Disney Parks foodies, it's time to get connected.
But, unlike its predecessor, Electric Umbrella — which was, at the time of its closure, thought by Disney fans to be a bit outdated — this combination of quick-service restaurant and cafe goes beyond just simple burgers and fries. Instead, Connections brings more globally-inspired meals and ambiance to Epcot, which opened in 1982 and is known for its World Showcase, where 11 countries share their culinary best with park goers.
Brianna Pfost, an art director at Epcot who works for Walt Disney Imagineering says this new location, which includes both a cafe that serves drinks from Starbucks and a full eatery, fits into the larger storytelling of the theme park. This storytelling begins with four "neighborhoods," three of which are brand new: The long-standing World Showcase where countries like Mexico and Morocco are represented, is joined by Epcot's World Nature, World Discovery and World Celebration sections.
"We're in the newly-opened neighborhood of World Celebration, which is all about celebrating the things we share in common with each other across the world," Pfost tells Yahoo Life of Connections' location in the center of the park. "And of course, food is a big part of that, so we really wanted to make sure we were embracing the idea of a global community."
The centerpiece of the dining location is an over 160-foot mural, titled Global Gathering, a sprawling piece that celebrates cultural traditions from around the world in one work of art. "It's all about representing different cultures and food staples around the world, but also showing everyone coming together around a meal," Pfost explains.
At Connections Cafe, the location's on-the-go coffee spot, favorites from Starbucks, which was relocated first from the area formerly referred to as Future World then to a temporary location in the World Showcase, are served. But, all caramel macchiatos aside, the venue is no ordinary coffee shop. A glass case filled with coffee and teapots from across the globe sits to the left of the sprawling and modern counter, reminding guests again of the ways global food practices and cultural traditions are often more alike than they are different.
"Our global cup display is all about vessels for brewing and steeping coffee and tea because that's something so universally shared by everybody," Pfost explains. "We all want our little caffeine kick … we all have those little traditions — you have that one mug that you enjoy — we wanted to explore that and share how every different culture has traditions that are unique to them, but how similar those vessels look."
Working hand in hand with Walt Disney Imagineering, the chefs at Epcot embraced this global inspiration to craft a menu for Connections Eatery — the quick-service restaurant that accompanies the cafe — that appeals to a bevy of park goers while introducing them to international ingredients and flavors.
An open kitchen allows guests to catch a show as chefs prepare meals and treats ranging from a classic fried chicken sandwich to a Belgian Liège-style waffle, a brioche-based waffle infused with pearls of sugar. Epcot chef Scott Tosh says his team worked with Walt Disney World’s "flavor lab," a location where Disney chefs test new menu items before they debut in the parks, to create a menu that would "connect guests with each other and with food from around the world."
What sets Connections Eatery apart from other theme park restaurants, according to Tosh, is that everything is house-made in front of an audience. "We basically make everything here from scratch in the restaurant," he says. "It's a great place for our cast to showcase what we do — many of our kitchens are completely enclosed in glass, so the guests can see our cast working."
"We're [typically] behind a wall in the back, so we don't get to see the guests reaction to the food," Tosh adds. "It's been really enjoyable for the cast to see [guests enjoying their meals], especially little kids who come up to the glass excited to see what's going on."
But what do the eatery's house-made internationally-focused meals taste like? As someone who visits Epcot weekly, I couldn't wait to dive into the menu, which is mostly inspired by French, Italian and Asian cuisines.
The General Tso Chicken Salad is a light yet filling lunch, perfect for a hot Florida day. With broccoli slaw, edamame and fresh kale, it's certainly not what you might expect from a theme park, packed with flavors like a perfectly golden piece of fried chicken coated in a sweet and savory sauce.
As part of Disney World's commitment to offering plant-based foods on every menu, the Curry Spice Pizza is made with fresh dough topped with tikka masala, carrots, potatoes, peas, tomatoes, a plant-based mozzarella and a lime "yogurt" sauce — a much-welcomed twist on a standard slice.
Since its opening on April 27, fan-favorite menu items include the French Bistro Burger, smothered in caramelized onions, mushrooms, bacon and Brie, and the Liège Waffle — a brioche dough coated in pearl sugar turned into a crisp waffle covered in strawberries, chocolate and whipped cream — a sweet treat guaranteed to satisfy any sweet tooth.
Tosh believes each menu item, whether familiar or foreign, will connect guests with both new cuisines and ingredients that are staples in their own kitchens and cultures.
"[The mural] is a beautiful painting of food and people from all around the world," says Tosh. "There's corn from Mexico, rice from China, apples from Turkey, cheese from Belgium — all different areas that the guests can see. They look at the mural and say, 'Hey, I see that food [in the painting] and I see it in one of the dishes I'm getting.'"
Connections Cafe opens daily at 8:30 a.m. and serves Starbucks favorites along with breakfast sandwiches and light pastries. Connections Eatery opens daily for lunch and dinner at 11 a.m. and closes at 9 p.m.
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