Paddlefish – The Icon of Disney Springs.
There can be but a few restaurants around the world that deserve the title “Iconic“ but Paddlefish, the Levy, Disney collaboration at Disney Springs we truly believe fulfills this accolade.
The heritage of this location is unique, starting out as a re-creation of a 220 foot 19th century paddle steamer and named after Walt Disney’s wife, the Empress Lily first opened in 1977 and although the paddles have not moved the replica steamer one inch up or down Buena Vista lagoon, it became an instant success. The restaurant changed to “Fulton’s Crab House” in 1996 when the smoke stacks and paddlewheel were removed and quickly became one of the highest grossing restaurants in the USA.
The voyage continues today with the bold, rust to rivets rejuvenation of “Fulton’s Crab House” into Paddlefish. The smoke stacks and paddlewheel are back, as well as a totally reimagined restaurant design and experience, aimed at both vacationers and Florida locals alike.
We sat down with chef Mark Boor to understand more. Mark is a twenty-year culinary veteran, hailing from the Midwest, he worked his way up through the ranks of the culinary world, ending up as executive chef at Fulton’s some years before the change, so is no stranger to the location and is mindful of his responsibility to its heritage.
Mark crafted the new and improved menu over a couple of years and brought all his passion and expertise into its creation. Some new, some improved but classic “Fulton’s” dishes with a refreshing twist, some “cutting edge” but all with the accent on sustainable sourcing, local purchasing where he can and justifiable provenance of the foods he purchases. Mark is committed into turning Paddlefish into the best seafood restaurant in Central Florida and beyond. By the taste of his food, he is on to a very good start.
Paddlefish is a three-deck restaurant, deck one accommodates the entrance off the gangplank walkway. To the left is the slightly more casual “Boil Room” where you can really experience the “culinary show” as they have a theatre kitchen and exposed kettles making delicious seafood boils, the bar faces the bow deck and has serving windows for an indoor-outdoor experience. Outside there is bow deck seating under umbrellas with unparalleled views of the lake. Inside and to the lakeside there is more restaurant seating with views of the lake, to our mind some of the best seats in the restaurant. The stern restaurant gives a view of the paddlewheel and again quite a different look and feel. All the stern of the ship has been opened with massive windows to take full advantage of the spectacular views. The wide wooden stairs lead to deck two, again with bow and stern restaurants, there is a “secret bar “ on this level that opens at 5pm, great spot for a quiet, late afternoon hangout!
Deck three has a dedicated event space to the bow with its own open deck, a unique feature as far as events spaces go. To the stern there is another bar and internal restaurant as well as an amazing wrap around roof top deck featuring comfy couches and sofa seating. The indoor-outdoor bar service through sliding windows again compliments the al fresco feel. The views from this area are unparalleled, just watch the sunset from this location, you will get what we mean. The is a rumor that there will be cabanas on this level soon!
Paddlefish offers Lunch, Dinner, Seafood Boil, Sunset Roof Top and Brunch menu’s, all designed to help the guest get the most out of the experience, time and location.
On our lunch time visit we asked Chef Mark for some recommendations:
Crab Cake – Maque choux, fried green tomato, remoulade – This dish was a firm favorite from Fulton’s days but now with a Chef Mark makeover, he added a light touch of hot sauce to the dish from his own special blend of peppers, not hot enough to destroy the flavors but just enough to wake up your taste buds. Maque choux is a traditional dish of Southern Louisiana containing corn, bell pepper, onion, a perfect base for the crab cake, the fried green tomato was crisp and refreshing, the crab cake outstanding.
Chef Mark’s food is complex but everything on the plate has a purpose and shows a gifted understanding of dish creation.
Fried Clam Roll – Ipswich whole bellied clams, lemon-caper aioli and pickles – The BEST clam roll we have ever had, succulent, perfectly cooked clams drizzled with the aioli on a bed of pickles to balance the acidity of the whole dish.
Seafood Boil – The aromas coming from the Boil Room made this selection easy. You can either build your own or choose from the Cracker, Low Country Boil, New England or Alaskan boil. All served with Plant City corn, new potatoes and jalapeno corn bread.
Low Country Boil – Snow crab, Gulf shrimp and boudin. Everything is boiled together in a fishing net and served in a stainless-steel bowl with claw crackers and fork to tease the delicate crab meat from its shell. The combination of boiling together brings out the fresh natural flavor of each component, perfect crab and shrimp, the corn and potatoes tasted amazingly fresh. Not forgetting the jalapeno corn bread, we now never want cornbread any other way.
So now comes dessert!
Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Tart – Bourbon ganache, candied bacon, sea salt with vanilla ice cream. This was originally the recipe of Chef Mark’s Mom, but brought up to date for the Paddlefish menu. We tried three times to stop eating this dessert but it was so good we just had to finish it. It will make you wish you grew up with a Mom like Mark’s. Outstanding!
Service by Lori was as you would expect, friendly, efficient with just the right amount of personal interaction. She can be our server any time.
What should you know about Paddlefish? Well, this is a large operation but by intelligent use of space it creates great ambience and atmosphere.
- You should not go away hungry, this is not nouvelle cuisine where you see more plate than food.
- Great heart healthy kid’s menu, a passion for Chef Mark based on his experience with his own family.
- There is not a wine menu, it’s a BOOK!
- Rooftop Deck live music every Friday & Saturday.
- Special Sunset menu for the roof top.
- Great Cocktails.
- The Best views.
Much has been made in the press and food blogs about the price of certain items at the restaurants around Disney Springs, but here’s the thing, Warren Buffet once quoted that “price is the dollars you pay, value is what you receive in return”. So how does Paddlefish stack up in terms of price and value?
Price: Undoubtedly signature dining, but if you mix, match and share, then you won’t break the bank. On the other hand, a special occasion or one off splurge may be in order.
- Access straight off the I-4
- Free parking garage
- Disney experience without buying a park ticket
- Arguably the best views and ambiance of any restaurant in the area
- Free entertainment
- Amazing Service and Quality
- Great Food, Wine & Cocktails
- Unique location
On the above criteria value overrides price by some margin, be the judge yourself, but whatever happens you must give Paddlefish a try.
As there are so many options and occasions to experience we will definitely be back soon, next on our list, Brunch and what we are calling “Paddlefish After Dark”.