I must confess, as the Florida humidity began to rise and the pre-storm breezes had yet to reach the gates of the Magic Kingdom, I was much more excited about the air conditioning in Town Square Plaza than I was about our impending meal at Tony’s. The reason for this is simple: Throughout the entirety of my last year-and-a-half visiting Disney restaurants on a weekly basis, I had never heard a single positive expression about the food at Tony’s Town Square.
While you would be expected to think this fact might influence my attitude toward the negative straight from the onset, let me just mention a few things. First, I want every restaurant I dine at to satisfy me — I usually eat once a day; if that single meal is subpar, I’ve probably got a long wait till the next one. Second, I want all Disney meals to satisfy me. Park meals are costly and I spend a lot of time there — loving Disney means wanting to love Disney food. Lastly, having never been there myself, I don’t have any personal disappointments to reflect on — I’ve got no baggage.
With that out of the way, won’t you grab yourself a table and listen as I describe my first encounter with Tony’s Town Square, where I was joined of course by my fellow Disney Dining Show foodies: Steve Porter, Sean Faulk, and our fearless but dietary-restricted leader Pete Werner. Of course, if you’d like to see the team discuss their Tony’s, check out the video at the end of this article.
The entrance to Tony’s is located in Main Street U.S.A.’s Town Square Plaza, which is quite a convenience as it provides ample room for diners awaiting their reservation. As they wait their turn, they’ll hear multiple announcements of cast members alerting dining parties that their table is ready, beginning with the call “Attenzione, attenzione…”
For those unfamiliar with the numerous and intricate differences between the English and Italian languages, I’ll leave it to Google Translate to help you figure that out.
Without too significant a wait, the “Werner Family’s” name was announced and we made our entrance.
Tony’s interior is themed after an Italian restaurant, this I knew. What I hadn’t realized was which Italian restaurant. Tony’s aesthetic is meant to pay homage to the Italian eatery featured in the beloved Disney classic Lady and the Tramp. To be honest, I have absolutely no idea how well this subject matter holds up to newer audiences. Are parents still showing their children adorable animated romantic comedies about star-crossed canines? Will future generations take selfies while sharing a single strand of spaghetti with their significant others? Does anyone do that now?
Regardless, an Italian restaurant is as fitting a theme as anything else, and the Lady and the Tramp influence can be seen not only in framed pictures adorning the walls of the main room, but in a simple yet heartwarming fountain which features the darling duo as well.
There is one aspect of theming that doesn’t hold up, though, and it is something I noticed almost immediately — the lack of smell. I have never, in the entirety of my 36 years of existence, stepped inside an Italian restaurant that didn’t immediately envelope you in a comforting blanket of garlic and herbs. We’re playing by theme park rules, though, so it’s only a small strike against it.
The restaurant boasts three eating areas: The aforementioned main room, which simulates a classic yet casual Italian eatery; a glass-enclosed sun room for prime park viewing and protection from the elements; and an outdoor patio directly on Main Street. Each area has its benefits, both in aesthetics and comfortability. While I usually dine as close to the outside world as possible, our party was seated in the main room which, given the weather, was probably a smart call.
While the tables were a bit small and the legs were a constant source of frustration to my over-sized boots, they were spaced far enough apart to give servers and customers decent room to navigate. The acoustics of the room meant that while the restaurant was nowhere near full capacity, there was still a steady background noise throughout the meal. If you are expecting a quiet, romantic Italian dining experience, this probably isn’t the place for you.
One of my favorite introductions to a dining experience, traditional Italian bread with herbs and olive oil is always welcome. While not as heavily flavored as I prefer, Tony’s version is very accessible.
House Salad – $11: Mixed Greens, Shaved Cheese, Cured Meats, Pickled Vegetables, and Italian Vinaigrette.
Pete started his meal off with a slightly-altered version of this salad. As I had mentioned earlier, certain dietary restrictions prevented him from ordering his plates as-is. When it came to delivering meals within those constraints, our server was amiable and the kitchen was cooperative. The vegetables were crisp and fresh — Peter was very pleased with this course.
