Thursday, December 17, 2015

Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen - Magic Kingdom

Yesterday, I had lunch at Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen, the newly opened Jungle Cruise themed restaurant in Adventureland at the Magic Kingdom,

Currently, Disney's newest table service restaurant is not accepting reservations, but we were able to put in our name before the restaurant opened at 11:00, and I received a text when our table was ready.

Skipper Canteen, which is staffed by the crew of the fun loving Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd., features Asian, South American, and African cuisine.

When dining at Skipper Canteen, you will be seated in one of three rooms.

My friend Jennifer and I sat in the Crew's Mess Hall, a large open space with lots of light.

Pictured above is the former meeting room of the mysterious Society of Explorers and Adventurers.  You can also dine in the Falls family jungle-inspired parlor.  I loved the theming of the smaller dining rooms, but they were much darker than the mess hall where we were seated.  You can read about the story behind the Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen on the Disney Food Blog.

The chefs at Skipper Canteen have put together an impressive allergy-friendly menu.  It lists options for people with gluten/wheat, milk, egg, soy, fish/shellfish, and peanut/tree nut allergies.  If gluten/wheat is listed under a dish on the menu, it is safe to eat.  Yesterday, Jennifer and I spoke to Chef Al, who told us that they only use gluten free tamari soy sauce in the restaurant, which shows Disney's commitment to serving people with special diets.

Gluten free appetizers include the sustainable fish collar, Falls family falafel, house-made arepas, and Ginger's "croc" of hot-and-sour soup.

The rice noodle bowl, grilled lamb chops, char sui pork, curried vegetable crew stew, "a lot at steak" salad, Trader Sam's head-on-shrimp, "tastes like chicken" - because it is, Dr. Falls' signature grilled steak, and the sustainable fish are all gluten free.  The only entree that cannot be made gluten free is Skip's mac and cheese.

The only gluten free dessert listed on the menu is the sugar-crusted congee pudding, which is a caramelized custard with millet, almonds, apricot, dates, and a honey-almond tuile.  

Gluten free options on the kids' menu include the Serengeti salad, safari soup, grilled sustainable fish, grilled flank steak, Smiley's little "croc" o' soup, house-made arepas, monkey bites, and fresh seasonal fruit.  If you would like to try one of the Skipper Canteen's signature drinks, we were told that the non-alcoholic Schweitzer Slush is gluten free.  It is frozen apple juice and passion fruit topped with green apple boba balls.

I was excited to try the complimentary bread service until I saw that the Skipper Canteen is using Ener-G rolls, which are rarely worth eating.  I wish all Disney restaurants would stock Deanna's allergen free dinner rolls, which are free of gluten, dairy, egg, soy, corn, nuts, and shellfish.  These rolls, which used to be called GNI rolls, when heated well, are way better than the Udi's and Ener-G rolls used at some Disney restaurants.

The bread at Skipper Canteen is served with fenugreek-infused honey, which is really delicious, and I later drizzled some on the Chinese broccoli that came with my entree.

The best part of our meal at Skipper Canteen was the appetizer Jennifer and I shared.  We ordered the house-made arepas with slow-cooked beef, black beans, tostones, and queso fresco.

I think the last time I had arepas was at the amazing 100% gluten free Pica Pica Arepa Kitchen in San Francisco, which was featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.  I was a little surprised when our arepas arrived, because they were small, and the beef, beans, cheese, and tostones were not inside them, like the arepas I had at Pica Pica.

That being said, I thought the portion size of this appetizer was quite large for $9.95, and I could easily enjoy it as a main course on future visits.  I ate every bite of my arepa with a little bit of the beef and black beans.  I also ate the black beans on top of my tostones, which are fried plantains.  Overall, I loved everything about this appetizer, except the raw onions on top of my black beans, which were easy to remove.

Jennifer and I both ordered the char sui pork, which our server recommended to us.  She said it was sweet and spicy, which is how I like my Asian food.  Unfortunately, neither one of us enjoyed this dish, which I did not find to be spicy at all, and I thought it could have been a little sweeter.  The pork itself was incredibly tender, and cooked perfectly, but there was something in the marinade that was very odd tasting.  We later spoke to Chef Al about the ingredients of the marinade, and he mentioned that it contains ginger, tamari, honey, sriracha, and red food coloring.  I was shocked to hear that there was red food coloring in the dish, but I am not sure if it was the food coloring or sriracha that I found to be a little off-putting.  About five minutes before our entree arrived, I remembered that one of my blog readers had posted about her meal at Skipper Canteen in my private Facebook group Gluten Free in Orlando.  It turns out that she posted a picture of the same entree we ordered, and she also did not like the marinade.  The manager that stopped by our table offered to bring us new entrees, but I had already eaten half my food, so I passed on her offer.

