The Best Things I’ve Eaten at Tiki Bars – Part 1

Pupu platters of crab Rangoon and spare ribs are staples on menus at tiki bars, but some places offer more unexpected fare like pizza, burgers and more.

I wanted to spotlight some of the best food I’ve encountered at tiki bars. My made-up rules are that the tiki bar still has to be open (alas, no Bahooka stuffed shrimp then). Also, it has to be a legit tiki bar, so I can’t include any of the awesome grub from A-Frame. Here’s the first installment of what I imagine will be an ongoing series. (Later I plan on doing an all-California edition.)

1. Biscayne Biscuits – Psycho Suzi’s, Minneapolis

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The gut-busting Biscayne Biscuits are my go-to brunch order at Psycho Suzi’s in Minneapolis. I describe them as the unholy (but amazing) offspring of eggs Benedict and biscuits and gravy. Two biscuits were topped with a sausage patty and poached egg, then covered with creamy housemade sausage gravy.

Psycho Suzi’s Review

2. Pulled Pork Nachos – Tambu Lounge, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, Orlando

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The pulled pork nachos at Tambu Lounge at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort are famous among parkgoers — and for good reason. House-made potato chips and seasoned fried wontons are heaped with coffee-rubbed pork plus cheese, tomatoes, onions, spicy mayo and pineapple salsa. (Technically I tried these at neighboring restaurant Capt. Cook’s where they’re also served.)

Tambu Lounge Review

3. Pizza – Tahiti Nui, Kauai

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Pizza in paradise is what’s in store at Tahiti Nui on Kauai. The toppings are flavorful, and the buttery crust puts it over the top. We loved the #3 Huli Huli Chicken with red onions and cilantro as well as #5 Da Hui with pineapple and kalua pork.

Tahiti Nui Review

4. Truffle Arancini – Mahiki, London

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Although the attitude at London’s posh tiki lounge Mahiki wasn’t to my taste, the truffle and wild mushroom arancini certainly were. Sadly, these delicious risotto balls don’t appear to be on the menu anymore.

Mahiki Review

5. Thai Fried Chicken – Three Dots and a Dash, Chicago

Pupus at Three Dots and a Dash

Three Dots and a Dash in Chciago offers several small plates, including crab Rangoon and egg rolls. However, I think the best thing on the menu is the Thai fried chicken in garlic-chili sauce (upper right).

Three Dots and a Dash Review

What are your favorite foods from tiki bars?

Sampling the Famous Lapu Lapu at Tambu Lounge

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After a long day at Disney World, an adult beverage may be in order. One of the more popular places for such a respite is the Tambu Lounge at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. (Although, the hotel’s new tiki bar Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto is about to steal its thunder in a major way.)

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It’s located on the upper level of the Great Ceremonial House next to ‘Ohana restaurant, and in the evenings it gets packed with people enjoying drinks while waiting for their dinner reservations. The thatched hut bar is anchored by large carved tikis and overhead you’ll notice a tapa print ceiling. About a dozen chairs are available plus a few clusters of rattan armchairs and benches alongside the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the tropical landscaping and longhouses.

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Extending out along the atrium is additional seating at brand-new furniture (part of the resort’s recent renovations). It’s a bit farther from the action, but it’s a nice spot to admire the new display of giant glass fishing floats in the center of the lobby.

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The most famous drink at Tambu Lounge is the Lapu Lapu, which is presented in a pineapple. It’s one of four specialty drinks that are exclusive to this bar, along with the Backscratcher, Island Sunset and Tropical Macaw. There’s more to the cocktail menu, but it’s just the same standard drinks you’ll find at any other bar at Disneyland or Disney World.

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Don’t expect it to taste like a Chief Lapu Lapu drink, though, because there’s no passionfruit in it. Rather, it’s a potent concoction of Myers’s, pineapple juice, orange juice and Bacardi 151. I was happy to cross the Lapu Lapu off my Disney World to-do list, but I actually preferred the Backscratcher, a riff on Hawaiian bartender Harry Yee’s Tropical Itch made with Bacardi, Myers’s and passionfruit juice, topped with Jack Daniel’s. Plus, it’s garnished with a bamboo backscratcher (much to the delight of my boyfriend ;) ).

