Carnation Cafe EntranceIt just so happened that the one and only time we ate at Carnation Cafe was one of the worst experiences we’d ever had at Disneyland—and it had nothing to do with the food! Suffice to say, family was involved, and that one lunch managed to sour any possibility of our ever wanting to go back—and that was seven years ago! But things do eventually change and shift, and when one door closes another one opens. For us, it was the latest menu change at Café Orleans, whose tantalizing variety of Cajun-Creole fare with a French flair was replaced with far fewer and less interesting options that forced us to look elsewhere for our full-service in-the-park lunch indulgence.

It came down to pickles!

From the moment Amy learned of the Fried Pickle addition to the Carnation Cafe menu, her destiny changed: it had to include Fried Pickles! Yet she had concerns: Mark’s enjoyment of the pickle was something new and not yet to be taken for granted—and he’s not big on dipping sauces, so this daring starter could be a hard sell, is what Amy was thinking when she announced, “The next time we’re at Disneyland, we’re getting the Fried Pickles at Carnation Cafe.

“You do know that Carnation Cafe is where we went with Mom,” was his response.

In fact, Amy didn’t remember that, as she had done her best to purge the experience—and the name of the restaurant—from her mind. “That was Carnation?” her expression drooped.

“That was Carnation,” Mark affirmed.

“Well, if that’s where the Fried Pickles are, we’re going to Carnation.

And so it was decided.

We made a 12:15 reservation…

Carnation Cafe Interior

The carnation theme is even in the delicate strands of beads dangling from the lanterns!

We checked in promptly and, as anticipated, we had to wait before being seated. It gave us a chance to look around a bit, at which point Amy was starting to get nervous. We hadn’t been asked if we had a preference between indoors or out, and the indoor seating was, admittedly, a little too homespun for our taste. Plus, it was a beautiful day and we were hoping to spend as much time enjoying it as we could. Both of us were trying our best to not see with Mom-colored glasses back to that fateful day. Amy took a few pictures of some of the authentic turn-of-the-century (the one before the new millennium) details, and Mark questioned whether Amy was going to try the Fried Bologna Sandwich.

Carnation Cafe Interior

Just waiting for a table is a charming and authentically Main Street experience.

“No,” was Amy’s immediate response, “but I’m sure gonna ask about it!” She had neglected to research this inconceivable concoction prior to park day and was now finding herself fraught with curiosity.

Fortunately, our name was called and all answers would be shortly forthcoming, thanks to our immediately informative hostess, who made a very special point of stopping before a glass-domed display of the now infamous Fried Bologna Sandwich. Start with, it’s not deep-fried, but pan-seared, so no batter is involved. Plus, it’s thick—so it’s kinda like a flat hotdog rather than a deli meat sandwich. So… mystery solved. And genius!

“We’ll start with an order of fried pickles.”

Everything on the menu looked delicious, including the malts and floats, and it became increasingly difficult to make a decision. We eyed each other daringly as we questioned the Fried Bologna Sandwich. Instead, however, Amy opted for the Homemade Meatloaf, and Mark the Chicken-fried Chicken—one of Walt’s Favorites.

Carnation Cafe Fried Pickles - Delicious!Then our Fried Pickles arrived.

Because of Mark’s newly developed taste for pickles, his willingness to partake in the adventure was all the more exciting. And it didn’t stop there, because although he’s loathe to dips and sauces, he not only tried the “House Sauce” that comes on the side, but he liked it! He actually liked it!!! 

So, how were those pickles?

They were crisp and tangy, just like a good dill pickle should be—neither too vinegary nor too sweet, but ju-uuu-ust right. Each spear is dipped in parmesan cheese and panko breadcrumbs, a combination that not only makes for a super-crunchy bite, but one with a bit of a bite, thanks to the addition of the parmesan. Each is then fried to golden brown perfection with nary a hint of grease—nor wiggle, wobble, limpness nor sogginess to speak. Then add to that the accompanying “House Sauce,” which plays the perfect complement to the tang and crunch of the pickle by providing a cooling creaminess along with a fresh herbaceous note that just brightens the whole experience.

If you’re on the fence about pickles—or are picky about pickles—a $7 investment isn’t too steep a risk in the name of curiosity. And you know you’re curious! Try ’em, and let us know what you think!

but Enough about the pickles!

Carnation Cafe MenuOkay, okay! Getting past our newfound obsession, the menu features a crave-worthy array from the basics to the bountiful, and including the special and exclusive Fried Bologna Sandwich: Salads, pasta, three burger options—a Bacon Cheese Melt on Grilled Sourdough, a gourmet style Main Street Cheeseburger on Toasted Brioche, and a Vegan version on a Wheat Roll—along with a Roasted Turkey Sandwich and Walt’s Favorites—the Meatloaf, Fried Chicken, and a sustainable “Fresh Catch of the Day”—all looked tantalizingly tempting. And then there were the malts and floats…!!!

It took a lot of self-restraint on Amy’s part, but she was glad she opted for the iced tea over a malt, as it was surprisingly tasty and nicely refreshing, while leaving the door open for more fun snacking later in the day. Plus, a chocolate malt might have overshadowed what turned out to be a most satisfying and gratifying meatloaf extravaganza, replete with deliciously creamy mashed potatoes, perfectly roasted “seasonal” vegetables, and a plump roll with whipped butter. The Ketchup Glaze and Mushroom Gravy produced just the right balance between richly earthy and sweet and zesty, while the beef-to-pork ratio of the meatloaf itself was delectable.  

Carnation Cafe

The signature Carnation Cafe umbrellas.

Mark enjoyed his Chicken-fried Chicken as much as Amy enjoyed her meatloaf. The batter was light, yet crispy, with just a hint of cayenne to give each bite a little hit of heat; and the Country Gravy had a nice spice to it, as well, which Mark really appreciated. Where Plaza Inn’s Fried Chicken is quite a bit crispier and more plentiful, consisting of three pieces over Carnation’s single cutlet, Carnation’s version still made for a hearty and satisfying plate, and a good choice for lunch when you want to leave a little room for all the fun still to come. It, too, was accompanied by all the same side enhancements as the Meatloaf, so it’s still filling fare, albeit at 51¢ more than at Plaza Inn probably because Carnation is a full-service restaurant with a wait staff, and fewer seats per capita). 

You know you had a good time when…

…You already can’t wait to go back and you haven’t even left yet!

Carnation Cafe View from Table From our table we could enjoy peering into the Crystal Arcade, from beneath a candy-striped umbrella, and watch the people come and go.

Between sitting outside, just off Main Street on a beautiful day, and enjoying every single morsel of food and drink that we ordered—plus enjoying happy interactions with the various cast members we encountered—we were like two teenagers on an “adult” date, enjoying Disneyland for the very first time without parents. Which, of course, is exactly how we felt for finally redeeming the dreadful “Mom” experience that cost us so dearly. But now, at last, that’s in the past, and Carnation Cafe is back in play. 

Just like coming off a favorite attraction, we left feeling exhilarated, satisfied, and ever-appreciative of how a day at Disney is always a new experience filled with discovery and adventure—even when it’s just lunch.