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Sunday Brunch

Sunday Brunch: Ticket to Mexico, Ticket to Dine, Ticket to "A Whole New Adventure in Eating"

1 April 2012

'Hola, mis amigos! Hoy vamos a ir a comer al Pepper Market, localizado en Coronado Springs, 'hogar de los Tres Caballeros!
(Muchas Gracias to our very own Pedro Hernandez for this translation!)

With the playful, yet soulful sound of the Mariachi Band in the background coupled with the crunch, bite, and spice of the tacos and nachos at La Cantina de San Angel, guests at Epcot's Mexico pavilion feel fully immersed in the culture of Central America as soon as you walk by. But, I always felt, in such a small area of World Showcase, the Mexico Pavilion manages to capture a lot of the country in such a small space. True, once one enters the ancient Aztec temple, guests are thrust headfirst into a bustling open air market despite being inside. This makes one wonder, if given a bigger space like some of the other World Showcase pavilions like France and America, what other wonders of Mexico can the Imagineers recreate and dream up?

This question can easily be answered by taking a hop, skip, and a leap over to the Animal Kingdom Resort Area at Disney's Coronado Springs Resort and Convention Center. While I am no expert on Mexican architecture and art styles, I know enough to see that the resort is simply saturated in the Mexican culture. It is truly a fiesta for the eyes!

As with Disney's other resorts, this Moderate Resort features the expected amenities such as an extensive, themed gift shop, a classy lounge, a full table-service restaurant, a counter service market, and what makes Coronado Springs especially unique: a hybrid table/counter service restaurant. Weeks ago, my friend and now frequent dining companion Aaron told me about the somewhat odd, but unique dining experience found at Coronado Springs' Pepper Market. As he described it, I tried very hard to ascertain what exactly it was until this week I decided I needed to venture there and see it for myself.

Located right by the lobby in the resort's main building, the Pepper Market is an extremely festive marketplace offering an All-You-Can-Eat buffet for breakfast and lunch, with the hybrid table/counter service available for dinner.

The Three Caballeros in topiary form greet you at the outdoor entrance

The main dining room is decorated with strings of lights strewn across the ceiling, great white pillars, and even hand painted signs advertising a seller's fresh produce. Though inside, much like Mexico Pavillion's market, the Pepper Market is made to look like you are dining outside (with the comforts of air conditioning).

Individual food stands offer different menus and categories of dining much like the other counter service like food courts at the moderate and value resorts. With a food court style dining venue, guests expect a complete self-serve experience, but the Pepper Market puts a Mexican spin on your dining experience.

Right outside the entrance is a window for ordering coffee, soft drinks, and alcoholic beverages

Upon entering the Pepper Market for dinner, Aaron and I were greeted by a hostess, just like at a Table Service restaurant. Rather odd considering this looked a lot like a food court. We were seated at a colorful wooden table where the place settings wrapped in a colorful cloth napkin looked like they came straight out of Abuelita's kitchen. A server, Maria-Fernanda from the University of Mexico, greeted us with menus and a large ticket with an empty grid and instructions. I've dined out numerous times, but this is the first time I received paperwork before venturing for a meal. It was sort of like a game! But most importantly, I was beginning to finally understand what Aaron had tried to explain weeks before.

You're only allowed to order 12 things. Don't go crazy!

Yes, that does read 'A whole new adventure in eating'

Basically, the way this works is that you are writing your own check as your order and receive your meal. Guests browse the market and order what they want at each food stand. The cast member will then stamp your ticket with what you ordered and give you your food. Maria-Fernanda also said she can go up and bring you food too, though given the set-up it seemed a bit odd to have two methods to getting your meal. You can go back up to the market as many times as you want, but don't forget your ticket or there's no eating here tonight!

The main shop, the Chef's Station, in the center of the market is where you can find Mexican-American cuisine such as burritos, quesadillas, burittos, and even fish tacos! The latter is very popular in Mexico and the West and Southwest regions of the US, so I decided this is what I had to try.

