Thursday, February 04, 2016

Breakfast at the Riverbelle Terrace

Growing up out East, I didn't really have a lot of ideas about what the heck that Disneyland was all about.

In a pre-internet world, my only insights into the place - and indeed the mere fact that it was distinctive from Magic Kingdom at all - came from two sources: the 1990 "The Disneyland Game" published by Parker Brothers - where I first learned that the castle out there wasn't like the castle I knew, and that the Haunted Mansion looked even less like the gothic structure which had so impressed me.

It took a few years, but the next bombshell was a VHS tape called Disneyland Fun. That was how I learned the words to Grim, Grinning Ghosts long before it was possible for me to get to Magic Kingdom regularly. Long before I knew what the Matterhorn was, I was trying to pause the tape to figure out what the heck the monster inside it was.

I still watch Disneyland Fun the night before every trip out to Disneyland, because once you get as familiar with the parks as I am, some of the things that really make you feel like a kid again come from unexpected places.

I took this photo on my second trip in 2005
I didn't get out to Disneyland until I was nearly an adult, so a lot of my key formative impressions of the place came through such twice-removed sources as VHS tapes, TV broadcasts, books, and much later on - the internet. I devoured library copies of The Art of Walt Disney and Disneyland: The First Quarter-Century for any hint of the atmosphere of the place. And very high on my list of early impressions about Disneyland was breakfast at Riverbelle Terrace. I did not yet even know its name, but I recognized that wrought iron patio instantly upon seeing it.

Although the tradition of the Mickey-shaped pancake hasn't totally vanished from Walt Disney World, the adorable fruit faces lasted only a few years after I began visiting, and the notion that I could enjoy that again out West stuck strong with me. Seeing the beautiful, open-air patio only impressed me even more.

Perhaps it all goes back to one of the few keenly remembered thing about one of my earliest trips to Walt Disney World, in 1992. My family stayed at Dixie Landings and I was entranced by the Mill Food Court - the endless pancake operation at the griddle, seeing the pancakes set up and get flipped through the glass window, and the hot morning Florida light filtering through the glass enclosed room stays with me to this day. Perhaps on some deep level I connected to Riverbelle Terrace for being the new equivalent of that distant memory.

Something about such a peaceful location in such a bustling intersection stuck strong in my mind, and does to this day. Few things feel more authentically, uniquely Disneyland than sitting out on that patio with a cup of coffee admiring the view towards New Orleans Square.

The view of the Terrace burned into my five-year-old mind
Earlier this year, Disneyland announced their intention to move breakfast to the nearby Rancho del Zocalo. While I'm sure the Mickey pancake will survive and there's certainly nothing special about the food at Riverbelle on a taste level, it is a tradition none the less. The feeling of being out on that patio really is something distinct that I feel won't translate to Rancho.

So one overcast Southern California morning last month, I set out for my last Mickey pancake, camera in tow, in an attempt to capture something of the atmosphere of the morning bustle of Riverbelle Terrace.

It's nice to know that the beautiful dining room will still be in use, and the kitchen will likely be putting out far better food than it ever has. But the thing about Riverbelle Terrace is that it was one of those spots at Disneyland where you could get onto the wavelength of the past. While you were eating there, it didn't seem so long ago that it was called the Aunt Jemima Pancake House and Walt Disney himself was walking Main Street. There was something comforting about knowing that that restaurant had been turning out box mix pancakes since 1955. Sitting out on that patio was good for your soul.

So grab your $9 pancake and let's take in one last breakfast on the Riverbelle Terrace.