REVIEW: Frontera Cocina Opens in Disney Springs; So Much More Than Amazing Pecan Pie
Frontera Cocina opened just yesterday, becoming the latest in a long line of new restaurants to debut in the area over the last year or so. In case you haven’t heard of it, here’s the official release on Frontera Cocina:
Renowned chef Rick Bayless is introducing Florida and the Southeast to his famous gourmet Mexican dishes with the debut of Frontera Cocina now open at Disney Springs at Walt Disney World Resort.
Frontera Cocina will delight friends, family and food lovers with exciting flavors and a contemporary Mexican experience. Warm colors, an open kitchen and a lively atmosphere frame an inviting exploration of the many delights developed by Chef Bayless, a six-time James Beard Foundation winner. Menu items include Oaxacan Red Chile Chicken, Salsa Verde Shrimp Enchiladas Suizas and freshly made salsas and guacamole. In addition, a quick-service taco counter will be added to offer guests a quick taste of Chef Bayless’ award-winning cuisine.
“For me, it is always a thrill to share the lively fresh regional flavors of Mexico with a broader audience,” Chef Bayless said. “And what better place to do that than Walt Disney World Resort? We plan to add all the deliciousness we can to the experience for all who come to enjoy Frontera Cocina at Disney Springs.”
Executive Chef Stephen Hicks will oversee Frontera Cocina’s kitchen. Hicks has forged his career based on the basic fundamentals of simplicity, sourcing local ingredients and pursuing world-class customer service. Using these guiding principles, Hicks has served as cook and lead in the kitchens of the River Club in Jacksonville, Florida; Sapphire Grill in Savannah, Georgia; and Seasons 52 in Orlando, Florida. Hicks also spent time as a multi-unit chef in Chicago with McCormick & Schmick’s.
And just in case you don’t know who Rick Bayless is…
Chef Rick Bayless is probably best known for winning the title of Bravo TV’s “Top Chef Masters,” with his authentic Mexican cuisine. His highly rated, national Public Television Series, “Mexico–One Plate at a Time,” is in its 10th season. In 2012, Chef Bayless was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for Best Culinary Host.
Chef Bayless has launched several award-winning Chicago restaurants. He founded the casual Frontera Grill in 1987 and received the James Beard Foundation’s highest award, Outstanding Restaurant, in 2007. The 4-star Topolobampo served its first meals in 1989. And the wildly popular, LEED GOLD-certified, fast-casual Xoco launched in 2009, serving wood-oven tortas, steaming caldos, golden churros and bean-to-cup Mexican hot chocolate. Chef Bayless’ quick-service Tortas Frontera restaurants have changed the face of food service at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, while Frontera Fresco restaurants have brought Frontera flavors to several Chicago locations. His award-winning Frontera line of salsas, cooking sauces and non-GMO tortilla chips can be found coast to coast.
Chef Bayless is the author of nine cookbooks, including “Mexico–One Plate at a Time,” which won the James Beard Foundation Best International Cookbook of the Year award in 2001. His “Fiesta at Rick’s” is a New York Times bestseller. He has won six James Beard Foundation awards, including two for his cookbooks, Midwest Chef of the Year, National Chef of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year and Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America.
Frontera Cocina occupies a fairly unassuming building along the water in Disney Springs, but once inside or by the patio area, you realize that the restaurant may have the best location in all of Town Center.
Guests can see into the kitchen just across from Sprinkles.
The interior isn’t very large, but it has a pleasant atmosphere.
The bar area is of a nice size.
The patio views at night are stunning, better than any others along Town Center, which will be plenty enjoyable when the Summer weather fades away in the Fall.
Let’s take a look at the menu…
I’m thoroughly impressed that there isn’t a separate allergy menu, the regular menu has the potential ingredients of concern listed right under each item. This is a nice touch.
The back of the menu features a drink menu, but there is also a much larger drink menu at the nearby bar.
The bar offers a smaller version of the menu, but it seemed like you could order the full menu there anyway.
Playing with Fire – Avion blanco tequila, cucumber, jalepeno, fresh lime juice, agave nectar, and a hibiscus salt rim.
Blood Orange Jalapeno Margarita – Casa Noble blanco tequila, orange liqueur, blood orange juice, habanero bitters jalepeno, and a tajin chile rim.
The “People Watching” was unique in that it had a salt rim which contains black ants, which despite being kind of odd to Americans, really compliments the drink flavor perfectly.
The Frontera Old Fashioned – Zacapa 23 Solera rum, agave syrup, orange tiki bitters, lemon, and an orange peel.
The Mexican Cola may not be the best drink to order with dinner, but if I was just hitting the bar I would definitely get this one again.
The Frontera Margarita – Casa noble blanco tequila, Royal Combier, fresh lime juice, agave nectar, and a salt rim.
The black ant rim on two of the drinks was unique and surprising for a Disney setting, but it blended nicely with both drinks.
Overall, the drinks were great. I especially enjoyed the Playing with Fire, but I also like Jalapeno Margaritas typically. There wasn’t one of the drinks I would not with have again or recommend to someone dining here.
