Ever since first reading about the small but interesting menu at the Hungry Bear, it has held the honor of one of the few quick service restaurants that I legitimately had to sample. There are many reasons why I prefer to sit down and be served at a table service — I will delve into my distaste for quick service joints as we go along — so for a counter service restaurant to so capture my attention is definitely an accomplishment of certain distinction, even if it is a somewhat useless distinction.
Anyway, as I was saying, I prefer dining in a table service environment far, far more than I do eating in one of Disney’s many counter service options, chief among them is the not having to deal with the stress that comes along with schlepping your own tray. The first headache comes with standing in line for upwards of thirty minutes just to place an order. We passed on Taste Pilot’s Grill on this trip because of that very deterrent. After you get your food, you have to find a table, a task that is often easier said than done. People camp out in tables without ever ordering food, they take up valuable seats and real estate with strollers and bags, you have to deal with other table scouts just itching to swoop in on your newly vacated seats… It takes all of the fun out of a quick meal. Now after saying all of that, I am happy to report that the Hungry Bear had none of these issues. The line to order was less than three minutes, the food came out promptly and did not appear to be heat lamp fodder and the seating was ample and mercifully available. It was a busy day in Disneyland, and there was enough available seating that we had no problem at all finding a table against the rail, in the shade, overlooking the Rivers of America.
The restaurant is well-themed, for what it is. It’s meant to feel like a tree house eatery run by the woodland creatures of Critter Country, and it definitely accomplishes that. You are surrounded by a log fort-like structure of two levels, and the dining area is wide open to the breeze, but not the weather. It feels like a picnic in the forest.
Alright, enough of the ambiance and my prattling on about personal dining preferences. On with the food porn!
We both pretty much knew what we wanted to order weeks before arriving at the parks. It’s a small menu. There are only a handful of entrees and only a couple of desserts. It’s pretty easy to narrow down your desired plate just on a glance. Since we were checking out menus ahead of time, we had both already spotted our picks. I went with the Fried Green Tomato Sandwich, which consists of several slices of fried green tomatoes in a cornmeal crust, fresh heirloom tomatoes, havarti cheese, remoulade and jicama-mango slaw, all served on a soft multigrain roll. It is a legitimately delicious sandwich, and I think it rivals most items on any of the in-park Disneyland menus, outside of Club 33, of course. The fried green tomatoes provide a serious crunch that is a much needed and very much appreciated change in texture from the soft roll and tomatoes and the crisp slaw. All of the ingredients make sense, and they come together to create a slightly sweet and satisfyingly crunchy meal. It’s also a meal that is surprisingly light, despite the fried tomatoes and the rich tasting remoulade.
Also, for the record, the sandwiches all come with the option of sweet potato fries and “zesty slaw”. The both of us opted for the slaw, and I found it to be surprisingly competent. It might have even been the same jicama-mango slaw that was on the sandwich, but I did not ask, nor can I recall if the menu stated as much. It’s light, fruity and has a pleasant vinegar bite. If you’re looking to avoid the starchiness or the fried aspect of the sweet potato fries (or you’re like me and don’t much care for sweet potatoes), the slaw isn’t just an afterthought second option; it’s actually good.
Melissa decided to order the Turkey & Provolone Sandwich, which is served on a multigrain roll with basil mayonnaise, lettuce and fresh tomatoes. Her first impression upon seeing her sandwich was that there was a lot of turkey. It is stacked high with luncheon meat. Now, while this does make for a filling sandwich and will definitely be a big hit with turkey lovers out there, myself included, the massive amount of meat did hinder the ability to taste that basil mayonnaise. Considering that the mayo was the ingredient that sold her most on the meal, Melissa found that aspect to be a bit disappointing. While my fresh tomatoes were fresh and flavorful, Melissa didn’t find her tomato to be that forward in the flavor profile. This could have also been due to the turkey overload, but either way, it seems that a bit more in the way of non-turkey attention could be paid to the engineering of the entree.
The sandwiches down, we came to the real reason Melissa agreed to make the Hungry Bear a lunch excursion on this trip, theLemon “Bumblebee” Cupcake. This item made the rounds on the blogosphere when it was first introduced several months back, but for anyone who hasn’t yet seen this impressive little counter service creation, here’s a quick glimpse of what all the fuss was about:
Not a bad looking dessert, right? Notice the gold dust on the frosting? Notice that there’s a load of said frosting? Notice that the “bumblebee” is made of chocolate? Well, that frosting is honey-lemon flavored, and there is a lemon custard surprise awaiting you on the inside of the cake. Unfortunately, neither one of us had any room left after our sandwiches, so we ended up taking it with us back to the hotel for later. It kept pretty well in the hotel refrigerator, despite this, however, Melissa was not impressed. It was slightly disheartening. She thought that the frosting was too sweet, and there was not enough tang from the lemon to balance it out. It was also kind of gummy. Buttercream it is not. This is an instant failure in Melissa’s book, because as far as she’s concerned, a cupcake could just be frosting served in a cup. If the frosting is no good, there really isn’t a point in calling it a cupcake anymore. I, on the other hand, prefer the cake to the frosting. In fact, I don’t really like frosting at all. My take on my favorite half is that the cake is moist and delicious, and the lemon filling is a dollop of lemon curd awesomeness. I ended up eating most of it, including the bee.
The tl;dr: the Hungry Bear is a worthwhile stop for a relaxing lunch on any day in Disneyland. The ample seating, interesting menu and decent execution help to rank it, along with the new Jolly Holiday Bakery, among my favorite counter service spots in the park, maybe any of the parks.