By Zach Johnson
At Tiana's Palace, each dish is served the way good food should be—with love!
Just as Tiana transformed an old sugar mill into her dream restaurant in Walt Disney Animation Studios’ released The Princess and the Frog (2009), Tiana's Palace—a reimagining of the French Market Restaurant in New Orleans Square at Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California—will open its doors to guests on Thursday, September 7. Naturally, the quick-service restaurant draws its design inspiration from the film, and its menu features authentic New Orleans flavors—some sourced from the area!—inspired by Tiana's friends and adventures.
Many talented chefs collaborated on the menu to ensure that it appeals to a wide swath of guests, according to Michele Gendreau, Director, Food & Beverage Experience Integration Disneyland Resort. "This is a study of palates," she said. "Not one of our chefs speaks the same spice level. We had very big discussions about how to bring the authenticity: 'How is it not too flat? How is it not too spicy?'" From coleslaw to macaroni and cheese, each chef got to add a bit of their own flavor. "I think that's where we're going with all of our food," Gendreau said. "We try and be as authentic as we can, and then we'll take guests' opinions."
You don't need to "dig a little deeper" to find out more about the crown jewel of the Crescent City. This week, D23: The Official Disney Fan Club sampled several of the delicious dishes and also heard from a handful of people who helped bring Tiana's Palace from dream to reality: James Finch, Visual Development Artist Walt Disney Animation; Kim Irvine, Executive Creative Director, Walt Disney Imagineering; Chef John State, Culinary Director, Food and Beverage, Disneyland Resort; and Lindell Skinner, Operations Manager, Food and Beverage, Disneyland Resort, and Co-Chair of PULSE Employee Resource Group.
Designing the Space
The look of Tiana's Palace at Disneyland Park can be traced back as early as 2006, when The Princess and the Frog's filmmakers embarked on their first research trip to New Orleans "to learn all that we could about the Garden District, the French Quarter, the Ninth Ward, and everything in between," Finch recalled. "For the setting of Tiana's restaurant, we looked at the regional factories, industrial buildings, and sugar mills that were left behind in the changing era." Additional design inspiration came via Disney Legends Herb Ryman and Dorothea Redmond, whose collective vision helped shape New Orleans Square's aesthetic.
Like the filmmakers, Disney Imagineers "did a tremendous research" before they began transforming the French Market Restaurant into Tiana's Palace, Irvine said. "We had lunch in New Orleans Square with [film] directors John Musker and Ron Clements, as well as the producers, and we looked at all the different façades. When we got to the French Market, Ron and John said, 'That's it! It looks like a sugar factory. It has all the bones: the balcony out front where she comes out to wish on a star, the brickwork on the exterior. It's perfect!'"
Indeed, Tiana's Palace is as pretty as a magnolia in May (as Charlotte would say). "We went from a soft pink to a golden yellow with green awnings, which are Tiana's colors," Irvine said. Within its peach-colored walls and wrought-iron balconies are elegant fixtures and appointments reminiscent of those seen in the film. "The interior had so many wonderful elements to it already, from the skylights to the big areas for the murals. We now have a beautiful mural of the bayou with Evangeline and Raymond—stars up in the sky," Irvine said.
Keep an eye out for references to Tiana's story, from frog figurines to her father's favorite gumbo spoon, as well as lilies that appear on numerous signs, plaques, and lighting fixtures. Props touting the Firefly Five Plus Lou were inspired by some of the Disney's original animators, who had a jazz band in the 1950s called the Firehouse Five Plus Two. "You can also see the pots and pans used to steam oysters and shrimp, as well as the kinds of mixing tools Tiana would use to make beignets," Irvine said. "All of the details are there!"
Jazz music is in The Princess and the Frog's DNA, and the band plays on in Tiana's Palace. "Our musicians at Walt Disney Imagineering put together a fabulous jazz score for inside the restaurant!" Irvine raved. "It feels authentic to the space, and it adds an excited energy."
Designing the Menu
Tiana's father taught her the joy of cooking and sharing food with others—and that's the same sentiment the talented Food and Beverage team at Disneyland Resort kept in mind as they worked together to craft a menu that honors the flavors and flair of New Orleans. As the co-chair of PULSE, creating the menu was a particular point of pride for Skinner. "PULSE stands for People United to Lead, Serve, and Excel, and our mission is to enhance the experience for our cast and our guests of African and Caribbean descent," he said. "PULSE actually came in to work with the chefs, and with the team, to give their feedback."
