Monday, October 17, 2011

(Hooray for Hollywood: The Hollywood Brown Derby)

One of my favorite episodes of I Love Lucy features Lucille Ball dining at the Hollywood Brown Derby, where hilarity ensues (naturally). Since then, I have always wanted to dine at the Brown Derby. The original restaurant opened on Wilshire Boulevard in 1926. The building was shaped like a derby hat, and was one of a kind during its time. It was the second Brown Derby however, that became an icon of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Opened on Vine Street in Hollywood in 1929, the Hollywood Brown Derby was the place to see and be seen. While the facade of the building was much less distinctive, the inside was filled with caricatures of movie stars of years past. This was the same Brown Derby restaurant in which Lucy had a memorable run-in with William Holden. The building was largely destroyed by an unfortunate fire in 1987.

The original Wilshire Blvd Brown Derby, via Wikipedia

What most people don't know is that the Hollywood Brown Derby was somewhat of a local franchise, and two more restaurants opened in the area during that time. One opened in Beverly Hills, the other on Los Feliz Boulevard. Unfortunately, all of the above mentioned Brown Derbys are history, with the exception of the Los Feliz location. This location still remains thanks to an independent coalition called "Save the Derby," who fought to preserve the location, which is now an official Historic Official Monument of the City of Los Angeles.
The Brown Derby began a licensing program with Walt Disney World in 1987, when Disney decided to bring an exact replica of the original Brown Derby to Hollywood Studios.

Our dining experience at The Hollywood Brown Derby was a memorable one. Our party of five was seated in a round booth, surrounded by celebrity caricatures that I could have looked at all day. The signature dish of the Brown Derby is the Cobb salad. The original Brown Derby is known as the birthplace of the salad, invented by owner Robert Howard Cobb in the 1930s. Legend has it that Cobb, approaching midnight, had not eaten all day and was scrounging in the kitchen for something to make. He ended up mixing together what he could find; chopped greens, chicken, hard boiled egg, avocado, tomato and cheese; he tossed it with french dressing, and voila! The Cobb Salad was born.

MOM is one of the biggest fans of Cobb salad I know; if it's on the menu, she's probably going to order it. That's exactly what she did, along with Grandma and Grandpa. Surprisingly, she wasn't the famous salad's biggest fan. I thought that it looked quite good, but I am a fan of chopped salads. I think her biggest problem with the salad was that everything was really chopped up - part of the pleasure of eating a Cobb salad is the presentation of its many ingredients. This turned out to be a bit of a bummer for most of the table, which doesn't bode well for the Brown Derby, being its signature dish and all. Also, this Cobb salad is actually served with turkey rather than chicken.

I ordered the Thai Noodle Bowl. The current menu offers this dish with tofu, but at the time of dining for us, the bowl was served with chicken. The dish also includes soy beans, sugar snap peas, bok choy, Shiitake mushrooms and noodles in a red curry broth. While I found the flavor to my liking, I would have much preferred a thicker sauce. I guess it was my fault because it clearly says broth as opposed to sauce. Still, I was very pleased with this dish.

The winning order of the table goes to J, who ordered a barbecue chicken breast. I rarely order chicken as a whole, it typically grosses me out when it's in the form of a breast - it's like a big hunk of flesh that just doesn't taste that great. This dish was the exception. Seriously tender chicken breast covered in a delectable barbecue sauce and served with a positively yummy side - lettuce tossed in a simple mayo-based dressing. We actually ended up switching plates, I loved this so much. If you dine at the Brown Derby, I would certainly recommend this dish, or any other chicken they offer for that matter. They must know what they're doing in the world of the chicken.

The Original Brown Derby is to the Cobb Salad as Disney's Brown Derby is to Grapefruit Cake. I've seen this cake talked about on the Travel Channel, Food Network, and many Disney guidebooks. This is a not-to-be-missed dessert in Walt Disney World. Layers of light yellow cake are divided by a tangy-yet-sweet grapefruit-infused cream cheese spread and topped off with a piece of dried grapefruit. I had actually acquired the recipe to this and attempted to make it at home prior to our visit. It wasn't terrible, but I'm not the best baker so it clearly did not compare to the original. You can't make a visit to The Brown Derby without a slice of this cake.

So, would I recommend the Hollywood Brown Derby? Absolutely. The service is sweet, the food delicious, and the surroundings are memorable. I'm looking forward to getting back to the Derby for another meal to try their updated menu. There's no dress code for the restaurant so it's a good place to escape the heat for lunch, if you so choose. I would probably recommend making a reservation, especially during busy season. Give this one a try - I don't think you will be disappointed!

Have you dined at the Brown Derby? Have a different opinion of their Cobb Salad or Grapefruit Cake? Tell me about your experience!

Happy Dining!


  1. LOVE The Brown Derby. It's a must for every trip to Disney we take. We ate there most recently in August taking advantage of the prix fix/premier sitting for Fantasmic deal.

    I had the cobb as my starter and as a huge fan of chopped salads I thought it was great. I too order them most places I go and it didn't disappoint. I also had the same noodle bowl you did but with the coconut encrusted tofu which was delicious.

    I didn't get the grapefruit cake because I actually don't care for grapefruit but my dad did (he always does) and gave it his praises.

  2. Shannon,

    Thank you for sharing! I look forward to getting back to the Derby sometime soon. Unfortunately, I have not heard great reviews for the Fantasmic package. Did you have a good experience / was it worth it?