Southern hospitality and finger lickin’ good food served with the Disney touch make for a dynamic and magical dining experience. I mean, it’s no secret that Walt Disney World is home to some great eateries, but this combination right here is what made our meal at Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ Kitchen in Disney Springs one of the most appealing, warm and friendliest experiences we have ever had.
We were only visiting Walt Disney World for two days, passing time between college freshman orientation in Georgia and our very first Disney Cruise on the Disney Dream. Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ Kitchen has been on the foodie bucket list since it opened and I had heard rave reviews from many of my Disney-loving friends. I’m a sucker for some good ol’ fashioned southern cooking and the idea of having some real fried chicken had left my mouth watering for months.
Prior to our vacation, I had been reaching out to various food allergy groups on social media to get their take and experience on how this particular restaurant handled food allergies. Disney-owned restaurants are well-known for their professionalism and compassion, as well as their expertise in providing safe meals to those suffering from life-threatening food allergies. However, third-party restaurants can be hit or miss sometimes, usually doing their best, but not meeting the same expectations. Even though I didn’t get much of a response from those groups, we decided to make a go at it anyway ~ trusting the Disney connection. We kept our reservation and prayed for the best. Literally ~ yes, I prayed!
We arrived at Disney Springs earlier than we anticipated that day and hubby was hungry. In fact, he was pretty famished. Our reservation wasn’t until about 3:20, but he wanted to see if there was any possibility of moving that up. There was obviously no harm in trying to accommodate that request, so we made our way over to the restaurant first thing to see what could be done.
Well ~ it was 2 PM and they were able to get us right in!
We were seated with a smile by the host and our server, Emily, introduced herself near immediately. I quickly noticed that her name tag said she was from Clayton, New York, which sparked some great conversation because hubby and I had met up that way in Watertown when he was stationed at Fort Drum. We were able to talk about many of the changes, old favorites and people up there in the North Country. Having that commonality simply upped the level of comfort and warmth a few notches for me.
As is our routine at any restaurant we visit, we do the food allergy rundown right when we meet our server at the table. This way, we get a feel for how the meal is going to go and the server has the opportunity to take the time, while getting our drinks, to check on a few things while the rest of the family takes a look at the menu. Emily was beyond patient and tremendously cooperative when it came to working with us in this capacity. After looking at the menu, our son was pretty confident on what he wanted to eat and Emily took his questions to the back to see if this was something they could accommodate for him. We seemed to be off to a very good start.
Within minutes of our meeting Emily, the manager of the restaurant, Autumn, came to visit our table. She introduced herself with that same southern charm of a smile and was ready for the challenge of making our son’s dining experience successful. After having checked with the back, it appeared they were going to be able to serve up near exactly what he wanted. For a kid whose day had not been going the way he wanted (long story)…this perked him up quite a bit.
All of our orders were in and, while waiting for our meal, Emily visited often as she was determined to find the perfect drink for me. Hubby had found his – he was all about the Sweet Tea Shine. I was not a huge fan of the moonshine drinks, but could not find anything appealing for some reason. Emily really tried and, to her credit, she was extremely patient with me. I don’t think I saw her smile break once!
When our meals arrived, we were all ready to dive in! Two of us (including me) ordered the Art’s Famous Fried Chicken. I knew when I placed the order that it was going to be too much for me, but the boys had promised to clean my plate (ha!). The chicken was seriously perfect. I had never had fried chicken so delicious – I’m not kidding! The breading was light and fresh. The chicken was moist and tender. The mashed potatoes were seasoned to perfection and the cheddar biscuit…well, that’s always a favorite in this family. The gravy was full of flavor and the exact compliment the potatoes deserved. My only complaint was that there was not enough gravy (but I didn’t ask for more either, so my bad). All in all, it was a “winner-winner” in our book!
Our oldest ordered the Fried Catfish. This shocked me. He is not a fish person, but he does have an adventurous palate from time to time. He wanted something different and he certainly checked that block. He says he liked it and he ate most of it, but was unable to actually finish it. He enjoyed the mashed potatoes and hush puppies, too.
Our middle son had the Chopped Pork Barbecue Plate as seen exactly on the menu with the cheddar biscuits and the mac and cheese. He says he has never had a better mac and cheese in his life (yeah, thanks, kid!). It was rich, creamy and extremely satisfying. He loved the savory and spicy taste of the barbecue sauce on the pork, which is unusual because he is not a “spicy” kind of eater. He thought the flavor was unique and extremely appealing. He says he would order this again and again and again and again and….you get the idea.
The youngest, who also ordered the Chopped Pork Barbecue Plate, had the same thoughts towards his allergy-friendly entrée. His eyes lit up as the first bite went into his mouth and he didn’t stop until he couldn’t eat anymore. He had the sauced meat along with a mini skillet of peas and carrots. As the mac and cheese was assumed an unsafe option, we asked if they could do pan-fried French fries (I had read this was something another food allergy family had been served there the week prior by Chef Art himself). It was a hit…AND SAFE! Not a single reaction…no blotch, no hives, no tummy aches! Success!
Of course, despite the full bellies, our oldest was insistent on getting dessert (in fact, he was willing to pay for it himself!). He took a glimpse at the dessert menu and was all about that Hummingbird Cake, Chef Art’s famous pineapple-banana cake with cream cheese frosting. Oh – my – gosh! I had heard about how good this sweet treat was, but tasting it gave me a whole new perspective. It was beyond scrumptious! We were lucky our son let us take a taste because, once he got a forkful, he became pretty stingy with it.
I have to say that, even though the food was tremendously delicious and fantastically satisfying, the gold star was earned by the service we received. Autumn and Emily made us feel so comfortable, so welcome and so at ease considering the complications we always have to bring to the dinner table. We felt like we were among friends, to be quite honest ~ like family. We had rather lengthy conversations about Chef Art himself (all good things, all good things), the restaurant, whether Oprah had ever stopped by (Chef Art Smith had been Oprah’s personal chef at one point in life), how Kurt Warner had just been there hours before us that day, about common stomping grounds in Upstate New York and about the prevalence of food allergies these days. In fact, Emily shared how she was quite familiar as she has a family member who suffers from severe food allergies, as well. I’ll tell you ~ nothing puts my mind at ease more than knowing that someone “gets it.” This was a refreshing experience and now we can’t wait to go back.
So – in essence, the only negative to the entire meal was that I could not find a relaxing drink my palate could enjoy. That’s not such a big deal, to be honest. It was all about the food and the conversation this go-round.
If you are in the Disney Springs area, our entire family would highly…and I mean HIGHLY recommend…stopping by Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ Kitchen. We may not have had opportunity to meet Chef Art himself (we hear he pops in from time to time), but we felt as if we had met “family.” We even went home with a signed copy of the dessert menu!
Huge thanks to Autumn and Emily for making it a meal we will never forget! We will be back!
Until the next set of footprints are made ~ T
Tip: After our sensational experience, we made our way over to Guest Services in Disney Springs to fill out a compliment card for both Autumn and Emily. These observation cards go a long way when it comes to recognizing Cast Members and their great dedication to outstanding service. It takes just a few moments and simply encourages the hard work and compassion that Cast Members employ to ensure Guests have a magical vacation. Be sure to stop by Guest Services to fill out a compliment card if you have a tremendous encounter such as ours.