Disneyland: Main Street U.S.A. & Carnation Cafe

My cousin Rozanna and her two boys, Akira and Kai, are visiting all the way from Virginia. They'll be here on the West Coast for about a month, and one of the things on their Sights-To-See List was Disneyland. As an annual passholder and DVC member, I've basically become the designated Disney "tour guide" for our family.  (A title to be worn with pride and extreme enthusiasm!) So, when I got the call to start planning another trip, I broke out the trusty pen & paper and fired up about 10 different tabs on my internet browser. (Lists, man. I'm a total research-and-make-lists maniac.)

The first task at hand was making dining reservations. Altogether, grandparents and my sister's family included, we were a nice big party of 12. It was important to be able to secure seating for our entire group, considering the crowd size to be expected during Summer months. Trying to hunt down tables, with 4 kids and 3 strollers in tow, just didn't sound very appealing. There may be many dining locations throughout the park with tables and chairs, but only a small handful actually accept reservations.

Carnation Cafe was the very first restaurant that I checked for availability, a place that I haven't covered yet in other Disneyland posts. It's a historic establishment to the Disney fandom, located right on Main Street U.S.A. This area is the first themed land that guests experience when they enter Disneyland, the "gateway" to the Happiest Place On Earth. Its turn-of-the-century architecture and charm transport you to a completely different era. Crown molding, Victorian-style shingles, and patriotic bunting draped across buildings...A city hall, a railroad station, and even a classic porch complete with rocking chairs... All are details that give Main Street U.S.A, as Roy O. Disney once said, its "nostalgic quality that makes it everybody's hometown."

And, dubbed as the place for "hometown fare", Carnation Cafe serves classic, all-American comfort food. In previous years, my family and I had mostly come here for breakfast, or stopping in for lunch only when we felt like watching the afternoon parade go down Main Street from a more comfortable seat. (Parade watching, people watching...) The restaurant recently expanded to include indoor seating and revamped their lunch/dinner menu. I haven't had the chance to enjoy a meal here since it re-opened after construction, so this trip was a perfect time for all of us to experience it together.

I requested that our table be inside, to get a view of all the "new" aspects (and a refuge from the hot SoCal sun). While we waited to be seated, I snapped a few photos. The old-world charm that runs thick in Main Street doesn't stop when you walk through the door. It continues all throughout the restaurant, with elaborate coffered ceilings, dark wood and wallpaper accents, and gorgeous stained glass chandeliers.

I don't normally have a fascination with lighting, but the chandeliers were so beautiful and were really a big part of the ambience. After all, you eat with your eyes first and atmosphere can sometimes make or break a meal.

When we were finally shown to our table and our server began with our drink orders, my brother-in-law and I immediately eyed the Peanut Butter & Jelly Soda on the menu. Weird enough for us to be interested, familiar enough for us to be brave enough to order it. The soda arrived in a tall glass, a mysterious purple with a light pink foam floating on top. Jeremiah took the first sip and chuckled, "Yeah! It does taste like peanut butter and jelly!" I took the lightheartedness as a good sign and went ahead with my first sip. Yeah. It does taste like peanut butter and jelly. The "mysterious" purple was de-mystified...grape. And the foam? A slightly tart cloud of berry flavor. The hint of peanut flavor in the background of every sip was the real "How the heck?!" part. Overall, it was tasty and fun to drink. I would definitely order it again.

The fried pickles came next. Coated in panko breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese, then deep-fried to a golden-bown crisp, these dill pickle spears are far from the typical side you get with your deli sandwich. At first bite, there's the familiar sour pucker. The crunchy, savory coating and the house dipping sauce (which tasted like a cross between a thousand island and a buttermilk dressing) elevates the whole thing to a fun comfort food dish. I also loved the basket-and-newspaper presentation. Like the PB&J soda, it had a certain whimsical appeal and is definitely something I would order again.

Finally, the barrage of entrees arrived at the table. Directly to my left, Jeremiah had the "Fresh Catch of the Day", a seared filet of sustainable fish served over a bed of roasted corn, tomato, and edamame succotash and topped with a salad of micro greens. Like most of the entrees, it also came with a dinner roll and butter on the side. Jeremiah thought that it was rather plainly seasoned, but filling nonetheless. 

On my right, my sister Jessica had the Green Chile Cheeseburger with french fries. The burger is an angus chuck patty topped with manchego cheese, roasted poblano chile, a fried egg (fried egg?! fried egg!!), and more of that Carnation Cafe House Sauce. (There's also a slice of tomato and some lettuce, but did I mention that there's a fried egg?!) Everything is sandwiched between a toasted brioche bun. 

Our server recommended that my sister slice the burger in half, so it'd be easier to "handle". (He says "handle", I say "share"...) After doing so, the creamy yolk breaks and cascades down the entire burger, creating another sauce all on its own. The pillowy brioche was a great choice to pair with the more heavyweight flavors of the burger. We loved the saltiness of the cheese and the subtle kick of the poblano chile.

Across from me, Jon had the kids' meal Macaroni & Cheese, served with a side of vegetables and fruit. He actually sat still the whole time and gobbled up every last bite of creamy, gooey pasta! They used to serve the Macaroni & Cheese straight on a plate, so I love that it comes in an individual baking dish now.

And, last but not least, my order! I decided on the meatloaf because I remembered my first ever meal at Carnation Cafe a few years ago: The Meatloaf Stack. It was basically one of the most decadent open-face sandwiches that I've ever had, with a hearty slice of meatloaf stacked on top of mashed potatoes...stacked on top of a thick slice of sourdough bread. Caramelized onions and gravy were poured right over the top.

However, The Meatloaf Stack did not survive the cafe's renovations, and it was replaced by "Homemade Meatloaf". The now ketchup-glazed meatloaf is served smothered with a rich mushroom gravy and with the standard roasted corn-edamame succotash and mashed potatoes. The roll on the side was good for dipping into extra gravy, as well. It was a perfectly filling and homey dish.

After savoring our lunch, we left the restaurant completely satisfied. We didn't even have room left for dessert! Luckily, though, Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor is next door. If your group decides that it needs a sweet finish, you can walk right over.

Or, take a few more steps and explore the iconic Candy Palace. Fresh, handmade treats await you here. (I've never been able to walk out of there without a caramel apple...)

Essentially, Main Street U.S.A. is an ideal place to take an easy, leisurely stroll. Do a little shopping, and walk off that large meal you just devoured...

Admire some more unique lighting...

But if the food coma is too difficult to resist, the train station is a good place to find yourself in.

Board a steam train that will take you on a full-circle tour of Disneyland. The trains run on a continuous loop around the park, and you can keep riding for as long as you like. Relax, take in the scenery, and get a feel for where all of the different lands are. (Maybe even take a nap...maybe...)

A day at Disneyland begins at Main Street U.S.A, a warm welcome for all guests. We are reminded, "Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow, and fantasy."  Lunch at Carnation Cafe was a perfect way for my family to begin our vacation and to enter that famed "world of yesterday". Great service, great food, and great atmosphere!