Hello, everyone and welcome to Let’s Read An Old Menu! This is a somewhat irregular column in which I, your humble LibraryLass, look at restaurant, hotel, and lunch counter menus from the 19th and 20th centuries. Sometimes things will be familiar, sometimes they’ll be weird. But one thing you can count on is that they’ll almost always have cottage cheese on the menu, and they’ll almost never actually explain what’s in anything.
What’s For Lunch?
Today is a special one. A few of you may remember my article on the history of McDonalds’s menu back in August of 2019– and if you haven’t, you should go read it right away, it’s some of my best work here. In this column I’ll be doing something similar. But I won’t just be covering a single restaurant… I’ll be covering an entire vacation resort, that, at the time of this writing, boasts no less than 113 distinct counter service, table service, room service, buffet, and bar options (not including snack carts, rotating food trucks, and shops selling house-made candy or packaged snacks!) Naturally we won’t be looking at every single one of these, but I do intend to cover a few notables throughout the years– one for each of Disneyland’s nine lands– California Adventure, Downtown Disney, and the Hotels will have to wait for another time. I actually intended to do this article this time last year for the parks’ 65th anniversary, but with the Happiest Place on Earth shut down for totally justifiable reasons, it didn’t feel like the right time. So here, just in time for them to turn 65 for the second time, are the past and present restaurants of Disneyland. I’ll proceed as I normally would when walking through the parks, in a generally clockwise manner with the entrance at 6.
Without further ado, let’s begin!
Main Street USA: Carnation Ice Cream Parlor, circa 1955!
Carnation was long been a sponsor of Disneyland, and their ice cream was available in the parks from day one. The Carnation Ice Cream Parlor opened on Disneyland’s opening day and remained a fixture of Main Street, USA until 1997, when it reopened as the Carnation Café, a casual-service restaurant that’s still there today. Ice cream was moved up a little ways to the Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor. I don’t usually eat there very often, because if I’m at Disneyland and I want a frozen treat, I’d rather have Dole Whip, but if you prefer more conventional ice cream they’re a solid choice.
Adventureland: Tahitian Terrace, Circa 1967
This is one of the menus that made me want to do this article in the first place, it’s captivated me since I first encountered it years ago. From the beginning, Adventureland included notable pseudo-Polynesian elements, a tendency that only exacerbated in the early ’60s with the construction of the Enchanted Tiki Room and the Tahitian Terrace, and in 1968, the Tiki Juice Bar. Like many Americans of his time, Walt Disney had a strong personal fascination with the imminent/brand new 50th state, Hawai’i, a fascination he built into his masterwork. This national fascination extended to Polynesian food, which in the American popular imagination, mainly resembled American-Chinese food, but with more pineapple and fancy cocktails. Pretty tasty stuff, too; the Terrace was, in its time, considered some of the tastiest food in the whole park. It remained open until 1992, when it was renovated into Aladdin’s Oasis, a Middle Eastern restaurant with a dinner show inspired by guess what then-recent Disney movie. The restaurant only made it a couple years, a simplified version of the show lasted into the 2000s. Aladdin’s Oasis sat mostly empty for ages, before extensive renovations turned it once again into one of the tastiest dining spots in the entire resort– the Tropical Hideaway, home of delicious baozi and flavor-swirled Dole Whips. I never ate at the Terrace– how could I? It closed when I was an infant– but I gotta say, from the sounds of it there really is no wrong choice.
In researching this article I discovered that last October, the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, CA did a special event featuring some of the original recipes from the Terrace. I wonder if anyone bothered to record that? I’d love to try them.
New Orleans Square: The Blue Bayou, Circa 1981!
The Blue Bayou opened on March 18th, 1967– the same opening day as Pirates of the Caribbean, whose show building the restaurant’s dining room is located entirely inside! It has the somewhat dubious distinction of being the most expensive and fance-pantsiest restaurant in Disneyland Park. The food’s pretty good, but maybe not quite as good as its price tags would suggest (when my partner and I shared dinner with my dad and my stepmom there in 2019, our bill completely wiped out the $250 gift card our vacation package included– before the tip.) You’re not paying for the food, though, you’re paying for the peerless atmosphere, cunningly replicating the feel of an elegant dinner party on the veranda of an old southern mansion. I have not included a picture because photographs really do not do the experience justice. This restaurant was one of the final parts of the park Walt worked on before his demise, and was originally planned to feature live performances, however according to legend, Walt was so impressed with the atmosphere alone he decided entertainment would only dilute the effect. The general theme of the food is Creole, though how Creole exactly it is has varied through the years. Their Monte Cristo sandwich is the stuff cults are made of, to the point that during the pandemic Disney actually put their recipe online for devotees to make at home.
Frontierland: Casa de Fritos, circa 1955
Casa De Fritos was another opening-day restaurant for Disneyland. Despite its… somewhat questionable menu, it was a major popularizer of Mexican food in the middle-American palate, and contributed two lasting contributions to Mexican American cuisine. You’re probably wondering what a “Ta-cup” is. Apparently it was lettuce, cheese, and ground beef mixed up and served in a tiny bowl made from a tortilla shell. If you’re thinking that sounds like a taco salad, you’re exactly right! That’s contribution number one. Contribution number two is something you may have in your pantry right now: Doritos! See, like many a Mexican restaurant Casa De Fritos often found itself with more corn tortillas than it could go through. They began cutting the leftovers into triangles, frying them, and offering them as a menu item– a fairly common practice among Mexican-American cooks in the mid-20th century. In 1964, Arch West, the VP of Marketing at Frito-Lay, noticed the popularity of these triangles and resolved to begin marketing them nationally. The rest is snack food history. Casa de Fritos sold its last Ta-cup in 1982, when it was replaced with a frankly pretty disgusting place called Casa Mexicana, which was sponsored by Lawry’s of all companies, and in turn was replaced by a generally-okay-good-but-not-great place called Rancho de Zocalo in 2000.
