And back we go to Disney Springs, this time to the three-story floating fortress of seafood known as Paddlefish. The old Empress Lilly, a replica Mississippi riverboat named after Walt's good lady – Lillian Bounds Disney – was given a thorough gut and contempo redesign by Levy Restaurants, who manage and operate this whale of a joint. We were led toward the second-floor bow, where wraparound windows proffer lovely views, but the din was akin to Ten10 Brewing's on a Friday night. We asked to be moved to a quieter part of the ship and there, on the starboard side overlooking Lake Buena Vista and Rainforest Café's fire-breathing volcano, we dined in relative calm. An elevator next to us seemed to attract the curious intent on ascending or descending to other levels of the restaurant, but it was a whole lot better than dealing with a sustained cacophony.
The menu, naturally, is tailored for the seafood lover, but the prices will have you seriously considering abandoning ship. Sure, we loved the wee cornmeal-battered lobster corn dogs with sweet chili aioli, but the $16 price tag ... not so much. Our genteel server tactfully recommended the crab cake, a starter pleasingly embodying the culinary conventions of Dixie: a maque-choux base, followed by a fried green tomato topped with a practically filler-free puck of crab meat and a generous glop of remoulade. Apart from the chewy kernels of corn, and the $17 it cost, we had zero complaints.
In fact, all this palatable fare – and a glass or two of albariño ($12) – made the prices easier to stomach, so much so that we began assembling a build-your-own seafood boil paying no heed to price. Our selections – queen crab, along with littleneck clams and P.E.I. mussels – amounted to $53. You'd think the Plant City corn on the cob was flecked with gold leaf and the red potatoes graced with a shaving of Alban white truffles, but no. Still, it was fun inhaling the briny steam and getting handsy with the mess of shellfish before sopping up the Old Bay-seasoned liquid with the lone piece of cornbread. We considered asking for another, but the bread rolls we were served at the onset of our meal did just fine. Oh, if you're keen on seeing your seafood boil prepared, head to the first-floor bar area and gawk at the cooks manning the large steam kettles in the exhibition kitchen. No, it's not exactly riveting, but the emanating wafts are heavenly.
For the frugal, a delightfully simple Atlantic striped bass ($38) cooked en papillote with shiitake, slivers of yellow squash, and cherry tomatoes won't have you feeling any better about the impending tab, but desserts, I found, were good enough to put you in a fugue of fiscal forgetfulness, however temporary. Strawberry shortcake ($9) could've done with a more cushiony lemon-sponge cake, and the candied bacon bisecting the vanilla whipped cream of the chocolate-bourbon tart ($10) seemed a bit gimmicky, but, no denying it, awesome.
Yes, Paddlefish is proof positive that the big wheel of Disney Springs keeps on turning, and with new dining spots the Edison and Maria & Enzo's on the way, it's sure to be a wheel of fortune.