It’s June, and while many people are forgoing heavy, stick-to-your-ribs foods in favor of light, fresh meals with as little cooking as possible, others are doubling down on comfort-filled favorites oozing with butter, lard, and spices. Why, you might ask? Because it’s National Soul Food Month!
We love food. Give us any excuse to down delicious eats and we are there. So, this is one random “holiday” we are more than happy to celebrate. If you’re traveling to Disney World during National Soul Food Month (or any time of year) and you’d like to raise a fork to this tasty culinary tradition, there are plenty of places to chow down on homey soul food at Disney World.
What Is Soul Food?
Soul food is a regional American cuisine with roots in African American history, and a cultural tradition just as rich and complex as the iconic dishes which are its mainstays. In its most basic interpretation, soul food is homestyle cooking which has fueled Black Americans for generations, making its way from the Deep South to the far corners of the United States.
While the term ‘soul food’ first gained steam during the 1960s when the civil rights and Black Power movements were in full swing, its origins – both the word and culinary tradition – go back much further. Although African Americans can claim quite a few wordsmiths, the phrase ‘soul food’ can actually be traced back to the most prolific (and decidedly non-African American) wordsmith of all time, William Shakespeare, when he coined the term “soul’s food” in his very first play, The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Since its first mention by The Bard, soul food has been on quite the journey, transforming from anything that feeds your spirit to the cooking that nourishes Black communities.
Still, with a mélange of culinary influences, soul food isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. At its core, the cuisine was created by enslaved people who were simply making the most of the meager rations they were given. However, as many of those same people also cooked for the slaveowners they served, their staple meals also found their way into soul food’s history. Add in African ingredients, such as okra, Native American cooking methods, and dishes descended from Western European countries, like Scotland’s fried chicken, and you’ve got what is effectively one of America’s first fusion cuisines.
Today, typical dishes include: fried chicken or fish (especially catfish), sweet potatoes (either candied or in a pie), biscuits, cornbread, greens, the all-encompassing red drink, macaroni and cheese, grits, hushpuppies, various cuts of pork (which have been smoked, stewed, or smothered in gravy), and much more.
If you’re thinking that sounds a whole lot like Southern food or comfort food, you’d be right. Although they may have different names, they are basically two (or three?) sides of the same coin. And what about Cajun, Creole, and Lowcountry cooking which also have roots in various parts of the South and African American culture? Consider them soul food’s cuisine cousins, with many of the dishes sharing space on the same menus or utilizing the same ingredients.
Indulge in Soul Food Favorites at These 10 Disney World Restaurants
What’s the best way to celebrate a cuisine, besides learning about its history and culture? By eating it, of course! Now, we are by no means soul food experts. However, we have definitely enjoyed our fair share of soul food-inspired favorites at restaurants around Walt Disney World.
Now, are these dishes as authentic as what you’d find on grandma’s kitchen counter or at your local church function down south? In most cases, probably not, but they are still a tasty way to pay tribute to this cozy American regional cuisine and refuel for a day of fighting the theme park crowds.
So, without any further ado, here are our top 10 Disney World restaurants for soul food classics with a (pixie) dusting of southern seasonings and a (gravy) boatload of homespun flavor.
1. Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’
Of all the restaurants at Disney World, Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ is about as soul food (AKA Southern food or comfort food) as it gets. Remember how we talked about the lines between the three cuisines being kinda fuzzy? That pretty much describes Homecomin’ to a T. While this Disney Springs Southern restaurant describes itself as a farm-to-table spot highlighting “Florida’s rich cultural heritage” and local ingredients, we’re pretty sure the Braised Kale & Collards, Fried Catfish served with hushpuppies, and Okra Fries speak for themselves.
As is soul food tradition, the star of the menu at Homecomin’ is Art’s Famous Fried Chicken. After all, they call fried chicken the “gospel bird” for a reason. Or, for comfort food with a breakfast twist, stop in on Saturdays and Sundays for the Rise & Shine Southern Brunch, where several iterations of Art’s chicken are on offer, like Fried Chicken & Donuts and the chicken-topped Hallelujah Biscuit, as well as a Grits & Greens Breakfast Bowl.
Wanting a souvenir to remember that sweet, sweet soul food by? Or perhaps just something to sip on as you stroll around Disney Springs? Then be sure to stop into the Southern Shine Bar before you leave for a Rumshine Punch to-go in one of the restaurant’s massive squeeze bottles. Be careful though, that moonshine really sneaks up on you.
