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Sunday Brunch

Sunday Brunch: Nants ingonyama bagithi to the Tusker House (Here comes a lion to the Tusker House)
September 18
th, 2011

In preparation for the majestic return of the Disney animated classic The Lion King, in both 3D theatrical release and the upcoming Blu-Ray release, From Screen to Theme will be hosting a Lion King themed week!

While pondering what to discuss for this special week's Sunday Brunch, I decided there is no blatantly obvious Lion King themed food related item to focus on. The last time I checked, Disney World did not serve bugs, grubs, zebra, or antelope anywhere, and thankfully so. Mufasa and his pride may have feasted on a buffet of jungle creatures, we'll be looking at a buffet in the jungle and exploring the Lion King's homeland, Africa, which is prominently featured in the Animal Kingdom theme park. Dining in Disney's Africa ranges from quick bites at the Tamu Tamu Refreshments, fresh fruit at the Harambe Fruit Market by the entrance to the Kilimanjaro Safari, and the much loved Tusker House. Today we will be sampling the different tastes and flavors of the land Simba and his friends call home at Tusker House's family buffet. The thought of African cuisine leave many curious as to what it is, and the Tusker House is a great way to introduce you and your family to new dishes with the assurance that there is something for everyone to enjoy.

 

After experiencing Boma and researching real African cuisine, I noticed that the menu at Tusker House is pretty tame! Being in the theme park where the dining audience is more diverse, Tusker House can be thought of as the tamer version of the bolder, more accurate African dishes offered at the Animal Kingdom lodge's various African restaurants such as Sanaa, Jiko, and Boma. Some of the ingredients and words on the menu may seem a little new, but I noticed the newness of African cuisine was in their method of preparation and combinations of ingredients already found in many cuisines all over the world. Based on my experience, I would have to say Tusker House's menu features Americanized versions of traditional dishes, and overall similar to Middle Eastern cuisine.

 

Before we stampede right into the buffet, let's take a look at the history of the Tusker House. Back when the resort opened, the restaurant was not a buffet, but a counter-service restaurant set in a rough around the edges building in bustling Harambe village. The cuisine was primarily American, though you did not find the typical burgers and fries. Tusker House was famous for having high quality counter service meals in all of Walt Disney World. The most popular was the Rotisserie Chicken platter, served with garlic mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables. The menu also featured Grilled salmon with jollof rice and seasonal vegetables as well as a Vegetable Sandwich, Fried Chicken Sandwich with steak fries, and Turkey Wrap with corn chowder. Traditional American breakfast foods were also served in the morning.

After success as a counter service restaurant, Disney suddenly decided to convert it into a table service restaurant in 2007. Since the park closed relatively early, a table service restaurant was not really needed as no long timed meal dinner crowd would be present at the park. Though once the park started having extended hours for the summer and holiday seasons, it made sense to create a table service restaurant option available for lunch and dinner. On August 20th, 2007, the Tusker House closed its doors in preparation for its reopening as a buffet restaurant on November 18th, 2007. The conversion also moved Animal Kingdom's character breakfast meal from Restaurantasaurus to the Tusker House.


The main area with the cashiers and food pick up counter is now home to the buffet

Back in June, I dined here for lunch with my friends and I was determined to try something new. The buffet was divided into five sections (cold foods, vegetarian, Kids Buffet, hot foods, and the carving station) each with both African and American options.

Cold Foods:
Assorted Breads
Spicy South African Preserves
Tabbouleh
Hummus
Baba Ghanoush
Cold cuts (turkey, ham, cheeses)
Tunisian Couscous Salad
Fresh Green Bean and Red Onion Salad
Curried Rice Salad with Golden Raisins
Seasonal Fresh Fruit
Apple, Endive, and Walnut Salad with Blue Cheese Crumble
Tossed Caesar Salad
Tomato and Cucumber Salad with Fresh Mint and Yogurt Dressing
Mixed Greens with Ranch, Light Italian, or Balsamic Vinaigrette

When I'm hungry, I don't want to waste time eating salad, so I basically skipped over this section, except one thing caught my eye: of the assorted breads, the Mango chocolate bread sounded great. Unfortunately, it was not as good as the name made it out to be. The bread was a bit dry and it was difficult to find the mango.


A spice rack shelf between stations help show that you are in a traditional African kitchen

Vegetarian:
Marrakesh Couscous
Vegetable Samosa
Pearl Couscous with Sweet Basil
Spiced Vegetable and Tofu Tandoori
Jollaf Rice
Sweet Plantains

From this section I sampled the vegetable samosas, spiced vegetables and tofu tandoori, the sweet plantains, and the Marrakesh couscous. The latter was exactly the same as that served in Morocco at Epcot and tasted as expected. The sweet plantains were easily my favorite, cooked to perfection in its own juices. The spiced vegetables had a mild taste, just enough for flavor, but not enough to make it hot and spicy. I enjoy a mild spice so it was great for me. The samosas were pretty standard and again not too spicy.

