During a recent trip to Disney World we tried Biergarten, the sit-down restaurant in Epcot’s Germany pavilion. Designed to look like a German town square, food is served, fittingly, at large communal tables just like a real Biergarten in Germany. The room is large and well-lit, with three tiers of seating in a semi-circle, with a band and an area for dancing down front. The band plays a 20-30 minute set of traditional German folk music every hour; during a regular meal, you’ll probably catch the show one to two times. Children and adults are welcome to come down and dance. When we were there the kids were brought down for a special Christmas story. It’s lively and a bit loud, but not so loud that you can’t have a conversation with your table mates.
Food is served buffet style with a server bringing drinks. If you’re on the dining plan, soft drinks are included; you’ll have to pay extra for beer. The semi-circle buffet is the same on both sides so you can start at either side. For starters you’ll find rolls, potato and leek soup, assorted deli meats, pickles, and German-style salads like wurst salat (a meat salad) and cucumber with dill, as well as more familiar salads like macaroni and potato. For entrees, there’s rotisserie chicken, sausage and sauerkraut, spaetzle, a short fat noodle that’s boiled and then sautéed in butter, schnitzel with mushroom gravy, red cabbage, carved roast pork and usually a potato dish or two. Kids, and adults as well, can have the same macaroni and cheese that you’ll find on kids menus elsewhere in Disney World. At dinner you may pay extra and add on German specialties like Sauerbraten and dumplings.
I’ve never seen a buffet in Germany. It’s true. In fact, I would even venture so far as to say that a buffet is rather un-German. Germans don’t strike me as the kind of folks who belly up to the bar for massive amounts of schnitzel and sausage. They much prefer their massive amounts of schnitzel and sausage to be brought to them. And in this regard, I have to agree with them. Perhaps the biggest problem with the Biergarten is the distance from most tables to the buffet. After a day of trekking around the parks, you might not want to make the long journey to and from the buffet tables. Particularly if you’re a parent of small children, you’ll be doing a lot of running back and forth.
Like most Disney World buffets, the food is plentiful and fresh. I once read somewhere that 26.2 miles of sausage are served every 60 days in the German pavilion. Somehow, serving an entire marathon’s length of sausage makes the sausage makes it sound less appealing, don’t you think? I mean, it’s not like I expected every sausage to be handmade by a local artisan using locally sourced, organic ingredients, but you know, I also didn’t expect my sausage to be so . . . mass produced, perhaps. Regardless, it was pretty good, especially with the different condiments they had to go with it. While it’s probably a stretch to label the thick little triangles of meat “schnitzel,” looking more like over-sized chicken nuggets than thin, crispy cutlets, they did taste good. I’m a huge fan of spaetzle and I thought that Biergarten’s tasted like it could have been from a neighborhood Gasthaus in Germany. The soup was good and the salads, while a bit unfamiliar, were pretty tasty. Perhaps the best part of the buffet was the desserts. In fact, I’ve found this to be the case in all the buffets I’ve eaten at in Disney World. The buffet had several types of cake small enough to allow you to sample more than one. The apple strudel was flaky and not too sweet.
So how does the buffet do with kids? Well, if your kids are picky eaters you might have trouble finding them something they’ll like. Most little kids aren’t going to be fooled into thinking that the German sausages are hot dogs. While I’ve heard that there are hot dogs on the buffet, they weren’t around when we were there. My kids liked the bread and fruit though. We didn’t get “our money’s worth” and I’d venture to say that most parents have a similar experience at the Biergarten, but I suppose not getting one’s money’s worth at a buffet isn’t such a bad idea.
Even if the food hadn’t been good, the conversation we had with our seatmates, parents and a three-year old, was worth every penny. Clearly unhappy to be seated with a family with three small, rambunctious children, the mother started to get a bit tipsy. At one point, she remarked to us that she and her husband would “kill themselves if they had that many kids.” Well, I like a good ice-breaker, however awkward, and by the end of our meal, we’d exchanged life stories, medical histories, and email addresses. Our waiter, a sweet attentive fellow from northern Germany, brought us our check and three gingerbread men for the kids while they enjoyed the music. Later, we strolled out of the cool interior of the Biergarten into the bright December day, full of German food and with a good story or two. You can’t beat that.
Chris blogs here and at Everything Walt Disney World. She’d also like to state that she doesn’t drive a motorcycle or have tattoos. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.