On to appetizers, my least favorite was the Chipotle Chicken Tostada. They weren’t bad, just just seems kind of standard. I enjoyed the seasoning on the chicken and the avaiocado added a nice flavor, but overall it just was kind of forgettable against the other choices.
The Cotel Verde was excellent. The shrimp and scallops blended perfectly with the sauce, which had just a hint of lime.
I usually am not a fan of guacamole, but the two we tried here were pretty phenomenal. The Bacon version tasted like bacon as you would expect, so I’m not sure how anyone would not like it.
If you have read any of my dining reviews, you know very well that I have a love for spicy dishes, so needless to say that the Atomic Guacamole was my favorite. The habanero salsa packed a good punch, but also a really nice flavor.
The Queso Fundido was also spectacular and was a very good size portion with the included tortillas. Melted cheese is hard to mess up, but this was pretty close to perfection.
The Tortilla Soup was better than expected and is poured table-side (which is now a trend if you remember our Tiffins review).
Not something I would order again just because the taste reminded me a little too much of Chef Boyardee’s red sauce, but it wasn’t bad.
Now, on to the entrees. I ordered the Carne Asada, which was a very healthy portion for $32.00. This was my least favorite entree, but that being said, it was something I would order again if I was in the mood for it. The carne asada was cooked well, but what made the dish was the tomatillo salsa and the caramelized plantains.
It is hard to find a weak spot in the entrees since they are all so good, and I probably only ranked the other entrees over this one as it was what I expected it to be.
The Shrimp Mojo de Ajo was also enjoyable, mostly thanks to the sauce which is a mix of garlic, chicken broth, olive oil, lime, and chipotle. Overall, a good lighter option
The Shrimp Enchiladas Suizas was a particular highlight among the entrees. The creamy roasted tomatillo sauce was unique, not something I have experienced in many dishes but it worked perfectly with the fresh shrimp, complemented by the starchiness of corn tortillas.
You may not think of sandwiches when you think of Mexican style cuisine, but the Pepito Torta was delicious, especially when dipped in the accompanying chipotle salsa.
The carnitas (pork shoulder) was tender and flavorful, probably my favorite of all of the entrees.
I enjoyed the Oaxacan Red Chile Chicken as well, which is covered in a nice red mole sauce and filled with chicken, rice, and corn tortilla.
Now the sides… This may sound ridiculous, but the Queso Anejo Mashed Potatoes were out of this world. Mashed potatoes would typically be just about the last side I would order at this kind of a restaurant, but the cheese gave them a sweet taste that was really special. These are probably just about the best mashed potatoes I’ve ever had.
The Arroz Con Plantains was pretty standard, rice with plantains mixed in which will do the trick if you are in the mood for rice.
If you need a bigger helping of the Fried Plantains (which may not be a bad idea), they also offer them as a side. As I mentioned earlier, I am a pretty big fan of these.
The dessert menu wasn’t ready yet when we dined, but our server was happy to describe them all to us. He informed us that Bayless was famous for his pecan pie, so I decided that’s what I had to have. This was seriously one of my favorite desserts I’ve ever had in my entire life. The pie was more akin to a pecan brownie, but it was about as perfect as it could be. Even the ice cream had a good pecan flavor from the dusting over it. I would seriously have just came back to Frontera Concina for this, but luckily I enjoyed the rest of the menu as well.
The plantain sundae has to be one of the most unique desserts in all of Walt Disney World. I was kind of “weirded out” by the idea of ice cream with plantains, but it turned out to be a really good mix of flavors.
The Coconut Lime Quattro Leches was wonderful as well, a nice lighter option (but I would just get the pecan pie and exercise more later).
The staff was nice enough to bring us Crema de Tequila to follow our meal, which was smooth with a light caramel flavor. I’m currently looking for a recipe to make this at home…
If you enjoyed your meal so much that you want to take it home, they do sell 3 of the salsas at a counter in the front, as well as a Bloody Mary mix and some Rick Bayless books.
Outside, there is a small counter service window attached that sells “to-go” versions of the food and drinks you will find inside Frontera Cocina.
Overall, Frontera Cocina is yet another viable table service option at Disney Springs. I went in with zero expectations and totally wowed by most of the food and drinks we had during our dinner. There are several dishes here I am dying to try (or even try again) based on our experience, which might lead me to even chose Frontera Cocina over some of my usual lunch at dinner spots at the Springs. A late evening stop here for drinks and more of the amazing pecan pie wouldn’t be out of the question either. Frontera also offers a style that isn’t like anything else at the Springs, even though Paradiso 37 does take a stab at some similar dishes. I wouldn’t even have to think if I was asked to chose between the two, Frontera Cocina would win hands down. Also, I found the prices to be fairly resonable compared to most other options at Disney Springs, although that can change over time.
I will be going back to Frontera Cocina, probably on a regular basis, and if you typically enjoy this kind of cuisine, I get the feeling you will be too.