Blackened Fish Tacos

My sister had lived in California for a few years and whenever she spoke of the food, fish tacos always came up with glowing reviews. I'm not a big fan of seafood, but there are a few types of fish I'll eat. I was a little wary of what kind of fish would be used in the Pepper Market's fish tacos, but I was relieved and excited to hear that they used a seasoned Salmon. This also explained the price! The platter came with three soft shell tacos with a heaping amount of warm, seasoned Salmon, a nest of fresh cabbage slaw, hearty dollop of avocado, and a spoonful of chipotle ranch dressing. I was pleasantly surprised at how delicious this was. Though the avocado was a bit excessive in my opinion, the dish was overall a winner. I felt there could've been a bit more of the chipotle dressing. This also depends on how much the cook gives you, though I'm sure they have some system of consistency in portion control.

Beef Fajitas

Aaron's plate matched the d'cor of the restaurant, with the colorful ingredients found in fajitas. The fajitas were presented as a do it yourself platter, making for an interactive meal and personal portion control. The plate was complete with a stack of warmed tortillas, strips of beef and peppers, shredded lettuce, guacamole, sour cream, fresh tomato salsa, and cheese. Aaron stated '[The fajitas were] really good, but the pieces of meat were a bit small. I can see people expecting more, but then again portion sizes are out of control in this country.' Certainly true, and there's no harm in a little politics over dinner! Other than that, Aaron was glad there were ample amounts of sour cream and liked that there was an option for a side of rice and beans. The rice was a bit hard, but lightly seasoned and a fine accompaniment to the fajitas.

After filling up on the Mexican goodness, what better way to complete the meal with Mexican desserts? The bakery at the Pepper Market had the expected muffins, cookies, danishes, and other pastries one finds at all resort bakeries, but there were a few specialties such as flan and the inevitable: churros!

Flan, cheesecake, Strawberry Shortcake, Fruit Tarts, Oreo Chocolate Cake

So many churros!

With a tear drop shaped look, these churros were almost unrecognizable compared to the long fried dough tubes found in the parks. They tasted a little fresher than the obvious frozen and warmed churros you find at the churro wagons, but still I could see these churros as coming in already made as well. They were a bit soft from sitting in the warming dish for who knows how long, but still they were good. Aaron also got a cup of ice cream which was amazingly lactose free, so I was able to have a few spoonfuls with my churros. Our one disappointment with the ice cream is that it did not have a stamp, so the cast member had to write it on the ticket.

With the meal coming to a close, Maria-Fernanda came by one last time if we needed any refills or anything else, then instructed us where to pay. The exit was blocked with a row of cash registers, though this particular evening there was only one cashier, making check out a longer process. It's one thing to wait for a check while sitting at your table, but since we essentially already had our check in our hands, we were a bit confused that we had to wait in a long line to leave. This is done at other restaurants, specifically diners, but I felt this process would be more efficient given the write your own check task. With as many servers that they had to hand out drinks and instructions, it was puzzling there was only one cashier taking care of the exiting dinner crowd.

Overall, in a sense this hybrid restaurant can be seen in two ways. One view is that it adds an unnecessary extra step to counter service dining. But I like to see it as a way of a more efficient table service meal despite some of the puzzling logistical setbacks we had that evening. The make the check as you go concept is pretty cool and definitely a new way of dining. I'm assuming this is a common way of doing things in Mexico, otherwise why else would they have this system in only this resort's restaurant? The experience took a bit of getting used to since Americans have gone their whole lives knowing the difference between counter service dining and table service dining, so it was quite an interesting experience to see the two styles blended together.

The greatest part about dining at Coronado Springs was that for the first time in a long time while living by Walt Disney World, I actually felt like I was on vacation. With the world class theme parks to distract those who visit Disney and those that live there, it's easy to forget how much the resorts can take you away to somewhere totally different. The Mexican Pavilion at Epcot does an excellent job with thrusting you in a different country without leaving the US borders. Coronado Springs takes this a step further not only in the theming of the resort, but by a method of dining. Who would've thought something as simple and novel as having a stamped ticket during your meal can make all the difference in a dining experience?


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