland food for whatever reason, there’s always Tomorrowland. But I’m not sure that I’m the average guest, and this is a restaurant named after a princess. So there’s that.

Another concern for me when hearing the chefs describe the dishes was the amount of labor-intensive finishing involved with some of the entrees. On occasion in the past, the culinary team’s ambitions have been at odds with operational realities, leading to “simplified” dishes several months after new menus debut. I hope that doesn’t happen with Tiana’s Palace, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it does.

Nevertheless, we’re optimistic and excited for Tiana’s Palace Restaurant. French Market had grown stale and had largely resting on its laurels and long-standing reputation. The entrees I tried are a big improvement over what was previously served up in this same location, and I can’t wait to try the rest of the dishes at Tiana’s Palace.

Almost every single restaurant that’s been reimagined or refreshed at Disneyland in the last several years has been a marked improvement, and the menus have largely held up over time. Here’s hoping that Tiana’s Palace Restaurant is just the latest in a long line of ‘success stories’ for Disneyland’s culinary team, as there are several other legacy restaurants in need to similar menu overhauls. We’ll return for further taste-testing and keep you posted!

Planning a Southern California vacation? For park admission deals, read Tips for Saving Money on Disneyland Tickets. Learn about on-site and off-site hotels in our Anaheim Hotel Reviews & Rankings. For where to eat, check out our Disneyland Restaurant Reviews. For unique ideas of things that’ll improve your trip, check out What to Pack for Disney. For comprehensive advice, consult our Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide. Finally, for guides beyond Disney, check out our Southern California Itineraries for day trips to Los Angeles, Laguna Beach, and tons of other places!

YOUR THOUGHTS

Thoughts on the menu at Tiana’s Palace Restaurant? Does this sound good to you or too spicy? If you’re from New Orleans, does the menu strike you as reasonably authentic…for a Disney theme park restaurant named after a princess? Do you agree or disagree with our take on the Cajun and Creole cuisine at Tiana’s Palace Restaurant? Any questions? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!


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