By Erik Johnson
Walking into the Wilderness Lodge, the sheer grandeur of the concourse unfolds in front of you. If this is your first time walking into my favorite resort, you have earned my envy. I still love the sight every time I walk in. Massive wooden columns hold aloft the ceiling so far above. The lighting is lowered, softly emanating from the hanging lamps, painted with Native American artwork. Gigantic totem poles whisper of a story that you will long to sit and absorb. Try out one of the extra-wide rocking chairs while you do so. Maybe your eyes have missed all this, instead drawn to the stories-tall fireplace depicting the geological history of the Grand Canyon itself.
You can be forgiven if you miss the sights to your immediate left upon entering. After all, there’s a spring bubbling from the floor of the hotel’s lobby! Who has time to look into a plain, old restaurant when you can stand on a bridge and watch the water flow outdoors, into the pool complex below. You came here for a reminder of the lodges of Yosemite and Yellowstone, not a place to catch some breakfast.
Of course, if you visit during the main dining hours, Whispering Canyon Café might catch your attention a bit more. A line of children on horseback snake through the tables while an exciting Western score suggests they will find those cattle rustlers soon enough. A server screams, “KETCHUUUUUUUUUUP!” as six families descend upon the unsuspecting table. They pile it high with ketchup bottles and retreat to their tables, content to have fulfilled the ancient rites of this dynamic dining location.
Whispering Canyon Café is yet another experience within the Walt Disney World Resort. Another taste of how expert theming, wholehearted service, and hearty food can collide in spectacular fashion. Trying this hidden resort favorite can bring more peril than a snake in your boots, though. You may find yourself biting the bullet on future trips, venturing a bit out of the way to enjoy another meal at this amazing location.
Breakfast is a hearty affair at the Café. Massive skillets dominate the menu, offering meals that rank from heavy to healthy. Well, healthy-ish. The Lighter Side skillet may feature an egg white spinach frittata and turkey bacon, but it’s still jam packed with food! Oh, and you run out of sausage or eggs or anything in your skillet, just request a refill. It’s all you care to eat! Other plates of eggy goodness include a salmon frittata and a couple of poached egg options. Not in the mood for a giant meal before venturing into the Florida sun? Try their steel-cut oatmeal or a simple fruit plate with yogurt. Embrace your inner cowboy and get a side of cheesy grits for a few dollars more. If that sentence made you think of a certain spaghetti western, I apologize.
If you want a slower, sit-down experience for lunch, stop in to Whispering Canyon! Sandwiches and salads dominate the menu. Go for a touch of the southwest with the pulled pork sandwich or bison burger. Need a quick barbecue snack? Try the burnt ends nachos, loaded with the best parts of beef brisket.
The dinner menu returns to a familiar, trail-based theme: skillets! Smoked pork belly, beef brisket, and salmon skillets will fill you up quickly. The restaurant recently added a barbecued jackfruit skillet as well, providing a vegetarian option that I think I will have to try out on my next trip!
Kids meals are a bit standard, but will likely appeal to most eaters. With choices like fresh fish, quesadillas, burgers, chicken, and macaroni & cheese, you are sure to find something your kids will love. Of note, the breakfast and dinner menus includes their own skillets for your big eaters. Enjoy an endless spread of great breakfast foods or a smaller sampling of the same barbecue the parents get to eat!
Keeping with the theme, cocktails at dinner include whisky drinks and some options with un-aged moonshine. Local beers and domestic beers are available as well. A fair selection of wines keeps the Café in the running with Wilderness Lodge’s more sophisticated dining down the hall at Artist Point. More on that location with its unique character dining experience some other day!
As I mentioned earlier, this restaurant is practically a hidden gem even though it is right inside the lobby of the resort. My family and I try to make a point to travel over for a meal when possible, even on trips when we are not staying at the Wilderness. Give it a shot next time you are around! Dining plans are accepted, of course. Considering the huge portions, you may get a better value than you expected for your dining credits. Give one of our ConciEARS a call and experience the fun for yourself!