Fabled Tables: The Bengal and The Gumbo

When I visited Disneyland for the first time in winter 2006, I made my first morning ventures alone as my wife was in Anaheim on business (which conveniently provided room and board for the long weekend). This allowed me to not only move at my own pace but to also take some great liberties with my eating options. Of course, I did my homework and printed out menus from AllEars.net to plan my attack. My first day in Disneyland had me hungry for lunch sooner than I expected and with menus in mind, I headed towards Adventureland and New Orleans Square.

I had been awaiting the day’s opening of the Bengal Barbecue which seemed to be operating on some sort of delay, so I busied myself with picture-taking, strolls through the Square and ventures into Frontierland and Critter Country. I finally decided to check out the Royal Street Veranda as hunger persisted. Guests were walking away from the counter with something that looked quite interesting and tasty so I decided to give it a try. I had never tried gumbo before I walked into New Orleans Square and was feeling caught up in the spirit. Also, it was a brisk late January day which made the prospect of hot soup a little more palatable than one might imagine for Southern California.

Photo Credit: Loren Javier

The Royal Street Veranda prepares their steak gumbo in a sourdough bread bowl. I knew of this popular preparation of certain hearty soups but had never tried it this way. Not only was the gumbo a delightful taste, but the actual act of eating it was just as enjoyable. The gumbo “broth” soaked the bread bowl which elevated the concept of bread with soup to a whole new level for me. The gumbo has just the right kick, the type of Cajun spice you expect. (The Royal Street Veranda also offers vegetable gumbo and clam chowder in the breadbowls as well as New Orleans fritters.)

Photo credit: KateMonkey

Needless to say, they finally opened up Bengal Barbecue later that day and I was able to get my hands on the bacon-wrapped asparagus Safari Skewer, One of a long line of foods that taste amazing with bacon wrapped around it! I also partook in the Bengal Beef skewer, an equally tasty treat. But nothing could beat the Safari Skewer for me. I had only recently discovered asparagus as that rare appetizing green vegetable so sorely missing in my life. And you know the best way to eat your greens is to wrap fat around them! I could eat a dozen skewers if given the time and money. They made for the perfect light snack, allowing for sampling of other foods and keeping the appetite for dinnertime.

Photo credit: Brave Heart

The next day, I again revisited the park alone, this time making my way to Disney’s California Adventure. With gumbo and skewers behind me, I had every intention of sampling DCA’s fare but their lunch options were simply not as tempting. So I hopped over to Disneyland and went for the one-two punch, picking up a Safari Skewer as an appetizer for another round of gumbo. They were just as good the second time around and I had no regret for repeating this lunch option (despite my limited time in Disneyland).

When I finally returned to the park with my wife in tow, I was able to lure her to join me in one more round of Safari Skewers. She soon understood what all my crowing was about, enjoying the skewers herself, which is particularly funny now as she’s the epitome of nutrition and health, and hasn’t touched bacon in years!

While we could go on to enjoy the Royal Street Veranda’s neighbors, the French Market and the Blue Bayou, as well as a fine dining experience at the now defunct Vineyard Room over at DCA, I still cherished the tastes and experience of these unique counter services. Disney theme parks are often full of clones of basic, unimaginative American fare so it’s nice when you can find a lunch stand that serves something distinctive and unavailable elsewhere in that park or resort. Ultimately, you’re going to get a finer dining experience at a table service restaurant with theme and presentation adding to your appreciation of a high quality meal. But as is often the case with Disney theme parks, sometimes it’s those little pleasures that define our memories of a given day or trip. For me, two of those little pleasures are the Royal Street Veranda and Bengal Barbecue. I don’t know when I’ll ever get back to Disneyland but I know where I’ll be eating lunch when I do!

Eventually, I returned home eager to find out more about gumbo. I’ve found that restaurants all have distinct versions of gumbo, many of which left something to be desired. I still haven’t found that perfect match. Believe it or not, I have found the best substitute to be Chunky soup’s Chicken and Sausage Gumbo, which I promptly pour into a sourdough bread bowl from any bakery, imagining myself looking out towards the Rivers of America and plotting to head back around the corner to see some pirates.


Gil Roth said...

My wife made bacon-wrapped asparagus last weekend; it's awesome.

Since she's from Louisiana, she'd likely beat your ass for having your first gumbo experience at Disneyland.

Jason G. said...

She can get in line behind all the Mexicans looking to beat my ass for all those Taco Bell runs. (Runs...heh)