2. House of Blues Restaurant & Bar
Ok, we lied. Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ may be filled with Southern and soul food favorites from morning to night, however, is there anything more “soul food” than a Gospel Brunch? We rest our case.
Here you’ll find a slew of Southern-inspired bar foods and entrees, with soul food, BBQ, Cajun, and Creole dishes all making an appearance. Fried Chicken brushed with bourbon butter and smoky Baby Back Ribs are both on offer here.
However, as tasty as lunch and dinner here are, we recommend you stop in for brunch instead. And not just the Weekend Brunch, although with dishes like Chicken ‘n’ Donuts and Pig Grits & Shrimp, that’s good too. No, we’re talking about that famous Gospel Brunch.
This joyful brunch buffet is only available on Sundays. However, if you love breakfast, soul food, and rousing gospel music, this is a can’t-miss experience. As you dine on classics like Fried Catfish Strips, Macaroni & Cheese, and Buttermilk Biscuits & Country Gravy, you’ll be serenaded by a soundtrack of soulful tunes, with music provided by a live gospel group from the region.
3. Boatwright’s Dining Hall
If there’s any Disney World resort restaurant that reliably dishes up soul-filled Southern dishes, it’s Boatwright’s Dining Hall at Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside. Designed to look like the shipbuilding yards that once speckled the shores of the Mighty Mississippi, this table service restaurant runs the gamut when it comes to regional Southern cuisines, with everything from soul food and Lowcountry cooking to Creole and Cajun dishes on the menu.
One of the hottest (both literally and figuratively) soul food dishes is on offer here: Nashville Hot Chicken, and it wouldn’t be complete without classic Southern Greens, Crawfish Macaroni & Cheese, or Fried Okra. Or, go for such Louisiana favorites as Deep South Shrimp & Grits, Boatwright’s Jambalaya, or Red Beans & Rice. Top it all off with the Lemon Chess Bar or a slice of Pecan Pie Cheesecake.
Unlike Homecomin’, Boatwright’s Dining Hall is only open for dinner, so be sure to plan accordingly. For especially epic timing, arrange your meal so you can enjoy the Campfire on de’ Bayou or Yehaa Bob’s show at the River Roost lounge before or afterward.
4. Scat Cat’s Club
Although Cajun and Creole cuisines aren’t technically considered soul food, the sultry sounds of jazz at Scat Cat’s Club at Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter might be able to convince you otherwise. In fact, it was frustrated black jazz players back in the 1940s that helped give soul food its name. Trying to differentiate themselves from the white players in the genre, they swirled in their gospel music upbringing and soul music was born – as was “soul brother,” “soul sister,” and, ultimately, “soul food.”
So, for a soulful experience of a different kind, while away the evening hours at this New Orleans-style lounge, and one of our favorite Disney World bars. While Louisiana favorites are obviously the focus here, like the boozy Baton Rouge Beignets, you’ll also find some soul food classics with a Cajun or Creole spin, such as the Chicken & Waffles and Mardi Gras Mac & Cheese crowned with a cornbread crumble.
Scat Cat’s Club is also located right next door to Sassgoula Floatworks and Food Factory, making it a prime spot for an after-dinner cocktail with a side of live music. That’s right – this hidden gem comes to life 5 nights a week with a live jazz band, just like many French Quarter haunts. Wash it all down with a southern-inspired alcoholic beverage such as The Big Easy, a Bayou Rum Flight, or a bottle of Abita beer.
5. Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue
What’s the only thing better than dinner? Why, dinner and a show, of course! Here your finger-lickin’-good Southern comfort food favorites come with a healthy helping of hootenanny hijinks. The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue is Disney’s longest-running stage show and features two fun-filled hours of foot-stompin’ music, laugh-out-loud entertainment, and soul food-inspired dishes.
Join the Pioneer Hall Players at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground each night as they sing, dance, and joke their way to your heart. If Dolly Drew and Six Bits don’t win you over with their frontier shenanigans, then the bottomless buckets of old-fashioned cookout favorites will. Tuck into smoky, saucy BBQ Pork Ribs, along with crispy Fried Chicken, Baked Beans, and Cornbread. And be sure to save some room for that sweet, sweet Strawberry Shortcake. Plus, not only are soft drinks included, but so are *unlimited* beer, wine, and sangria for guests over 21.
