I’ve wanted a Chef TJ meal at Disney ever since I saw my first blog post about him many years ago and read about his endless plates of elaborate vegan creations. I finally got my wish at Trail’s End Restaurant, and even though I had pretty high hopes, I was still blown away! It is so much fun being surprised with whatever he decides to come up with–and it was all so flavorful! Chef TJ is a delight; incredibly friendly and truly a culinary artist. He made us feel so welcome and special; it was beyond your usual Disney Magic.
Below are several tips and frequently asked questions.
Or skip right to the food pictures/descriptions.
About Trail’s End
As of Summer 2014, Chef TJ is at Trail’s End restaurant at the Fort Wilderness Campgrounds. Trail’s End is one of the least expensive dinner buffets (and there are no characters). For dinner, not to mention dinner with Chef TJ, it’s downright affordable as far as Disney goes. To get there, you must bus from the Campground parking lot, there is no parking right at the restaurant. Alternately, you can take a boat from the Magic Kingdom. If you’re at another resort/park, you’ll need to drive/bus to the Campgrounds, then bus to the Restaurant. Because of the extra travel, give yourself more time to get there than you normally would for other restaurants.
The FW Campgrounds are lovely. Lush wildflowers and Florida native plants everywhere. We also saw 2 deer on our way to and from the restaurant. Trail’s End is right off of Bay Lake, and it’s a very short walk from the restaurant to a beach and dock with relaxing lake views.
Trail’s End is right next door to the Hoop De Doo Revue dinner show. In fact, we saw the performers walk in to HDDR from Trail’s End, and occasionally heard cheers from the theater, which was pretty fun. It appears that the Trail’s End chef does double duty and goes over to the HDDR at the beginning of each show to help with special diets guests over there. Because of that, try to not make your reservation during the beginning of a HDDR show–about a half hour after each show begins seems to be the best timing, to keep the chef from having to bounce too much between your table and the special diet tables at HDDR.
Some Notes About Timing
Allow a lot of time for your dinner adventure. Trail’s End takes a while to get to. You can’t drive right there; you have to bus or boat over. Plan on about 2 hours to enjoy your dinner, and give yourself an extra half hour more to get there than you would for any other location on property (unless, of course, you happen to be staying at the Campground, then it’s one of your closest options!). It’s also pretty convenient to get to from Magic Kingdom; you can take a boat from outside MK straight to the dock at Fort Wilderness Campgroup, which is right outside Trail’s End. Take the boat for “Fort Wilderness Campground/Hoop De Doo Revue.” The boat ride is about 12 minutes, and boats come every 10 minutes (this could possibly change seasonally; they don’t have it posted anywhere, I just asked a captain at the dock and that’s what he told me).
In addition to that, getting multiple, specially-made courses takes a while. Our reservation was for 7:45, but they were unexpectedly busy that night, so we didn’t get seated until after 8:00. And we didn’t leave until nearly 10:30. I would definitely recommend an earlier reservation, so you’re not there past closing.
Best and Worst Times for Reservations: The best possible times would be 4:45 or 6:45. Either of those times would allow you the most time before a new HDDR show begins. For more flexible windows, 4:40-5:15 and 6:40-7:30 should be good ranges. Make sure you don’t make your reservation during the beginning (first half hour) of each HDDR show, because he’s over there during that time. Worst times would be: 4:00-4:45, 6:00-6:45, 8:15-9:00 (for 4:00, 6:15, and 8:30 show time nights), or any time that’s less than 1.5 to 2 hours before closing.
How do I get Chef TJ?
I don’t think there are any guarantees as to whether you will be certain to have Chef TJ working the night you visit. From what I’ve gathered, he’s usually there Sunday through Thursday and he’s off Friday and Saturday. However, between schedule changes, vacation days, sick days, etc., I don’t think you can be 100% sure that he’ll be there when you go unless you know him personally (and if you do, you probably don’t need this blog post!).
I want to make it clear, too, that this is something special he does for vegans (and other special diets guests), out of the kindness of his heart. It isn’t something you can sign up for, or be guaranteed to receive. When he has the ability/time, this is what he does, because he is just that awesome.
What if he’s not there when I go?