Skinner added that as a New Orleans native, he felt "humbled" to play a role in opening Tiana's Palace at Disneyland Park. "For someone who grew up in the inner city, who has worked for this company for 23 years, it's an absolute honor to bring this to you," he said.
At Tiana's Palace, dessert is always served first! The House-Filled Beignet is a lemon ice box pie filling topped with a lemon glaze. (To quote Big Daddy, "Keep 'em coming till I pass out!") A lemon ice box pie "is not something you can find in a commercial restaurant," Skinner explained. "Beignets are a staple in New Orleans, but another [traditional dessert] in New Orleans is the lemon ice box pie; you really have to go into the neighborhoods to find them. We're paying homage to them by creating a filling that is a part of this beignet."
Speaking of sweet offerings, the Joffrey's Coffee Chicory Cold Brew is topped with a cream made from cane syrup, which is sourced from Louisiana and is unique to the beverage. The Ray Firefly Glow Cube* is also available with the purchase of a beverage. This bright addition will light up your drink—just like Evangeline lights up the night sky!
The 7 Greens Gumbo is a delicious and savory plant-based option; guests have the option to add chicken and andouille sausage to the dish. To create the gumbo, State explained, "First, we take the white beans and puree them. Then, we heat up the oil, because that's a critical part of a good roux. After we add the white bean puree to the hot oil, we stir slowly and often... Next, we can add in the trinity: bell peppers, onions, and celery. We add garlic in there, and then, of course, we add the seven greens. After adding our house spice blend, the gumbo is finished with a few key ingredients: roasted sweet potatoes, roasted yams, and roasted okra. Gumbo really wouldn't be complete without rice. We've introduced Carolina Gold Rice; it's a very specific rice with a certain texture that can be traced back to West Africa. Once the rice is steamed, it's finished with butter—butter that actually is plant-based, but has the same creamy texture and the same aroma that real butter would have."
The House Gumbo, meanwhile, is a New Orleans staple that combines braised chicken, andouille sausage, and heirloom rice. "In The Princess and the Frog, Tiana really got her love of gumbo from her dad, James," Skinner said. "So, this is us trying to do our best to pay homage to that." Creating the dish, State added, was both "a privilege and an undertaking."
The Muffuletta Sandwich stacks mortadella, salami, rosemary ham, cheddar, provolone, and house-made olive relish on toasted sesame seed bread, while the Beef Po-boy Sandwich features slow-cooked beef coated with gravy and fully dressed with shredded lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise atop a toasted French bread. Both sandwiches are served with red beans and rice and house-made pickles. To honor Tiana's heritage, the breads used for both offerings come directly from New Orleans. "The ingredients are critical to tell the story, and sourcing this bread wasn't an easy task," State said. "We tried to duplicate the bread here, we tried to make it ourselves, we tried to work with somebody local to make it for us—and we just couldn't get there. What's important about the bread is that it's light and airy; it helps let the ingredients on the inside shine and really stand out as you eat it."
The Gulf Shrimp & Grits features grilled shrimp tossed in a creole sauce and paired with cheesy grits. "We want to want to highlight the fact that it's coming from the Gulf of Mexico that borders Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida," Skinner said. "Again, we want to be as authentic and true as we possibly can to the city of New Orleans."
The Cajun-Spiced Half Chicken is brushed with a house-made chicory BBQ sauce and served with baked macaroni and cheese and coleslaw. Want something extra on the side? Order Southern staples such as the Buttermilk Cornbread, Baked Macaroni and Cheese, Red Beans & Heirloom Rice, Coleslaw, Cheesy Grits, or the plant-based Heirloom Rice.
Little ones can enjoy the Roasted Chicken Drumstick, served with a sweet BBQ sauce and heirloom rice; the Toasted Ham & Cheese Sandwich, topped with savory ham and provolone; or the Baked Macaroni and Cheese. All three offerings come with a Cuties Mandarin Orange and applesauce, with a choice of DASANI Water or a small low-fat milk.
Guests can mobile order all of the dishes at Tiana's Palace by using the Disneyland app**!
*Limit 10 per person, per transaction.
**Message, data, and roaming rates may apply for the use of the Disneyland app. Availability subject to handset limitations and features may vary by handset or service provider. Coverage and app stores not available everywhere. If you're under 18, get your parents' permission first.
(Note: All offerings are subject to change and availability.)