The Hollywood Brown Derby is the most sophisticated lunch and dinner option inside Disney’s Hollywood Studios (DHS). Inspired by the glamour of 1930s Hollywood and the famous California Brown Derby restaurant on Vine Street, the Walt Disney World version features a sunken dining room, white-linen tables, tuxedoed waiters, and live piano music. The décor’s understated elegance, quiet enough for conversation, and the excellent service add an air of authenticity to the place – it’s easy to forget you’re in the middle of a Disney theme park.
Disney’s Hollywood Brown Derby menu
As pleasant as is the restaurant’s ambiance, it is the food that is central to the dining experience. The Hollywood Brown Derby serves the best food in the DHS theme park, although not perhaps pleasing to the palates of young children or picky eaters. (Read this kids’ review of the restaurant by the DIS Unblogged’s Dave Parfitt and his daughters.)
Instead, Disney’s Hollywood Brown Derby is for those who enjoy a more upscale cuisine (with prices to match). Appetizers that include asparagus soup and blue-crab cakes are followed by such entrées as pan-roasted duck breast, seared rack of lamb, coconut tofu, and filet of beef. Desserts, such as a banana white chocolate truffle tour or vanilla bean crème brulee, can be paired with selections from the restaurant’s extensive wine list.
The most notable items on the menu also contribute to the Hollywood Brown Derby’s authenticity. The restaurant serves two signature items based on recipes from the original Brown Derby: the famous Cobb Salad (named after Bob Cobb, the owner of the original California Brown Derby) and the grapefruit cake with cream cheese icing.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios grapefruit cake
The Cobb Salad and its imitators have worked its way into American culture, and can be found in restaurants around the world. The grapefruit cake, however, has not yet found as wide an audience. Yet a well-made grapefruit cake is a delightful dessert for those who like citrus desserts: light, slightly tart, with a subtle sweetness to the cake that is well balanced by the stronger flavor of the cream-cheese icing. It’s ideal for hot summer days.
Hollywood legend has it that the grapefruit cake was created at the request/demand of famous gossip columnist Louella Parsons, who desired a more diet-friendly option and suggested Cobb create something with grapefruit. (Although tasty, the result definitely isn’t low-cal.)
The cake is also rumored to have been a favorite of Walt Disney at the original Brown Derby and one of the reasons why it is included in Hollywood Brown Derby menu – giving Disney fans with yet another good reason to sample the cake.
The DHS Hollywood Brown Derby serves lunch and dinner daily. Advance Dining Reservations can be made online or at 407-WDW-DINE (407-939-3463).
This article is part of an occasional series featuring Disney dining and/or Disney food. Click here for more in this Disney Dining series.
For those who want to try the grapefruit cake at home, here’s the recipe.
Grapefruit cake recipe
(published in Disney Magazine, Summer 1999; also available at AllEars.net, with slight methodological differences to cooling and removing the cake)
- 1 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 3 eggs (separated)
- 3 tablespoons grapefruit juice
- 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Method of Preparation
- Preheat oven to 350º F. Sift together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into mixing bowl. Make a well in center of dry ingredients.
- Add water, oil, egg yolks, grapefruit juice, and lemon rind. Beat until smooth.
- Beat egg whites and cream of tartar separately, until whites are stiff but not dry.
- Gradually fold egg whites into the cake batter, folding gently with a rubber spatula until just blended. Do not stir the mixture.
- Pour into an ungreased 10-inch cake pan. Bake at 350º degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, or until cake springs back in the center when lightly touched with a finger.
- Place the pan on a cake race until cool. Run spatula around edge of cake. Carefully remove from pan.
- With a serrated knife, gently cut layer into two layers. After cutting the cake in two, slide a flat cookie sheet between the two layers to lift the top one off; after frosting the bottom layer, simply slide the top back on.
Grapefruit cream cheese frosting
- 2 six-ounce packages of cream cheese
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
- 3/4 cup powdered sugar (sifted)
- 6 to 8 drops yellow food coloring
- 1 one-pound can grapefruit sections (well-drained), reserving 2 tablespoons of juice; OR 3 fresh grapefruits, peeled, sectioned, and drained, reserving 2 tablespoons of juice.
Method of Preparation
- Let cream cheese soften at room temperature, then cheese until fluffy. Add lemon juice and rind.
- Gradually blend in sugar and beat until well blended. Add food coloring, if desired.
- Add reserved 2 teaspoons of grapefruit and blend.
- Divide the frosting evenly into two bowls.
- Roughly chop 2/3 of the grapefruit sections and add them to half the frosting. Spread this mixture on the bottom half of cake.
- Top with the second layer of cake and frost the top and sides with the remaining frosting. Garnish each portion with a grapefruit slice.
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