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Sunday Brunch

Sunday Brunch: Car Dining at the Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater
June 19, 2011

Editor's Note: In honor of the premiere of Cars 2 this week, From Screen to Theme's Days of the Week will be exploring Disney topics devoted to cars for Cars Week!

When food and cars are in the same sentence, a few pieces of classic Americana come to mind: 'Drive Thrus' and 'Drive Ins.'  While the Disney theme parks don't have any drive through restaurants (save for the last McDonald's on WDW Property), they do have a 'Drive In' or rather, a 'Dine in.'  In honor of Cars Week, Sunday Brunch will be dining in a car at the 'Sci Fi Dine-In' at Disney's Hollywood Studios!


Tucked away between New York Street and the ABC Commissary, the Sci-Fi Dine In can be found beneath this retro futuristic sign.


A menu posting outside gives guest an idea that the Dine-In serves up classic American cuisine

The Sci-Fi Dine-In opened for night and day business on April 20, 1991, serving both lunch and dinner.  There is no need to wait for the sun to set at this 'drive-in.'  As an indoor restaurant, Imagineers created a drive in with an eternal star-filled night sky, perfect, climate controlled weather and no smog.  Guests are seated in 1950's white-walled cars, equipped with 3 rows of counter top tables and low lighting for food visibility purposes.  As with actual cars, all seats face forward with room to fit 2 adults comfortably or perhaps 3 children.  Some of the cars feature actual tables to accommodate larger parties, with seating for 8.  These cars are actually 2 four top tables between a car front and back.  Additionally, for more traditionally seating, umbrella topped picnic tables line the back wall of the restaurant.  Tip: Look for the Hidden Mickey in the trees at the rear of the theater!  If you can't find it, I'm sure our Hidden Mickey Monday expert Alex will be covering it in the future.


A taste of the specially designed car tables is set up by the restaurant's entrance


Each car is equipped with California plates, with licenses that are actually the initials of the Imagineers who designed the restaurant.

After receiving news of our Cars themed week, I was fortunate enough to snag some last minute reservations for 2 at the Sci-Fi Dine in with my roommate.  Our host led us to a car already occupied with a family of four, so he told us we would be hitchhiking tonight.  After scanning our menus, we discovered the Dine-In was serving up some American classics such as the Angus Chuck Burger and Mixed Greens salad to fancier fare such as the Beef and Blue Salad and Shrimp Penne Pasta.  Though the food may seem too standard American for those looking for the interesting Disney twist, the drink menu was quite impressive and the kick was the inclusion of glow-in the dark ice cubes to illuminate your drink in the dark atmosphere.

My roommate ordered the Italian Grilled Chicken Sandwich (grilled chicken on a Kaiser roll with Bruschetta topping and side of fries or cucumber salad) and I decided to order my namesake.  Sci-Fi's Dine-In's Reuben Sandwich was made classic deli style with an enormous stack of corned beef, garnished with sauerkraut, melted Swiss Cheese, and 1000 Island Dressing on rye bread.  It came with French Fries and my favorite, a pickle.


My Namesake

While this was only my 2nd Reuben sandwich in life, I have to say I was quite satisfied with my selection, though unsure if I'm qualified to make a fair judgment of its authenticity.  The sandwich was warm, right off the grill and the bread was grilled crisp and buttery, enough to help offset the strong flavors of the rye bread.  The Swiss cheese was melted from grilling and there was just enough dressing to complement the meat, rather than drown it, which I found happens with some sandwiches in my past experiences.  My only complaint was there was too much meat, so I couldn't finish it.


Like real drive-ins from the 1950s, snack time intermissions played on the movie screen between clips


It is really night time inside the Dine-In!

If the delicious classic American cuisine is not enough to entice you to dine at the dine-in, then the novelty of the drive-in themed atmosphere should.   Each car is parked next to a tower of individual speakers that you normally attach to the side of your car; while the speakers were not removable here, the audio of the movie screen came from them like a real drive-in.  There is also a concession window in the rear where the car hops, dressed in 1950s garb, pick up orders.  I believe in the past they used to fly by on roller skates, though that feature has since been discontinued, probably due to safety issues. 

The greatest novelty of the Dine-In is the movie screen that actually plays clips of Science-fiction related trailers of cheap horror movies and space themed cartoons.  You'll see trailers for corny flicks like 'The Great Gila Monster' and 'Plan 9 From Outer Space' and 'The Robot Monster.'  I think the latter was my favorite since the monster was a gorilla with a space helmet, haha.  There's also a handful of snack time and intermission commercials featuring the classic, thick lined 1950s animation, in the spirit of Rocky and Bullwinkle and the Flintstones.  Speaking of animation, several space themed cartoons play such as 'Mouse in Space' featuring Tom and Jerry.  Another cartoon featured a Tex Avery style black cat that went into space.  While there are hardly any Disney space themed cartoon shorts that come to mind, I was wondering if there would be any Disney themed clips featured at all.  Finally, about 3/4s of the way into our meal, we were treated to a clip of a giant robot named Garco who introduced the man himself, Walt Disney.  Uncle Walt talks to us about the possibility of life on other planets.  Following the robot clip was a hilarious Disney cartoon short of a scientist's secretary being chased around the moon or some planet by a robot and an assortment of alien creatures, including a surprise classic Disney character.  Both these clips were actually part of a Disneyland episode 'Mars and Beyond,' available on the Tomorrowland DVD (if you can find it) of the Walt Disney Treasures collection.

 

While the menu is not as thrilling as others at WDW, the novelty and nostalgia of a 1950s drive-in certainly make 'Sci-Fi Dine In' one of the must do's of the resort.  Drive-in Theaters have become a thing of the past with only a handful still in operation today, so if you're lucky enough to make it down to Walt Disney World, definitely check out this faithful recreation of 1950s Americana.

 

 

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