For dessert, Jennifer and I ordered the sugar-crusted congee pudding, a caramelized custard with millet, almonds, apricot and dates topped with a honey-almond tuile.  I liked the flavors of this dish, but found the pudding to have an oddly mushy consistency.

I wish I had had more of the sauce that was served on the plate, which tasted like mango, because it added a lot of flavor to the pudding.  The fresh pineapple and the honey-almond tuile helped with the textural issues this dish had, but I am not sure how often I would order this dessert in the future.  It was decent, but I would much rather have had a dessert like the mango sticky rice I had recently at Hawkers Asian Street Fare.

Currently, Skipper Canteen is not accepting Tables in Wonderland, but hopefully that will change in the near future.

I did not love all the food I tried at Skipper Canteen yesterday, but I was impressed with their allergy-friendly menu, the theming of the restaurant, and the service we received from the entire staff.  I look forward to trying some of the other gluten free options on their menu in the next couple of weeks with my family.

December 19, 2015 Update

Earlier today, we braved the holiday crowds at the Magic Kingdom to have lunch at Skipper Canteen, and to ride the Jungle Cruise, which is transformed into the Jingle Cruise for the holidays.  We were able to check in at the restaurant at 10:15, and I received a text at 11:00, when they opened, that our table was ready.  We started our meal with a Schweitzer Slush.  This signature non-alcoholic drink contains frozen apple juice and passion fruit, and green apple boba balls.  We all enjoyed it, and I thought it might make a nice light dessert on future visits.

I asked Chef Harry if they had any gluten free bread besides Ener-G rolls, which they did not, so he offered to bring me fresh fruit instead of the bread.  The pineapple and watermelon were delicious dipped in honey, but it seemed to be missing the fenugreek this time around.

My husband ordered the Falls family falafel, described on the menu as a secret recipe of chickpeas, garlic, onion, lemon juice, and herbs served with white bean dip and tomato-cucumber salad.  We had this appetizer tagged as a gluten allergy so I could try it.  The half a falafel I tried was very good, and I thought it went well with the white bean dip.

For an entree, I ordered the curried vegetable crew stew served with roasted acorn squash, lentils, and sauteed collard greens, because it was highly recommended by both Chef Harry and Chef Al.  I was a little worried about the collard greens, because they are one of my least favorite vegetables.  I liked them better than any collard greens I have ever had in a restaurant, but if I ordered this dish again, I would leave off the collards.  My acorn squash was buried under a pile of cauliflower and green beans, and they were all served with an incredibly delicious curry sauce.  This was probably my favorite part of the dish, though the lentils were pretty amazing themselves, because of the spices that were added to them.  I love meat and fish, so I was a little wary about ordering a vegetarian dish, but there was so much flavor packed into everything on my plate, I was glad I ordered it.  The curried vegetable crew stew is free of gluten, milk, egg, fish/shellfish, and peanut/tree nuts.

My daughter Emma enjoyed the house-made arepas appetizer, which she ordered as an entree, and Katie chose the rice noodle bowl with chicken.  Both my husband and Katie liked the first couple bites of this dish, but then they agreed that the pho broth was just too intense, and lost interest.  Mitch's favorite dish was the gluten-filled S.E.A. Shu Mai steamed buns appetizer.

Chef Harry was willing to customize a dessert for me, since I wasn't a huge fan of the one gluten free dessert on the adult menu.  The Kungaloosh chocolate cake contains gluten, but the cashew caramel ice cream and caramelized bananas it is served with do not, so I ordered a gluten free version of the Kungaloosh.  I love caramelized bananas, so I was sure I was going to like this dessert, and it certainly did not disappoint.  It was a nice light way to end my meal, which overall, I enjoyed so much more this time around.  Chef Harry also mentioned that the mango-lime sorbet that comes with one of the other gluten-filled desserts was gluten free, and he could get creative with a fruit topping if I decided to order it.  Chef Harry definitely went the extra mile today to make my dining experience a magical one.

February 15, 2016 Update

From February 12th until the 27th, you can make same day reservations for lunch or dinner at Skipper Canteen by visiting Disney's website, or by calling 407-993-1933.

What are your favorite gluten free options at Jungle Navigation Co. Ltd. Skipper Canteen?


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