Sunday, November 09, 2008

America: Home of the Hamburger

This is a special time of year for many EPCOT fans, who enjoy the park's Food & Wine Festival, which offers expanded selections of world cuisines. For those who can get to EPCOT, it's a great experience. For those of us who can't, we've got to make do with what EPCOT offers the rest of the year.

Sometimes, it's wonderful. There are some truly tempting choices, ranging from a great steakhouse at Le Cellier to surprisingly good Middle Eastern fare in Morocco. In recent years, though, EPCOT's culinary selections have become decidedly less adventurous and more middlebrow, perhaps in recognition of the fact that many guests don't like to be "challenged" at mealtime.

Still, the Japanese offerings are distinctly Japanese. The French restuarants are inarguably French. Mexico offers Mexican food.

America offers hot dogs and hamburgers.

The United States has a remarkably diverse population with remarkably diverse regional cuisine, and it wouldn't take too much for EPCOT to acknowledge this and offer a broad selection that reflects the food and flavors that make America so unusually rich in mealtime fare.

The current menu at Liberty Inn, a counter-service restaurant, offers bacon cheeseburgers, chicken nuggets, hot dogs and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. There's no doubt that these are genuinely "American" offerings -- but is this really a reflection of American tastes?

Travel north from Walt Disney World and into America's Deep South and you'll find gumbo, etouffee and muffalettas.

Journey even farther north, and specialties include pierogies, cheesesteak sandwiches, Buffalo chicken wings and, in our nation's capitol, Senate bean soup.

The Western United States has a rich culinary history and flavor -- everything from such Mexican-influenced fare (with an American flair) as fish tacos ... to San Francisco's famous sourdough bread and cioppino ... to French dip sandwiches (arguably "created" in Los Angeles) ... to the trout and salmon of the Pacific Northwest.

From Boston baked beans and Boston creme pie to Maine lobster rolls and Chicago-style deep-dish pizza, America is an embarrassment of riches when it comes to food.

Our food choices reflect our country. No two places are quite alike, yet it's our differences that bring us together and make us stronger.

While many of these choices are indeed available at other locations throughout Walt Disney World, the same holds true for sushi, pasta and steak. EPCOT's World Showcase is a place where Disney can bring everything together and put it on display, to proudly offer the best the world has to offer.

Just because we like fast food doesn't mean that it showcases America in the best light.

Can't the "American Adventure" reflect our culinary heritage, as well?


Brian said...

While I agree with you on this (as usual) don't you think that domestic and especially international guests expect and demand hamburgers from the American pavilion?

Not to play devil's advocate, but I was just reading an article about the export of American culture in the 21st century - and at this point the world thinks our cultural contribution is Baywatch.

Even if you put Muffaleta sandwiches on the menu my guess is that they wouldn't sell hardly at all. Expectations are just wrong.

If there were *two* restaurants (one quick serve and one much nicer sit down) at the AA, perhaps the sit down restaurant could focus more on regional specialties...

Ryan P. Wilson said...

I have to agree with Brian. While I would love to see a regional American menu, I think it would only be possible in World Showcase with the addition of a second, table-service, restaurant.

Aside from the point that the world wants to see hamburgers and hot dogs in an American pavilion, parents of small children do as well. I'm not saying that it is the right mindset, but when you have a picky eater, and you know they will eat chicken nuggets, you don't stop off for sushi in Japan, you make a b-line for the chicken nuggets. I think the Liberty Inn serves a purpose to parents wishing to explore World Showcase, both the culinary and worldly aspects, who know their children aren't yet ready to take their first steps into the worldly realm of food.

And although I would love to see salmon, french dip, senate bean soup, and the like on a menu I don't think we'll be seeing that second dining experience opening in Epcot anytime soon.

Epcot82 said...

Absolutely. But given the ubiquity of hamburgers and hot dogs around Walt Disney World, there is certainly room for both.

It's just a shame that while there are lovely dining opportunities for other countries and cuisines, the "host country" makes do with a fast-food restaurant.

Anonymous said...

I am very torn on this. An interesting subject, epcot82.

On the one hand, I like my hamburgers and hotdogs in a theme park. Halfway around the World Showcase, the AA is ideally located for a quick bite. And for better or for worse, fast-food IS a distinctly American invention. Culturally, it fits well with an American pavilion.

On the other hand, it is a pity that the AA does not showcase the more refined offerings of American cuisine.

The argument that one can get hotdogs and hamburgers anywhere can be reversed as well: the AA is located right in the middle of America, and like hotdogs, one can get more highbrow American fare anywhere.

Maybe we should simply accept that the AA, by virtue of being the representation of the host country, will always differ from the other pavilions.

(As a silly idea - couldn't they combine both oncepts? Stick with fast-food, but of local variety: Philly cheesesteaks, NY pretzels and what have you not.)

I am not American, btw.

St. Chris said...