6. The Crystal Palace
“The Crystal Palace?”, you might be thinking. “You mean the one at Magic Kingdom where you can meet Winnie the Pooh and Tigger too? And at # 7 no less? Well, now it seems like a strange Disney World soul food suggestion.” Yup, that’s the one (although at the time of writing, Pooh and friends were taking a break from Crystal Palace due to the pandemic); and trust us, we understand your surprise, but hear us out. After going on hiatus due to Covid-19, The Crystal Palace returned with a new family-style menu filled with a host of soul food favorites.
Here, you’ll begin with an assortment of shared starters – we like the Home-style Cornbread Muffins and Cheddar-Bacon Cornbread Muffins with hot pepper jelly. Next, you’ll move on to the entrée of your choosing, such as Crispy-fried Chicken served with Macaroni & Cheese, a sweet-meets-savory Brown Sugar-glazed Bone-In Pork Chop alongside a Baked Sweet Potato doused with honey butter, and Blackened Catfish & Shrimp on top of creamy Cheddar Grits. Finally, for a sweet finish, be sure to save some room for a Family Style Dessert Platter featuring such soul food desserts as Peach Cobbler and Banana Cream Pie.
7. Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory
The Big Easy may be home to Cajun and Creole cuisine, but with comfort food favorites like Fried Chicken, Barbecued Ribs, and Macaroni & Cheese on the menu, no one can say that the Sassagoula Floatworks and Food Factory at Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter doesn’t have soul.
Of course, if you’re looking for dishes fresh from the bayou and Lowcountry instead, there are plenty of other dishes – many made with authentic ingredients or served with traditional accompaniments – to suit your tastebuds. We like the Shrimp & Grits made with tasso ham, rich Gumbo filled with okra and chicken, and spicy Jambalaya dotted with andouille sausage. Or, for a truly unique ode to New Orleans, try the Beignet Cheeseburger. And of course, don’t forget the classic Mardi Gras King Cake for dessert.
For truly impeccable timing, plan your meal to end right before the music starts over of Scat Cat’s Club to feed your soul right along with your stomach.
8. River Roost
In the mood for some boozy libations with a side of soul food and live entertainment? Then mosey on up to the bar at Port Orleans Riverside’s River Roost. With its old-timey bar and chandeliers that look like they should be fed by gas instead of electricity, stepping inside this quaint watering hole next to Boatwright’s Dining Hall is like taking a portal to the past.
As a resort lounge, the food menu here is slim. That being said, the dishes that are on the menu are soaked in Southern-inspired flavors. Fried fish, a soul food staple, is on offer here (specifically cornmeal-battered catfish), with the Southern Fish and Chips, along with flavorful Cajun and Creole favorites like Mardi Gras Fritters made with pimiento cheese and spiced rum-soaked Hummingbird Cake. And of course, be sure to get a Bourbon Street-worthy specialty cocktail like the Southern Hurricane to wash it all down.
Like Scat Cat’s Club, River Roost also features live entertainment. Yehaa Bob Jackson is a Port Orleans institution. His 90-minute show is a hoot-and-a-half with laugh-out-loud musical stylings on the piano, playing everything from Disney movie classics to kid-friendly tunes. Be forewarned though – you may be called up on stage for some audience participation, so be sure to have some liquid courage close at hand.
9. 50’s Prime Time Café
While soul food as a concept didn’t permeate the American consciousness until the 1960s, the dishes and traditions themselves had actually been spreading throughout the United States for decades before then as a result of The Great Migration. So, it’s no wonder that soul food standbys like fried chicken and meatloaf have become comfort food classics throughout the country.
Made to look like a positively retro kitchen and dining room on a massive scale, the 50s Prime Time Café at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a thoroughly immersive table service restaurant. There, Southern-inspired favorites like Aunt Liz’s Golden Fried Chicken and Cousin Megan’s Traditional Meatloaf are the focus.
Best (worst?) of all, this themed dining experience comes with an especially amusing surprise: all the servers are playing your aunt, cousin, or some other relative. That’s right, this meal comes with a side of good-natured chiding. So, be sure to finish your vegetables and keep your elbows off the table or else they’ll be no dessert. If it wasn’t obvious, part of the fun of 50’s Prime Time Café (aside from the tasty eats, of course) is playing along, so shove your dignity to the side and just enjoy it.
Well ya’ll, that concludes our list of the 10 best places to get soul food (and Cajun, Creole, Lowcountry, and other Southern comfort food classics) at Disney World during National Soul Food Month. If you’re making a trip to Walt Disney World over the month of June, we hope we’ve given you some ideas for where you can celebrate this delicious culinary tradition.