Why Is the Brown Derby at Hollywood Studios Famous?

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate and a partner of other affiliate programs including Booking.com, CJ and Tripster, we may earn commissions from qualifying purchases via links found in this article.

In the early to mid-80s, I was the son of working parents and then a child of divorce. I would often get up and get ready for school and return to an empty house at the end of the day. 

Therefore, I learned to be more self-reliant in specific ways than many generations that came before or after me. 

Did my forebears ever decide to see if Fruity Pebbles tasted better in orange juice or water because they were out of milk? I submit – they did not. Will my children try to slice hot dogs like baloney because they are out of buns but do have sliced bread? Again, that’s a no. 

However, despite my self-made culinary disasters, there was a certain freedom that came with being alone. From 4 pm until around 5:30 pm, I was free to select my own destiny which was usually a ball game with friends, listening to music or playing video games.

But sometimes it meant vegging out in front of the TV. Back then, it was almost exclusively the under the purview of reruns with shows like “Leave it to Beaver”, “Mr. Ed” or “Gilligan’s Island”.

In reflection, the most important shows of my youth were chiefly made in the 50 and 60s.

It meant that as a 12-year-old when my grandparents and their friends wistfully reflected on the cultural touchstones of a bygone era, I was right in there with them lamenting the cultural disappearance of the Skipper and Mary Ann and Ricky Nelson and Fred and Ethel Mertz. 

hollywood brown derby
The Hollywood Brown Derby is arguably the most high-end restaurant in any of the Disney parks. And it’s well worth the price tag (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

The Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant in Orlando

When I finally set foot in Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Florida, I hadn’t thought about eating at the Hollywood Brown Derby Restaurant or ordering its famous Brown Derby Cobb Salad. 

But when we walked into sight, it triggered a black-and-white memory from an “I Love Lucy” rerun I’d watched decades earlier. 

Ricky has business in Hollywood. Lucy – desperate to join her husband in show business – tags along for reasons I don’t remember. 

Lucy ends up at the Brown Derby, hoping to spot a star of the silver screen or two. She does this as the three dine in a booth between Eve Arden and William Holden. 

Shenanigans of the highest order ensue and Holden ends up with a pie in the face.

And so there I was, in the middle of one of the great theme parks on Earth. But all I could think is that I wanted to eat where Lucy ate, and we did.

The Hollywood Brown Derby Bldg. Plaque
The Hollywood Brown Derby is based on restaurants from the Golden Age of Hollywood (photo by James Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Why is the Brown Derby famous?

The restaurant in Disney’s Hollywood Studios is based on the second in a chain of iconic restaurants that began prior to the Golden Age of Hollywood out in California. 

How deep were the Brown Derby’s Hollywood connections? In the 1920s when Wilson Mizner opened the Brown Derby Original – jauntily designed to look like a Brown Derby Hat – the money was fronted by Jack Warner, the film executive who was the driving force behind the Warner Brothers Studio. 

The location was certainly frequented by members of the Hollywood elite. It was also featured in the Disney animated classic “Fun and Fancy Free.” However, it was the Hollywood location that really captured national attention and became a national symbol for Hollywood. 

The Hollywood Brown Derby on which the Disney version is based is reportedly where Clark Gable proposed to Carole Lombard. It’s where rival LA newspaper gossip columnists regularly dined in order to help keep their ears to the ground. 

And it’s where Lucy Ricardo and Fred and Ethel Mertz went to get a taste of the Hollywood life while Ricky met with studio execs during the classic run of the “I Love Lucy” show. 

It is reportedly the birthplace of both the Cobb Salad and the Shirley Temple non-alcoholic drink.

Both locations decorated their celebrity walls with hundreds of celebrity drawings, paintings and caricatures. It’s a tradition that continues in the Walt Disney World version today.

Is there a dress code at Hollywood Brown Derby?

No. None of the Signature Dining restaurants in Disney theme parks have a dress code. The fine dining restaurants that are located in Disney Resorts, however, do have a dress code:

“Guests are expected to dress accordingly in attire that respects the restaurant’s sophisticated and upscale aesthetic. Clothing should be clean, neat and in good condition. Please no swimwear.”

Brown Derby's Cobb Salad
Brown Derby’s signature Cobb Salad at Hollywood Studios (photo by Morgan Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

What is the Brown Derby specialty?

The famous Cobb Salad.

Reportedly, the salad was the brainchild of the restaurant’s owner Robert Cobb. It seems he was hungry after a long shift at the restaurant and piled together a salad of leftovers, presumably in rows like it is served today. 

The classic version of the salad uses four types of lettuce. At Hollywood Studios, the salad features spit-roasted turkey, bacon, egg, tomatoes, blue cheese, avocado and classic dressing. Unlike the salads I make at home, everything is finely chopped and served in rows. 

Other versions credit the salad’s creation to chefs who worked at the restaurant.

The salad is about $22, although prices are subject to change.