Wow, what I wouldn't give for a New York pretzel with mustard in the middle of World Showcase. I'm totally serious. I'd make sure to get one.

And if they set up counter service with one-step-up-from-fast-food items like Philly cheese steaks and Chicago pizza (or New York pizza!)? It would truly be an American embassy, a home-away-from-home (in the middle of all those other countries). I've never eaten at the American Adventure pavilion, but that would draw me in.

Anonymous said...

I have been working back and forth between Liberty and EU for the past couple months and I can flat out tell you that it wouldn't work. I have seen Liberty make budget one whole day while working there...sometimes Fife and Drum will make budget, but usually both are in the hole. Liberty is too big. It is built for the crowds EU gets but it doesn't live up to those expectations. Therefore, it has to be staffed a lot more and never meets expectation. Honestly, most people don't care to eat what we have. Most of our sales are the kids or that one reluctant member of the party that refused to eat around the world.

What would be ideal? Major refurb, something Disney can't afford at the moment.

I completely understand the desire for some better food. Perhaps one day Liberty could be transformed into a full service. Make it nice enough to challenge Le Cellier and I think it would work. Or scale back Liberty and turn Fife into a permanent type food and wine kiosk, selling seasonal morsels from around the US.

....oh and we got pulled pork sandwiches last month ;)

Anonymous said...

What is EU?

Unknown said...

EU = Electric Umbrella I'm assuming.

So offkilter - you're saying that right now the concept isn't working at all, but a proposed revamp wouldn't work either?

I understand the purpose of Liberty, as others have already laid out, but if it isn't working, how could it? With the amount of space in there, you could easily do a mini-food court ala the land, with each counter being a different region. The problem is, there just isn't enough draw at World Showcase in my opinion to support the massive amounts of restaurants.

I know this is nitpicking - but citing chicago style pizza as a possible counter service option? While delicious, this makes absolute no logistical sense. If you want to be taken seriously you need to propose serious ideas.

Anonymous said...

Here's a radical idea: ditch the fast food and put in a new E-Ticket/Dark Ride/decent movie...anything that would make the American Pavilion the best in the showcase, rather than the one with the quickest food.

Anonymous said...

epcotfan, have seen the show in the pavillion?

Hux said...

This is an interesting topic for me, as it's something I've long had fairly strong feelings about. My feeling is that the fast food junk currently being served is more than embarassment, it's a disgrace. Completely degrades the culinary heritage, and cultural heritage, of the U.S. On top of that, it's incongruous with the American Adventure.

The American Adventure is easily the best animatronic show ever made. Virtually everything in it is a complete wonder of engineering and art. The fact that is was built in 1980 is either a testament to how truly amazing it is orhow little Disney has been interested in improving animatronics shows. Take your pick.

I've long fantasized about a major re-do of the restaurants at the American Adventure. In my perfect world it's a multi-room experience. Each room gets themed to a different area of the United States (New england, Pacific Northwest, Southwest, South, etc.) and a massive, high quality menu with options from all across the country (also, dress the cast to appropriate period clothing for these areas, but then mix them all together, so you could have cowboy waiter in the New England area, and a sailor showing up in the South, just to show how diverse the country is). Make it one of the best restaurants in Epcot (which, a decade ago, would have made it one of the best restaurants at the resort).

And, of course, at a small side stand, there would be some fast food for the kids. But, for crying out loud, make it good! Granted, fast food is never good, but am I the only one that thinks the fast food at WDW is particularly terrible?

Anonymous said...

I suppose there's no offering Native American fare instead of German-based hamburgers and frankfurters...

Yup, they're German. Look at the words.

Anonymous said...

Tracie the Red, your name implies some sort of Norse or Viking background.

We're all from somewhere, everything is from something else -- and America is moreso than any other place! Diversity and acceptance of others are the key, the ideal, the great vision.

Not isolationism.

Anonymous said...

Did I say isolationism?

Do not force me into diversity if I don't want it. Let me choose it for myself. Your statement, Anon, was phrased in such a way as to come off like you were talking down to me, and telling me how unenlightened I am. I don't care for that. It was all in the way it was phrased. I have a right to my own views, thank you very much, and I won't have you looking down your nose at me.

Diversity, remember? That means I'm allowed to have views different from yours. If you try to make mine the same as yours, there's no diversity there.

Now, that said...

The idea behind the suggestion for Native food came from a recent trip I made to DC where I went to the Native American museum on the Mall. In the restaurant there, they serve Native food. It makes sense to me that such fare would suit the theme of the pavilion.

As far as my name goes: it is sort of a play on Erik the Red, but it's more of a reference to my red hair. For that matter, Erik the Red was a redhead too, from what I understand.

Anonymous said...

There's always French toast, created by one Joseph French of Albany, NY.

Just don't call it "Freedom Toast" please...

Anonymous said...

By the way, since we're so into diversity, is there something WRONG with offering Native fare? Or do those people not fit in with your idea of diversity?