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I also sampled the Island Sunset (Seven Tiki spiced rum, Parrot Bay coconut rum, melon and peach with guava-passionfruit juice), but it wasn’t any great shakes. According to The Atomic Grog, some of the longtime bartenders will still make drinks from past menus, like the Scorpion, Navy Grog and Zombie.

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The booze starts flowing at 1 p.m., but food is only served from 5 p.m.-10 p.m. The short menu includes breads and dips, chicken wings, pork sliders, beef skewers and the amazing pulled pork nachos (also served for lunch and dinner at Capt. Cook’s restaurant on the main level). People also rave about the ‘Ohana bread pudding with vanilla ice cream and banana-caramel sauce. It’s the signature dessert from its neighbor restaurant, but you can try it here in the lounge without having to spring for that all-you-can-eat meal.

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It’s pretty safe to say that the cocktails at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto are going to blow these out of the water, but I’m sure Tambu Lounge will still draw the devotees it’s earned over the decades. I know I’ll be back for that bread pudding at the very least. In the meantime, I’ll be able to recreate the recipe for the Backscratcher at home, thanks to the reverse engineering of The Atomic Grog.

Related Posts:
Lunch at Capt. Cook’s: Set a Course for…Nachos!
The New Look of the Great Ceremonial House at Disney’s Polynesian Resort
More Tiki Bars in Orlando

Tambu Lounge on Urbanspoon

The New Look of the Great Ceremonial House at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort

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Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort was one of the original resorts that opened at Walt Disney World in 1971. Last year, the South Seas-inspired hotel began undergoing major renovations. Some changes have been universally welcomed (Trader Sam’s!), while others are more controversial.

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The “re-imagined” interior of the Great Ceremonial House (i.e. the lobby) was unveiled in December 2014. Many longtime fans of “The Poly” lamented the removal of the grand centerpiece of rock waterfalls and dozens of varieties of tropical plants.

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The new focal point is now above — an impressive display of giant netted fishing floats and rattan lamps that give off a subtle glow. Venture upstairs to see them in all their glory (and get a drink at Tambu Lounge if it’s after 1 p.m.)

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A much smaller waterfall feature has been installed in the middle, but it seems kind of silly in comparison. The concept art included a statue of the Polynesian mascot on top of this, but it hasn’t made an appearance yet. (I’m guessing that’s still part of the plan since the Disney Parks Blog had a merchandise preview for a mini-figurine based on it.) (3/23/15 Update: The tiki has finally arrived!)

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From a practical standpoint, it makes sense why they removed it. (Rumor has it that the maintenance was a major factor.) It also opened up the space for more seating areas for guests waiting to check in or just relaxing. (And if you squint you can see Cinderella Castle off in the distance.)

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The downside is the feeling of stepping into a Hawaiian tropical rainforest has been lost. Hopefully they’ll be able to recapture some of that when they finish the waterfalls along the entrance path from the parking lot.

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Near the elevators you’ll find beautiful concept art from two of my favorite Disney Legends: Rolly Crump for Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room and Mary Blair for the New Guinea scene of It’s a Small World.

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Just outside the far end of the lobby is Pineapple Lanai, a new walk-up counter serving Dole Whip (pineapple, vanilla or swirl) with the option of getting a souvenir tiki bowl. This is where you get your fix since they removed the self-serve Dole Whip machine from Capt. Cook’s.

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So far, the restaurants ‘Ohana, Tambu Lounge and Kona are still relatively the same, but Capt. Cook’s recently received a makeover. (Stay tuned for a full review.) And as I mentioned, on its way very soon is Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, Orlando’s own version of Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar.

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On top of that, there’s the April 1st debut of Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows, featuring 20 brand-new Bora Bora Bungalows perched over the Seven Seas Lagoon. They were built for Disney Vacation Club members but guests can also rent these two-bedroom accommodations for upwards of $2,000 per night, reportedly. (I love Disney, obviously, but that’s more expensive than staying at some of the actual overwater bungalows in Tahiti…)

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For more information on the renovations, I suggest checking out Steve’s updates on Tiki Man Pages. He also discussed Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto more in depth on episode 71 (March 2, 2015) of the Enchanted Tiki Talk podcast.