Part restaurant, part music venue, part tourist trap, House of Blues (11 a.m.–11 p.m. Sun.–Mon., 11 a.m.–midnight Tues.–Wed., 11 a.m.–2 a.m. Thurs.–Sat., main courses $11–28) is something of an attraction in and of itself. Like most of the chain’s outlets, the one at Downtown Disney maintains a faux-rustic atmosphere that’s meant to convince guests they’ve stumbled upon some swampy roadhouse where the gumbo’s hot and the blues are cool. The whole place runs like a well-oiled machine, and the shrimp po’boys, jambalaya, and fried chicken, though tasty, have considerably less personality than the folk art adorning the walls.
On Sunday mornings, however, the restaurant extends its reach into the music hall and serves up a spectacular Gospel Brunch (seatings at 10:30 a.m. and 1 p.m., $33.50 adults, $17.25 children, children 2 and under free) with mountainous offerings of grits, fried catfish, mac-and-cheese, roast potatoes, biscuits and gravy, and pretty much any other comfort food you need to shake off Saturday night. The feasting is accompanied by top-notch gospel performances; typically it’s a local group, but occasionally the likes of the Blind Boys of Alabama grace the stage.
Bongos (11 a.m.–10:30 p.m. daily, bar until 2 a.m., main courses $8–29) gets quite a bit of attention due to its famous owners, Gloria and Emilio Estefan. The expansive Cuban menu ranges from light plates (media noche, Cuban sandwiches, pan con bistec) to hearty dishes like ropa vieja, pork loin, chicharrones, and more; all are rich and tasty, and some boast surprisingly complex flavor profiles. Service here can occasionally be poor, but once you’re seated, the playfully stylish atmosphere, stiff mojitos, and nightly performances by a Desi Arnaz impersonator—yes, really—make for a memorable meal.
Irish food, when crafted solely as an accompaniment to whiskey and beer, can often be something of a nightmare. Accordingly, many “Irish pubs” in the United States—especially those targeted at thirsty tourists—are exceedingly liberal with their drink servings and exceedingly lazy in their kitchens. Raglan Road (11 a.m.–11 p.m., bar until 2 a.m., main courses $14–28) is certainly willing to pour you a stiff one or three, but they’re going to make sure you’ve got some exceptional food to go along with ’em.
While including all the expected staples—shepherd’s pie, bangers ’n’ mash, fish-and-chips—Raglan’s kitchen also sneaks roasted ham, pork loin, lemon sole, pan-roasted chicken, and a number of other examples of atypical pub fare onto the menu. There’s live Irish music—and dancing—nightly.
© Jason Ferguson from Moon Florida, 1st Edition