Caesar Salad – $11: Shaved Romano and House-Made Focaccia Croutons.
The second salad went to Sean, who shared Pete’s opinion on the quality and freshness of the ingredients.
Seasonal Soup – $9: For our visit, the seasonal option was an onion and sausage soup.
Both Steve and I sampled the seasonal soup, and neither one of us are grateful for the experience. I was eagerly anticipating the bowl, as I absolutely devour onions and sausage whenever the chance presents itself, and onion soups are a personal favorite. I found the entire dish to be far too sweet for my taste, and although it was heavily salted, no amount of sodium could detract from the overwhelming sweetness. I also found the sausage to be of a lower quality, as far as flavor goes.
While Steve disagreed with me on the sausage, he also found it to be overly sweet; he thought it to be a bit too fatty and oily as well.
Eggplant Involtini – $12: Tomato Basil Sauce, Pine Nuts, and Romano Cheese.
Having discovered the culinary value of pine nuts on a recent trip to Italy, Sean decided to give this appetizer a try as well. He was unimpressed, finding the dish far too salty and unpalatable. While I tried it myself and thought it to be a decent option, I must admit that I am a sodium fiend. A running theme throughout this meal was a high salt content, so it would be a good idea for those avoiding high-sodium foods to ask their server about low-sodium options.
Roman-Style Steak – $32: Grilled Angus 8-oz Hanger Steak, Caramelized Onions, Rosemary-crushed Potatoes, and Local Vegetables.
This steak was far-and-away the standout dish of the afternoon. Given Tony’s reputation and our experiences so far, Pete’s option was juicy and tender, with just the right amount of fat to make it flavorful but keep a decent texture. He was highly impressed, and this hanger steak did not get a single negative word from the rest of us either. While the appropriateness of a $32 price tag is up for debate, this entrée was the only dish that would receive a recommendation from our entire table.
Ravioli – $22 ($27 with Grilled Chicken Breast, $30 with Grilled Jumbo Shrimp): Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli, Heirloom Tomatoes, Wilted Chard, Hazelnut, and Lemon-Parmesan Crema.
The rest of us didn’t get a chance to try Steve’s entrée, as he had finished it off before most of us were halfway through our meals. This has less to do with the flavor, and more to do with the smaller portion size. Although the sauce was not what he had expected, and he initially found it off-putting, he began to appreciate it more with each subsequent bite. By the time his plate was clean, Steve had a positive impression of the meal’s flavors, in spite of its limited volume.
House-Made Gnocchi Primavera – $21 ($26 with Grilled Chicken Breast, $28 with Grilled Jumbo Shrimp): Potato Gnocchi, Garden Vegetables, Basil Pesto, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
This was my choice and, once again, I was looking forward to it. Pesto gnocchi is a favorite of mine at my local Italian restaurant of choice. While I didn’t expect them to meet those standards, I was still disappointed. This dish delivered too well on the primavera aspects and put minimal effort into gnocchi. The pasta itself was prepared well, with an admirable flavor and consistency; there just wasn’t much of it. The seven pieces were buried under what was essentially a pesto salad, all supported by a thick layer of peas which sank to the bottom along with the sauce. The sauce itself was a decent pesto, but as has been said before, maybe a bit too salty for the average person. As for my grilled chicken addition, I’ve given it its own section, for reasons you’ll soon be privy to.
Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo – $22 (Substitute Shrimp $26): Herb-grilled Chicken Breast with Fettuccine and Alfredo Sauce.
We’ll get to the chicken in a moment, as it’s the same cut and preparation that was added to my dish. As for the pasta and sauce, Sean was adamant that this might have been the worst meal he had eaten on property. The table’s best guess was that it had sat waiting under a heat lamp. Whether this was the primary reason for the lack of quality is anyone’s guess, but neither the noodles nor their dressing managed to stir anything other than disgust with Sean.