 

Kids Buffet:
Peanut Butter and Jelly
Corn Dog Nuggets
Macaroni and Cheese
Corn Medley
Chicken Drumsticks
Green Beans
Mashed Potatoes

I have to admit, I could not resist the Mac and Cheese or corn dog nuggets. I know the goal was to try completely new things, but those two foods are quite difficult to just skip over. At Disney, the Mac and Cheese is always top not notch!


Clockwise from bottom: Macaroni and Cheese, Corn Dog nuggets, African Carved Sirloin, Cape Malay Curry Chicken, Basmati Rice, Spiced Vegetables

Hot Foods:
Peri-Peri Marinated Baked Salmon
Saffron-Infused Root Vegetables and Cabbage
Basmati Rice and Toasted Almond Slivers
Cape Malay Curry Chicken
Orzo Pasta
Seafood Stew with Tamarind Barbecue Sauce
Rotisserie Chicken
Potato Wedges
Mashed Potatoes

The peri-peri marinated baked Salmon is cooked in a sauce made from a hot chili pepper found in South Africa (peri-peri), though as with the previous dishes, the heat and spiciness was not a major issue. The salmon was very good and the diced tomatoes helped soften the spiciness of the peri-peri sauce. The Saffron-infused root vegetables were sweet potatoes and carrots; the chefs cooked them in a syrupy citrus flavored marinade. It was my favorite of the vegetable choices. Basmati Rice was also very good and had a subtle cinnamon flavor.


Clockwise from bottom left: Saffron infused root vegetables, Rotisserie Chicken, Peri-Peri Marinated Baked Salmon, Sirloin (again), Basmati Rice (again), Cous Cous, Samosa

I was looking over the food and Margie, the cast member at the carving station, recommended the curry chicken. I really do not care for curry in anything, but she said in comparison to Indian curry chicken, the African version is a lot tamer. For the sake of this blog, I tried it and found it tolerable, mild, and not 'burn your mouth' hot as I had experienced in Indian cuisine. The chicken was very flavorful with a bit of fire at the back of your tongue, and I am glad Margie recommended it. It was not my favorite at the buffet, but still very good.

Carving Station:
African Carved Top Sirloin and Pork Loin

The African Carved top sirloin was a perfectly tender slice of meat with a very savory, smoky spice rub. Margie at the station recommended to use the honey mustard, but I found it much too hot (which was odd considering my previous experiences with African cuisine). The second time I came back for the sirloin, I chose to skip the sauce.


Margie at the carving station

Dessert Selections at the Tusker House included Baklava, Banana Nut Bread Pudding, Passion Fruit Tarts, Chocolate Lava Cake, Carrot Spice Cake, and Pecan Bars (or rather 'magic cookie bars' as scribbled in my notes by my dining companions). I was very full from the main buffet, but I was determined to try all the desserts! They were all delicious, though the chocolate lava cake was my least favorite.


Clockwise from left: Carrot Spice Cake, Baklava, Banana Nut Bread Pudding, Passion Fruit Tart, Chocolate Lava Cake, and Pecan Bar in the center.

The Tusker House is beautifully themed in a seemingly run down building in the midst of the bustling market village of Harambe. The inside makes it seem as you are still in an open air market with draping fabric and African prints overhead. The dining rooms are decorated with maps, African wood work and art work, and more fabric and costumes.

 

 

The restaurant's one drawback is that it has an enormous seating capacity that was meant to serve large numbers of guests eating counter service meals. If I recall correctly there are at least three large dining rooms as well as extensive outdoor seating. Though we went for lunch, I feel like the extra seating makes the Tusker House seem unpopular as they do not fill every table. In the middle of June, this is rather alarming, though it may be because there is more seating than they would've had if it started as table service. Speaking of table service, ours was very good. Our waiter Bryon was very attentive in clearing plates and refilling drinks. He was extremely energetic and joked around, trying to serve us alcohol (though he was just kidding of course).

As I stated before, Tusker House is a much tamer version of more traditional African cuisines, but not in the sense of the degree of spiciness. Many think African food is very spicy like Indian food, but quite the contrary it is not. Each dish is a marriage of the main ingredient and a subtle blend of spices. Some cuisines, the goal is to make something taste like something else, though in Africa, I noticed there way of cooking is to use an accompaniment of spices to help bring out the natural flavors of the food you are cooking. The 'tameness' of Tusker House is the types of meats offered and the availability of American buffet selections like Rotisserie chicken and potatoes. I highly recommend trying out Tusker House the next time you are in Animal Kingdom as you could really get a sense of the flavors Africa has to offer.

 

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