Obviously, you’re trying to get a Chef TJ meal, and, believe me, I understand that. But I do think you can at least eat your money’s worth if you happen to miss out on TJ (no, it won’t be the same, but you certainly won’t leave hungry at least). There were several nice salads on the buffet that were vegan, plus the baked potatoes. I went there for lunch one time and the chef (not TJ at lunch) made us some nice plates of tofu and veggies (spaghetti and marinara was another option), so I’m sure anyone could make that for you at dinner as well. But, I wish you luck running in to Chef TJ, because it is an experience!
If he’s at Hoop De Doo as well, will I get this treatment there?
In short: No. Since it’s a dinner show, they have a very limited amount of time to get the food out before the show starts. Not to mention they’re making food for every guest in that small time window, and there are generally several special diets tables to help out each show, so it’s a major time crunch.
So it’s not going to be 7 courses spaced over 2 hours like we had at Trail’s End. That just can’t happen at HDDR. But he has special ordered in several vegan items, and no chef (especially not TJ) wants their guests to go hungry. So, while you won’t get quite the selection you get at Trail’s End, I’m sure you will get a satisfying meal at HDDR too.
Go to HDDR for the show, and go to Trail’s End for the Chef TJ experience.
So, what can a vegan eat at Trail’s End?
First, Chef TJ showed us around the buffet. There were some very tasty salads on there, but not necessarily enough variety for a whole meal alone. Buffet items were: Tossed salad (lettuce, tomatoes, onions, olives, carrots) and Balsamic Vinaigrette; Tomato Salad; Marinated Mushroom Salad; Cucumber Salad; Vegetable Salad (broccoli, green beans, bell peppers, carrots). As for hot items, the only one on the buffet was the baked potatoes–and Chef TJ even brought us some Smart Balance margarine for them.
That’s it for the buffet. Everything was tasty. The potatoes were so good, they didn’t even need the Smart Balance (but that was a nice touch!). Most of the salads were vinaigrette based. We thought they were all yummy. The mushrooms were a favorite, but all the salads were good. The Balsamic dressing was great. And I loved the variety of fresh veggies. Not bad for a very meat-centric buffet.
My dining companions were not as aware of what TJ would have in store for us (I’d seen his creations before on blogs, but they had no idea what was to come), so my partner had two plates of salad and two baked potatoes before TJ even began to bring our meal! We’re not used to such special treatment, so I think he thought he needed to fill up on the salads. Plus, they were quite yummy. I suggest getting just one plate of salads to save plenty of room for his creations–you could always go back for more salads later… but you probably won’t have the room!
Chef TJ’s Six Course Meal
First, he brought us an appetizer: Spicy pepper buns with vegan cheese and caramelized onions. The presentation on these was fabulous! It was a really neat concept, and showed off how talented he is at coming up with something creative and tasty with very simple ingredients. I am not sure what brand the cheese was, and I forgot to ask, but it was good (and I’m very picky with vegan cheese)!
Next was the second appetizer. He didn’t mention this was appetizer #2, so my dining partners thought this was the entree (I knew better, though!). This was so good. There were tempura battered portabellas with pickles; spring rolls; and arugula in a sweet chili sauce. This guy knows his sauces! I could have made a meal of those tempura mushrooms and pickles. No wonder they thought this was the main course!
After the appetizers came the soup! They still thought that the last appetizer was the entree and final course, so they were surprised when the soup arrived. It was a delightful carrot ginger soup with baby marjoram and baby cilantro. After the soup, we had a bit of a wait until the entree, because the HDDR show was starting, and Chef TJ had to go over there to help the special diet folks at the show. But I was happy for the break, because we needed to make more room for the other half of our meal.
After some much-needed digestion, our first entree arrived. Tofu and zucchini and squash in another fabulous sauce; and grilled, stuffed tomatoes with spinach and corn. The stuffed tomatoes were out of this world. A highlight of the meal for me. The zucchini and squash were thick and crisp and the tofu perfectly cooked and seasoned. And the sauce was super flavorful as we’d come to expect by now.
Now, here he had even me fooled, because I thought that was it, but shortly after, he came out with BBQ Potatoes. I love potato anything, and BBQ chips are my partner’s favorite, and these were like the most gourmet, delicious BBQ chips ever. I need to learn how to make these now!
We were stuffed, but he warned us to save room for dessert, so we did! It was the best dessert ever! Tempura bananas, tempura cookies, strawberries, chocolate Tofutti, and chocolate sauce. Perfect combination of deliciousness!
I’ve had a lot of good meals at Disney, but I have to say this was the best. Everything was perfect: the location, our server, the food, and of course, Chef TJ!