This paltry poultry warrants a special mention, as it went mostly uneaten on both of the plates it disgraced with its presence. Heat lamp warming is clearly not the culprit here; the quality of chicken is to blame. We know this because, upon discussing my dissatisfaction with our server, he brought back a freshly-grilled piece. While slightly more juicy than the previous bird, it was evident that not much could be done to improve its texture, flavor, or density. Make no mistake — this was some tough chicken. Six hundred years ago, medieval blacksmiths would have labored day and night trying to craft this unbreakable material into swords and axes that would never bend or shatter. For all of their effort, they would be left with nothing more than broken hammers and dented anvils, and one pristine, unscathed piece of chicken. Am I being overly dramatic? Yes, a bit, but neither of us finished even a third of our bird. I don’t blame the chefs here; they just need better chicken to work with.
Seasonal Cheesecake – $8.5:
As the first bite of this strawberry cheesecake started stimulating taste buds in my mouth and my brain began processing the flavor information it was given, my first thought was, “Oh my god, this cheesecake is rancid!” I was incorrect, of course. It just so happens that I was not present at the table when a crucial bit of ingredient knowledge was dropped. The sauce, which I had expected to be chocolate or strawberry, was, in fact, balsamic vinaigrette. So, my fault there. Still, though, that is a pretty odd call to make. I understand that balsamic vinaigrette can combine spectacularly with raw strawberries — cheesecake, not so much. I admire swinging for the fences, as this creative combination does, but it was a swing and a miss, and possibly a bat-related injury.
Chocolate Cake – $9.5: Rich Chocolate-layered Cake.
Sean did not rate this cake any higher than your average quick service or dessert cart offering. Steve was similarly unimpressed. Add to that the questionable presentation (you only see it if you see it), and this dessert is an easy pass.
Tiramisù – $8: Kahlúa Espresso-soaked Lady Fingers and Whipped Mascarpone topped with Mocha Cream.
Proudly standing alongside Peter’s hanger steak in the winning recipe category is Steve’s tiramisù. The texture, consistency, and flavor were all on-point; it caused a significant amount of jealousy from Sean and myself. I could never have ordered it, however, as I avoid alcohol and the dish is doused in Kahlúa, something I did not realize before taking a bite.
I am grateful that I am not forced to end this review with negative sentiment. The quality of service we received was above and beyond anything I had expected, and I am not being hyperbolic when I say that our server Casey managed to keep my Tony’s Town Square experience from being completely soured by the culinary disappointments. He was more than willing to accommodate Pete’s dietary menu changes, sought honest feedback and gave honest recommendations, and was engaging yet not intrusive. I haven’t given Tony’s high marks for flavor, but let us not forget what a crucial impact service has on a meal. I did not walk out those doors angry or frustrated, which is saying something.
Towards the end of our meal, the restaurant took notice of the fact that we were conducting a full review, and we were treated to a conversation with Tony’s Town Square’s new Head Chef. Chef Katie (whose name I am most likely misspelling) possessed a bearing that communicated confidence and self-respect, but also humility. Rather than a simple and polite meet-and-greet, she was there for honest feedback. Throughout our conversation, we learned of some of the hurdles in-park restaurants have to jump to improve existing menus, and some of the measures Tony’s Town Square is taking to work past its lackluster reputation. After what turned out to be a pleasant and informative end to our meal, I am left with one takeaway:
While I can’t in good conscience recommend foregoing any of the better on-property restaurants to dine at Tony’s, I do get the impression that it is on the upswing. The current menu contains some old Italian standbys but is obviously attempting to stretch out into more creative territory. While I personally found that many of these attempts missed the mark, hopefully a new chef — combined with honest guest feedback and constructive criticism — will lead this eatery into more respectable territory. Given that many of the dishes we ordered were overly-salted or a bit too sweet, I would wager that the kitchen is currently doing their best to work with (or mask) low-quality ingredients. Tony’s Town square occupies an absolutely beautiful location, with prime park entrance traffic. Hopefully, at some point in the near future, the quality of food will begin to match its surroundings.