Homecoming’s  “Sides Sampler” features their signature Momma's Mac and Cheese.

    Homecoming’s “Sides Sampler” features their signature Momma's Mac and Cheese.

    - Julie Deily for VISIT FLORIDA

    Dining with Celebrity Chefs at Disney Springs

    By Julie Deily
    The Little Kitchen

    Disney Springs is an entertainment, dining and shopping complex. It used to be called Downtown Disney and if you haven't been in the last few months or the last few years, you'll notice huge changes.

    We recently spent a weekend there and explored what the celebrity chefs have to offer. I'm excited to share with you our experience.

    First off, there's plenty of parking in the new high-tech garages, and each row has a sign above it to tell you how many spaces are available. I wish airports would add this to their parking garages.

    But to the dining…

    The authentic Irish pub, Raglan Road Irish Pub.  This spot is owned by Irishmen, including Chef Kevin Dundon, who has a show on PBS and has been at Disney Springs for a remarkable 11 years. Raglan Road is one of our classic favorites at Disney Springs.

    Chef Kevin relishes using the best ingredients he can find and allowing them to shine for themselves. My husband, Curtis, and I love going to the pub for dinner or hanging out at the bar to check out the traditional Irish bands and dancing.

    I had the Salmon of Knowledge, which is a baked Atlantic salmon topped with smoked salmon, paired with mashed potatoes, leeks and mushrooms.

    Curtis ordered the Braised Beef. The beef is slow-cooked for seven hours and comes with traditional Irish potatoes that were out of this world.

    The fish and chips, a classic, are a favorite of ours. I love their skinny truffle fries, too.

    You have to get the Rack of Heaven, slow-roasted ribs glazed with Guinness beer. I talk about these ribs all the time. Curtis loved them, too.

    Morimoto Asia offers traditional and Americanized Asian dishes the whole family will love.

    Morimoto Asia offers traditional and Americanized Asian dishes the whole family will love.

    -July Deily for VISIT FLORIDA

    Next up, Morimoto Asia. Do you know Chef Masaharu Morimoto from Iron Chef fame? This pan-Asian restaurant has traditional and Americanized Asian dishes the whole family will love. From the Peking-style duck to the orange chicken, we enjoyed it all.

    The decor of the restaurant is modern chic with a rustic backdrop. (I wish it were the decor of my house.) The restaurant is in the Disney Springs Bottling Company, a really cool building with an upper level lounge that has its own entrance at night and offers a full sushi bar.

    The tempura rock shrimp with a spicy gochujang aioli was one of my favorites. You have to get the hoisin glazed Morimoto spare ribs, too. (I have to get them every single time I go.)

    I also had the Tonkotsu ramen and the tempura portobello mushroom fries, so clever and lovely. I'm craving them as I write this.

    I attended a press event when Morimoto Asia first opened last year, and Chef Morimoto said he had to include churros on the menu because it's so Disney. These are the best churros I’ve ever had. With the perfect amount of crispy and softness inside, they are a perfect 10. They come with a vanilla custard and a tube of house-made Nutella, too.

    Our next stop was Wolfgang Puck Cafe, which was the only restaurant we had never been to. We were really impressed with the food and service.

    And a tip for you: the Dining Room where we ate has a great view of the lake at Disney Springs and of the holiday drone show called Disney Springs Starbright Holidays. Be sure to ask for a table near a window facing the show.

    The seasonal charcuterie board is one of my all-time favorites. The meats were carefully selected and the cheeses are just perfection.

    For dinner, I ordered the roasted duck breast with mushrooms and ricotta gnocchi. It was beautiful, tasted tender and crispy, and the duck was cooked perfectly.

    For dessert, we enjoyed a non-traditional carrot cake. Layered between the cake was a coconut cream cheese frosting. Even more cream cheese frosting and crispy carrot flakes top this sweet treat.

    Chef Art Smith's Homecoming Kitchen's Fried Chicken & Doughnuts

    Chef Art Smith's Homecoming Kitchen's Fried Chicken & Doughnuts

    -July Deily for VISIT FLORIDA

    The next restaurant we visited was Chef Art Smith's Homecoming Kitchen, and it feels like Florida as soon as you walk through the door. It's comfort food at its best and I love it.

    Chef Art Smith is a jovial and down to earth chef who really cares about where his food comes from. He's funny and likes to share stories about growing up in Jasper, Fla. The restaurant is called Homecoming because it speaks to his deep roots in Florida.

    In the back of the restaurant, there’s a huge portrait of a farmer and his or her family. The portraits featured are rotated seasonally, and I love that they showcase the farmers who provide the food. As much as 70-80 percent of what Homecoming uses is from local sources.

    We opted for a “Sides Sampler” which features Homecoming’s signature Momma's Mac and Cheese. I'm hoping I can get the recipe from Chef Art.

    Fried Chicken & Doughnuts. Need I say more? The fried chicken is topped with powdered sugar, which it makes it pop. Served with house-made sugar doughnuts, mashed potatoes, and gravy, this meal is a downright comfort.

    Also, I suggest the pimento cheese hushpuppies and the Church Lady Deviled Eggs. You will thank me!

    Make sure to check out their cocktails as well. The service from the bartenders really makes you feel at home, and I loved that they were able to make alcoholic drinks into mocktails,too. I suggest trying the Bootlegger cocktail as a mocktail. They also carry local beer, which Curtis loves.

    We had to get the chocolate cake. It comes with vanilla ice cream that's made in my hometown of Winter Park. The ice cream and pecans add a nice balance to the cake.

    The chocolate pecan pie is also killer. Yes, I know I just made your dessert decisions that much harder.

    Last but not least, Chef Rick Bayless's Frontera Cocina. I have eaten at his Frontera Grill in Chicago, so I was thrilled when I saw the announcement for this restaurant last year. This restaurant provides delicious and authentic Mexican food.

    Okay, of course I had to have a margarita! Their watermelon margarita to be exact.

    Frontera Cocina’s guacamole with bacon and pistachios was so delicious that I'm going to have to try out a version of this at home.

    The Shrimp Mojo de Ajo is served with Mazatlán blue shrimp and dreamy plantain rice. Truly, I dream about that rice.

    Disney Springs adds much to the central Florida culinary scene and we will certainly be returning to all of these locations.

    Walt Disney World offers many hotels that are just a quick bus ride away from the parks and Disney Springs. We often stay at Saratoga Springs, because Disney Springs is a just a walk or boat ride away.

    Saratoga Springs was full during this visit, so we gave Disney’s Yacht Club a try and definitely have a new favorite to add to our list. The nautical decor perfectly combines Walt Disney World and the sea.

    Our view outside our balcony of the Boardwalk was spectacular.

    It was an easy bus ride over to Disney Springs and we love that the bus stop at the resort features a TV screen that tells you the estimated arrival for buses to all of theme parks and Disney Springs, which makes the wait feel faster.

    Disney Springs also offers tons of shopping options. It's pretty epic, from the Star Wars Galactic Outpost to different brands you don't see anywhere else in Central Florida, including UNIQLO and Superdry.

    Another favorite of ours is the World of Disney store. It's the largest Disney store in the U.S., with 12 rooms! They have everything, including jewelry, Disney-exclusive purses, toys, and even kitchenware.

    Disney Springs also has many dessert options, including Sprinkles cupcake bakery, the authentic gelatoria Vivoli Il Gelato, and Amorette's Patisserie. You can’t go wrong with any of these sweet treats.

    What a great weekend it was! If you haven’t been to Disney Springs before, go. If you’ve been, go again.

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