First look at Big Thunder Ranch Celebration Roundup & Barbecue
by, 04-02-2009 at 10:48 PM (12689 Views)
Disneyland's new Celebration Roundup & Barbecue opened at Disneyland today, and I was among a group of media invited to see Disney's replacement for the much-loved Big Thunder BBQ restaurant that closed in 2001. (Click here for a blast-from-the-past article about the history of the Big Thunder Ranch area).
Big Thunder BBQ has a special place in my heart, (the early plans for the Web site that became MousePlanet were devised over many a Sunday lunch at the former restaurant), and I've been eagerly awaiting its replacement. The concept, and the menu, is simple: traditional BBQ food, served family style, in a casual setting with continuous entertainment.
You'll be greeted upon arrival by a ranch hand, and directed to a counter to pre-pay for your meal. The price is $28.99 for adults and $18.99 for kids. This does not include tax or 15% gratuity, which are added to your total when you pay.
Another trail hand leads you to your table past a character meet-and-greet area where you can snap a photo with Woody, Jessie, Bullseye or one of the other characters that may visit the ranch. As at Goofy's Kitchen, these photos will be available for purchase after your meal.
Eight of the tables are designed with removable bench seats that can accommodate a wheelchair or high chair. The entire area has been repaved, and most of the tables are lit at night by solar-powered lanterns that charge all day.
Children also receive the Deluxe Celebration Gift Bag, which includes a souvenir sipper, punch-out paper hat, a punch-out memory card game, a magnetic playset, a coloring book and crayons and a Mickey balloon-shaped crazy straw, all packaged in a canvas sack.
Your server arrives carrying a tray with plates and utensils, including a bucket filled with serving spoons, tongs and wet naps. After setting your table, your server presents your menu, printed on the back of the washboard / tray. This little detail is perfectly suited to the overall theme of the restaurant.
There are very few actual decisions to make when ordering, and most groups will need only select a beverage. The menu offers:
Barbecue Chicken & Ribs
Cookie's Cole Slaw
Corn Cob Wheels
Miss Chris' Cupcake Sensation
Your Choice of Beverage
The meal is served family style, and portioned to the size of your party. While the restaurant does not exactly advertise as an "all-you-care-to-eat" meal, passing servers may ask if your group needs anything else, or may even offer an additional serving of the side dishes. You can request an additional serving of the protein items as well, but don't expect your server to offer to bring another bucket of ribs.
Vegetarians can order a BBQ veggie skewer with potatoes, squash, bell pepper, mushrooms and tofu instead of the ribs and chicken, and everything else on the menu is suitable for a vegetarian diet.
Chef de Cuisine Sean Layne, formerly of New Orleans Square's Cafe Orleans, shared some of the "secrets" in the new recipes. The BBQ sauce is wheat-gluten free, making it suitable for some diners with celiac disease. (As always please contact the Resort if you have major food allergy or dietary issues, as recipes and menu items change without notice.) The restaurant can also arrange to serve the same Kosher or gluten-free meals available at other table service restaurants in the Resort, but advance notice is recommended.
The "sweet and sour" cole slaw recipe was chosen from 12 different versions Layne created for the restaurant. The vinegar-based slaw contains a blend of spices, including cayenne, paprika and celery seed. As someone who normally despises cole slaw I took a small bite only to be polite, and was surprised at how good it was.
For me, dessert is the highlight of this meal. Your server will deliver a colorful gift box centerpiece, loaded with an assortment of cupcakes baked into a filled waffle cone. There are four flavors available: red velvet with cream cheese frosting and raspberry filling; vanilla with blueberry frosting and lemon-vanilla filling; strawberry shortcake with strawberry and whipped cream filling; and chocolate mousse with cherry filling.
Long-handled spoons make it easier to scoop out the fillings, or you can just bite your way through the cone. Fresh fruit can be substituted for the cupcake dessert on request, and Chef Layne said they are working on a gluten-free cupcake.
The photo package is $32.57 (with tax) and comes with one 6" x 8" photo and four 4" x 6" photos, packaged in a themed cover. You can select different images for each print.
The Celebration Roundup & Barbecue is not considered to be a "character meal," but rather offers continuous entertainment featuring Jessie, Woody, Bullseye and friends. The Ranch is said to be owned by "Miss Chris," and the kitchen is run by "Cookie." The BBQ sauce is Miss Chris' special recipe, and is said to be so secret that Cookie must prepare it blindfolded.
Miss Chris and a few musical guests, including guitar-strumming Tex Tumbleweed, make the rounds of the restaurant to greet customers and determine which groups are celebrating an occasion. Tumbleweed has a real talent for making up catchy, rhyming songs that incorporate the names of people in the audience, much to the delight of his subjects - and their parents.
The entertainment doesn't detract from the meal, and that's a real bonus in my book. I've been to some dinner-and-a-show meals where I couldn't remember the meal because I'd been so distracted by the entertainment. The characters participate in a few short, prepared skits on the main stage at random intervals throughout the meal, and between sets visit with groups at their tables.
A problem with placing characters in this venue is that it's somewhat exposed, and it's easy for passers-by to see the characters and want to stop for a visit. Additional characters, including Chip & Dale, are now stationed over at Big Thunder Ranch, and cast members can divert non-dining visitors to that location.
The Celebration Roundup & Barbecue was conceived as part of the "What Will You Celebrate" promotion, and provides a much-needed restaurant venue capable of handling large groups. If you're planning a birthday party, a family reunion or large celebration, this is the restaurant for you. The restaurant can book Priority Seating reservation for parties of up to 28 people; larger groups can book through the Resort Sales department.
Bottom line: is it worth it?
Before I can answer that, I need to make two important disclosures: 1) I did not pay for today's meal and 2) I'm so happy to have something - anything - open in this venue that I would have given even a Vegan raw food restaurant a chance to win me over.
That said, I think, much like the Blue Bayou, that this is an "occasion" restaurant that you should find a reason to visit at least once. The food was quite good (and the dessert is delightful) but it's hard to justify an almost-$40 lunch more than once unless you have something to celebrate.
I'm looking forward to returning with friends, and looking forward to the MousePlanet Anniversary Party on July 18th (stay posted for details), but this will never again be a restaurant that a group of friends gather at week after week "just because."