Writing an annotated summary of my eating habits while at Universal Orlando Resort just isn’t enough, is it? Not when there’s a few more tidbits to squeeze in, it isn’t. Think of these final thoughts on Universal cuisine as the Hobbits nibbling on an after-dinner snack (or two) – or “filling in the corners,” as they like to say.
A great number of venues at UOR will go out of their way to help you celebrate your (or your wife’s) birthday, typically in the form of extra cheer and, of course, free desserts. Emeril’s and Mama Della’s offered simply exquisite sweets – tiramisu is always our favorite, so thanks, Mama! – and even Portofino Bay Hotel had a delicious slice of cheesecake waiting for us when we got back from a hard day at the parks.
The only restaurants that didn’t partake in the birthday festivities, oddly enough, were the in-park locations that we stopped at: Mythos and Lombard’s. (I didn’t ask about Bubba Gump, since that was essentially the only [major] meal that we didn’t make reservations for.) I’m assuming that even singing “Happy Birthday,” like they did at the fancy establishment that is Emeril’s Orlando, would be too much to do for all of their guests eating in the parks, but it still kinda was a bummer that Universal didn’t acknowledge her 30th in any shape, way, or form. Oh, well.
The Best Dessert
Since neither one of is much of a sports fan – particularly basketball, which ranks even lower than bowling – my wife was very much surprised when I dragged her to the giant Logo Man that greets you in front of NBA City. What was waiting for us inside was Cinnamon Berries, which, according to the restaurant’s menu, is “fresh whole strawberries dipped in a light tempura batter, fried to order, and then rolled in cinnamon sugar. Served on a plate of crème anglaise and strawberry sauce with vanilla in an ice cream cinnamon tortilla basket.” If that sounds like heaven on Earth, you’re not far off, and it was easily the best dessert we had at the resort, even with all of the free chocolate we scarfed down – though, to be fair, my wife still (erroneously) maintains that Mama Della’s tiramisu was the sweetest of the sweets.
Either way, trust me – NBA City is not to be missed.
The Worst Bite
A hard-as-a-rock churro, purchased in Jurassic Park at Islands of Adventures, if memory serves correctly, has the distinction of being the single worst – and, actually, come to think of it, the only bad – dish we attempted to eat during our stay at the resort. Having been purchased late in the afternoon, this could have been just a left-out-too-long selection, or maybe it’s just the way they roll in Jurassic Park, taking the fossil theme to a whole new level, but given the price (gouging) and the level of service we encountered at all the rest of Universal Orlando, it was a disappointment. Why can’t they just discard the stale food and cook up some fresh snacks for the easy prey that is their guests?
The Final Verdict: Mama Della’s
Now we come to the toughest decision of them all: crowning the single best meal in a weekend filled with culinary goodness. The Three Broomsticks was magical (no pun intended), but it wasn’t anywhere near as good as Emeril’s or, even, Mythos. Mythos, for its part, was fantastic, but Lombard’s can compete in the food department, if not in décor, of course.
In the end, the nod has to go to Mama Della’s, which had the most sublime combination of theming, service, atmosphere, food, and sheer hospitality. Mama, beckoning you into her premises to eat at her kitchen, is convincing enough to remind me of my Italian-emigrated grandparents; the waiters were all impeccable in their friendliness, professionalism, and even humor; and the strolling guitar players possessed an incomparable warmth (and, needless to say, talent). This last was particularly appreciated, as they first sang an Italianized version of “Happy Birthday” to my wife and then obliged her musical stylings… after first singing the Spider-Man theme song to a bored youth who wouldn’t even look up from his iPhone. (“I’ve never heard them do that before,” our waiter laughed.)
Once again, Mama Della’s – and all of Portofino Bay, it has to be said – comes highly recommended. Be sure to make it extra-special by saving it for the last meal of your trip, and don’t forget to try the tiramisu.
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