The mascot you’re seeing is the Frito Kid, incidentally. In the ’60s he would be replaced with the Frito Bandito, marking the rare occasion in which an advertising mascot got more offensive with time! As I write this Frito-Lay workers are currently on strike, remember to support them and don’t buy any Frito-Lay products until their demands are met.
Critter Country: Harbor Galley, Circa 2001
Yep, that’s it, that’s the whole menu.
Harbor Galley opened in 1989 as a counter-service seafood restaurant, offering more health-conscious options for the calorie-counting 1990s, including a cholesterol-free tuna sandwich and a grilled seafood brochette. But then everything changed when the Fryer Nation attacked. In 1997, Disney and McDonalds signed a 10-year development deal that encompassed both US-based resorts. In Walt Disney World this took the form of offering McDonalds menu items at Animal Kingdom, and when DCA opened it included the infamous Burger Invasion restaurant in what was then known as Paradise Pier (today Pixar Pier), but for Walt Disney’s Original Magic Kingdom, the Golden Arches had an even more inexplicable idea. Quick, what’s the best and most popular item on McDonalds’s menus? That’s right, the fries. So Harbor Galley’s healthy reputation slept with the fishes. Meanwhile, across the Rivers of America, Westward Ho! A fiberglass covered wagon with an identical menu, set up shop just catty-corner from Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. You may remember it if you’ve seen Super Size Me. If not, it must be seen to be believed. The agreement with McDonald’s ended in 2007, and was not renewed, but this wasn’t the end for licensed restaurants in the parks. Today there’s a Starbuck’s in Main Street, USA– and if that’s not some kind of apt metaphor for the American small town, I’m not sure what is. Harbor Galley, meanwhile, returned to its seafood-based roots, and today it has a pretty good lobster roll by California standards.
Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge: Docking Bay 7, Circa 2019
Look, Galaxy’s Edge is basically brand new, it’s barely totaled a year of operating time, it hasn’t had much chance for turnover yet. Work with me here.
That doesn’t mean there’s not a story to tell, however. When Galaxy’s Edge first opened, the menu items all had “immersive” names establishing them as alien foodstuffs. Like several early attempts to make Galaxy’s Edge more fully immersive (theme park fans will remember the Great Youngling Debacle of 2019) this mostly ended up confusing guests, and names that were more self-explanatory quickly replaced the originals.
Fantasyland: Pirate Ship Restaurant, Circa 1964
For the first 27 years of Disneyland’s existence, one of the highlights of Fantasyland was a full-sized fiberglass replica of Captain Hook’s pirate ship. In the hold was a restaurant sponsored by Chicken of the Sea. You may note that Chicken of the Sea only really has one product. And oh boy, did they want to make the most of that product. This nightmarish and presumably deeply smelly hellhole served tuna sandwiches, tuna burgers, and the infamous Hot Tuna Pie (said Ripley to the android Bishop.) By the ’70s the pie and the sponsorship were both gone, replaced by a roast beef sandwich, presumably for people whose noses work. When Fantasyland underwent a major renovation in 1982, the Pirate Ship returned to Neverland for good (allegedly, years of sitting in a pond had made the timbers structurally unsound.) On its site now stood a newly-enlarged Dumbo, the Flying Elephant ride. Some say on humid days you can still smell the tuna pie. Gross. There’s still a pirate ship restaurant in Paris, if you want the atmosphere without the tuna funk– they sell donuts and hot dogs.
Mickey’s Toontown: Clarabelle’s circa 2020
This is another one you’re just gonna have to bear with me on, because let me assure you: this is an area of the park at which food was not and never has been a priority. There are exactly three restaurants in Mickey’s Toontown, they each sell at most two things, and they have had the exact same menu items since they opened in 1993. The only differences are that the prices have steadily gone up just a little faster than inflation, and the pizza at Daisy’s Diner has gone from atrocious to merely acceptable. You’re not missing anything. There’s another ice cream counter in DCA also called Clarabelle’s, it’s much better.
Tomorrowland: The Space Bar, Circa… 1960-something
I’m gonna level with you, the eastern half of the park has never been as interesting a place to eat as the western half. If you ask a lot of Disney fans it’s never been as interesting in general as the western side of the park. Tomorrowland is infamous for this, its food has always been pretty conventional stuff (I’m not saying some of that stuff isn’t good, but it’s historically been far more conventional.) Burgers. Snacks. Pizza. But there’s one exception to Tomorrowland’s boring culinary reputation. When it first opened, Tomorrowland featured the Space Bar, a genuine automat. I’ve always wanted to cover an automat for this column, they’re a fascinating concept.
But I won’t be today. This is the best picture I could get of the Space Bar’s menu, and I think it might have been from the brief period between about 1964 and 1966 when it stopped functioning as an automat and just became normal counter service.
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Next time (or rather, this time– I’m writing three articles at once and giving myself a little backlog) we’ll cover another tourist destination: Quark’s Bar and Grille at Star Trek: The Experience.