Kouzzina–Good Food, Horrible Atmosphere

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Kouzzina Restaurant on Disney's Boardwalk

Although Number One Son and Daughter love Iron Chef, I have never watched it. I don’t know who Cat Cora is. Mrs. LanceAround and I decided to treat Our Friend Karen to Cat Cora’s recently opened Greek/Southern restaurant, Kouzzina, on the Boardwalk in Disney World. 

According to our menu, Cat Cora was born to a family of Greek restaurateurs in Mississippi. Kouzzina means “kitchen” in Greek. Cora became famous as the first female Iron Chef on the Food Network’s hit show. This is her first signature restaurant. She has blended the Greek food of her ancestors with a Southern twist from her native Mississippi. 

I decided to begin the evening by parking in the Hollywood Studios parking lot and taking a Disney Friendship boat to the Boardwalk. The flaws in my quixotic plan soon became evident as a light rain shower, longer than anticipated walk to the boat and noise of the boat engine drowning any attempt at conversation made me wish I had just parked at the Boardwalk. 

Open Kitchen was N-O-I-S-Y

By the time we arrived at the restaurant, we were starving. Although it was late on a Tuesday night during a slower tourist season, we were dismayed when we were told the wait would be 35 to 45 minutes. Dismay turned to frustration when the wait actually took one hour, 3 minutes and 57 seconds. (a grumpy LanceAround was timing it!) 

If we were disappointed by the wait, our discouragement tripled as we encountered three unexpected things: 

1. The restaurant, with its large open kitchen, was just one room jam packed with tables and noise so loud that conversation was impossible. 

2. The waitress, while knowledgable and efficient, was robotic and inattentive. 

3. Thinking that the casual atmosphere of the boardwalk and the assembly line atmosphere of the restaurant and wait staff meant this would be a moderately priced affair, we did not expect entrees priced from $20 to $28 and appetizers approaching $10 each. 

Crammed In a Big Box

Our Friend Karen remarked that the restaurant had all the ambience of a Cracker Barrel–only with three times the level of noise! (At least I think that’s what she said. I could barely hear her.) 

Just when we thought our experience couldn’t be any more frustrating, the waitress warned us that all the food is freshly prepared so we could expect it to take longer than normal for us to eat. She then helpfully recommended that we could have something sooner by padding our bill with an order of appetizers.  (Although she did not quite say it that way.) 

Though the description of the entrees was enticing, we wound up ordering 7 different appetizers and salads. Our fear of an extended wait for food came to a sudden halt when everything was served to us in, literally, two to three minutes. All 7 items arrived before our waitress had time to get Mrs. LanceAround and Our Friend Karen the beverages they had ordered. 

“So much for ‘freshly prepared’,” I thought as I noticed that the Spanakopita, a complex phyllo pie of spinach, feta, leeks and dill, was at our table faster than it would have taken a team of chefs to put one together! The climax of our misguided adventure came when I tried to cut the Saganki (a seared Greek cheese with lemon and oregano served next to toasted bread) and got a blistery burn on my finger from the cast iron bowl. It was clear that nothing would go right tonight. 

Then, we took our first bite. 

Because of my commitment to a new, healthier lifestyle, I was not eating that late at night, so I have to rely on Mrs. LanceAround and Our Friend Karen to report on the experience of actually eating at Kouzzina.  Their opinion was quick–Mrs. LanceAround thought the food was fantastic and Our Friend Karen thought it was just OK. 

The Food Was Fantastic For Some, OK for Others

Mrs. LanceAround said the Spanakopita was bursting with flavor, the Saganki was scrumptious, the sweet potato fries were tasty, the greek salad was divine, the goat cheese stuff grape leaf was both unique and delicious, the herbed orzo provided a nice compliment to the harissa yogurt. Kalamata fig and hummus spreads served with grilled pita. 

If nothing else, it was an unusual and eclectic mix of tastes and textures. 

Seven appetizers and two glasses of wine came to over $70. Mrs. LanceAround and Our Friend Karen were now content as we rode the boat back to the Hollywood Studios parking lot under a now rainless sky. It was a more relaxing and peaceful end to the evening. 

I’m reminded of one of my favorite foreign films–Babette’s Feast–which portrays how a community can come together and enjoy each other over a delightful meal. It was interesting to note how our experience at this restaurant so closely paralleled the numerous reviews I found later when researching it on the web. 

In summary, skip Kouzzina if you want nice atmosphere or great service. Enjoy it if you are looking for a creative, unique combination of Greek and Southern food and have some money to spend. In other words, the food was good enough to recommend trying Kouzzina despite the horrible atmosphere and service–but just barely.

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