Whispering Canyon Cafe, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, Orlando

My family supped at Whispering Canyon on the last night of our recent vacation at Disney. I didn’t know if we would love or hate Whispering Canyon. The name is a sort of inside joke, because there’s nothing whisper-like about this restaurant–it’s one the loudest, most boisterous restaurants imaginable. This is a place that serves food in a giant skillet, where things stop periodically so everybody can jump up and join a server in dancing the Hokey Pokey, where kids play with Lincoln logs while waiting for their table.

“This restaurant is unabashedly American,” I told my husband. It’s goofy and fun and loud and sure to become my son’s favorite restaurant once he’s old enough to express an opinion on these matters. Just like America, it’s big, brash, noisy, crazy, and unashamed of all these qualities. It’s where you go to laugh your ass off with dinner. (If you want sedate, head around the corner to Artist Point.)

There is a standard menu of appetizers, entrees and desserts, but we elected to sample the all-you-care-to-eat skillet in order to fully participate in the swing of things at the Canyon. The skillet includes four barbecued meats: brisket, chicken, pork spareribs and pulled pork. There’s also some homemade mashed potatoes, corn, slaw, a salad with apple vinaigrette, and cornbread. The meats were all acceptable–not exactly competition BBQ, but the brisket sported an actual smoke ring and the ribs were delightfully sticky and tender. We liked the tart vinaigrette and crisp greens of the salad as a contrast to the rich meal, and the cornbread was a good example of cakey-type cornbread.

I had a fantastic pecan pie for dessert–deep-dish, not too goopy or sweet, sharpened with a generous slug of bourbon. My husband’s apple pie was also all-American, piled high with sweet fruit.

We cottoned on to the ketchup ritual at Whispering Canyon early on: if you want ketchup, you have to get everybody at your table to scream “WE NEED KETCHUP!” Then the people with ketchup on their tables have to get up and bring it to you. Early on, we saw one table get snowed with about 30 bottles of ketchup at once. Later, our boy got to hand three bottles to another table–he loved being a part of the ketchup ritual and was totally adorable while doing it.

This is the sort of restaurant that I imagine does not exist outside of Texas and maybe Wyoming, except that it also exists at Disney World. It’s not five-star food, but it’s solid and the restaurant is so fun, the quality of the food almost doesn’t matter. Go with your kids and feel free to forget your manners for a while.

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