Read Also: What Is the Best Food at Hollywood Studios? 11 Snacks You Must Try

The Hollywood Brown Derby Allergy Friendly Menu
A view of an allergy-friendly menu from the Brown Derby at Hollywood Studios. Note that prices are subject to change (photo by Morgan Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Is Hollywood Brown Derby expensive? 

For Disney Signature Dining, it’s not the most expensive but it ain’t cheap. We’re talking about $35-$60 per adult. 

Do I need reservations for the Hollywood Brown Derby?

They’re not required, but it’s a good idea. We got in without a reservation once when we went for a late lunch, catching the in-between lunch and dinner lull. 

A Charcuterie Board at the Hollywood Brown Derby
Our food was beautifully presented on a charcuterie board (photo by Morgan Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

What should I try at the Hollywood Brown Derby?

Well, it goes without saying you should give the Cobb Salad significant consideration just as a nod to Bob Cobb.

I would recommend being a little adventurous. Start with an appetizer like the Escargot Casino with roasted garlic béchamel, crispy prosciutto and piquillo pepper crumb – or the Roasted Bone Marrow with braised beef, pickled mustard seeds and fig bread crostini.

But if you want to be a little more traditional, the shrimp cocktail is excellent as is the Crab Louie, which has crispy olive bread, a citrus blend, fried capers and Louie sauce.

For the main course, there are some fun classics, including a recipe or two that would have been considered the height of culinary achievement back when the original Brown Derby was still kicking around. 

The Free-Range Chicken Coq au Vin comes with pan-fried potatoes, thigh confit, trumpet mushroom, smoked bacon and red wine sauce while the Duck à l’Orange comes with soubise sauce, broccolini, leg confit and orange gastrique.

Finally, if you’re in the mood for seafood, the Seafood Cioppino with shrimp, sea scallop, seasonal fish, mussels, toasted baguette and aromatic tomato broth is an excellent choice as is the Sustainable Salmon Coulibiac, which has pickled mushrooms, wilted spinach, puff pastry and a mustard-dill butter sauce.

There aren’t a lot of options for sides – or enhancements in Brown Derby lingo. But the Shrimp Macaroni & Cheese joins the aforementioned bread and Brussels sprouts.

What about Brown Derby desserts?

Now we’re talking. Another culinary classic, the Bananas Foster – with vanilla bean panna cotta, apple cider cake and praline florentine – is on the menu as is the Brown Derby Original Grapefruit cake, with vanilla sponge cake, grapefruit syrup and cream cheese icing.

Read Also: Galaxy’s Edge Food: The Best Star Wars Snacks and Drinks at Disney

Cocktail and Wine at Hollywood Brown Derby
Creative adult cocktails and wine can be purchased at the Brown Derby (photo by Morgan Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

What drinks are served at The Brown Derby?

There are a wide variety of wines as well as mixed drinks like the Magical Beacon Cocktail which has Empress 1908 gin, Bols Blue Curaçao, Minute Maid premium lemonade, orgeat (almond), lemon, hibiscus grenadine and a souvenir glow cube.

I also recommend the Grapefruit Cake Martini, which has Deep Eddy ruby red grapefruit vodka, Stoli Vanil vodka and a splash of cream with a graham cracker rim. 

Is a kids menu available?

Yes! In fact, the kids menu has regular mac & cheese, a hot dog (not cut into baloney-thin slices) or a choice of grilled beef, chicken or fish. 

Fresh Bread Served at the Hollywood Brown Derby
A bowl of fresh bread with seasoned butter is served at the Brown Derby (photo by Morgan Overholt/HeyOrlando.com)

Is the Brown Derby in Hollywood Studios worth it?

It depends, I suppose on how much you value the experience and/or fine dining. 

I don’t mind planning an expensive meal or two while on vacation. However, I also enjoy the quick service options as well. 

I could happily pay $49 for beef filet mignon, plus $9 for some Brussels sprouts and $8 for spoon bread with lavender-honey butter. Add on another $17 for a shrimp cocktail appetizer and we’re up in some pretty decent money for dinner. Especially if I’m feeding my family of five.

I enjoy doing that sometimes, treating myself and my family to a little culinary luxury. But sometimes I’m just as happy spending $12.99 for a Ronto Wrap in Baatu. 

So is it worth it? For me – as long as I have the budget – it is. I enjoy the trappings of old Hollywood. And the idea that participating in some long-lost Hollywood tradition by sampling some of the best dishes old Bob Cobb could come up with. 

Also, it’s cool that it fits with the original concept of Hollywood Studios, which is a tribute to classic Hollywood. While Star Wars and Toy Story fit that theme in the broadest sense – they are both based on movies – it’s nice to participate in something that feels like Hollywood. 

Have you eaten at Hollywood Studio’s Brown Derby? What did you think? Let us know in the comments.

Photo of author


John Gullion

John Gullion, Managing Editor at the Citizen Tribune, is a freelance contributor for TheSmokies.com LLC – the parent company of TheSmokies.com and HeyOrlando.com.

Leave a Comment