While Walt Disney World is known for incredible food, there are a few cases where a quick perusal of the menu leaves you feeling like the offerings could be just a bit better with regard to variety or theme. At one time, Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe was known for some of the best burgers on property due in large part to the vast all-you-can-pile-on toppings bar. In 2015, the menu was revamped with a Tex-Mex focus featuring rice bowls, burritos, fajitas, salads and more, all of which can still be plus-ed up at the fixin’s bar, which also received a Southwest makeover.
There is no arguing that the tall tales of Pecos Bill evoke thoughts of cowboys in the American west, but is Tex-Mex really the best representation of this iconic American legend. If attention is paid to the details of Pecos Bill Tall tale Inn and Cafe, guests will notice a number of important items in the dining area of the restaurant.
One such detail in the Cafe is a piece of stretched hide that displays the legend of Pecos Bill and his inn. Preceded by a brief history of the cowboy is the following tale:
“In 1878, with the encouragement of his friends, Pecos Bill decided to open his own watering hole, a restaurant whose motto very much reflects its one-of-a-kind owner. ‘The tastiest eats and treats this side of the Rio Grande.’ Pecos Bill called it the Tall Tale Inn and Cafe, and it quickly became a popular hangout for some of his legendary friends. As time went by, it became a tradition when each friend paid a visit they would leave something behind for Pecos Bill to remember them by. As you can see from the articles and artifacts that don the walls, many of which carry inscriptions, Pecos Bill had some mighty impressive friends. Seems that every trail eventually led to the Tall Tale Inn and Cafe.”
Pecos Bill’s famous friends include the likes of Johnny Appleseed, Kit Carson, Davy Crocket and others. All of which are individuals, either real or imagined, that traversed the great American countryside during the times of covered wagons and cattle drives. So if Pecos Bill aimed to please the likes of his famous friends, what type of vittles would they have been glad to see on the menu. After a bit of research, it becomes clear that staples of the 19th century cowboy/pioneer diet included salted meats, dried fruit, wild berries, hard cheeses and LOTS of beans. Surprisingly, two of the things ranchers looked forward to most after a long time spent on the trail were coffee and donuts.
While “visitors” to Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe may have been happy to find literal versions of these items on the menu, Guests at Walt Disney World in Central Florida would likely not be interested in chowing down on a crock of beans when the temperature reaches 95 degrees. So how could these staples be re-imagined to evoke the feeling of a true 1880s meal while appealing to 21st century diners? Consider the following suggestions:
Vegetarian Hash Bowl – Vegetarian offerings have become a mainstay on the menus of almost all dining locations at Walt Disney World, and a restaurant focused on the westward expansion of the United States should most certainly include one. For pioneers and cowboys, fresh meat was often a luxury, due in part to limited options for preserving, but also because of times when hunting opportunities were scarce. This bowl could includes the cowboy dish most often eaten, beans, along with potatoes, onions, apples and any number of herbs and spices. (Think of this as a vegetarian version of the Pear and Smoked Belly Hash that was previously paired with the Cedar Plank Salmon at Artist Point at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.)
Bison Burger – Buffalo were prevalent on the range during the later part of the 19th century, and while western travelers may have considered it a luxury, bison burgers are clearly common and popular with the American public. Versions can be found on the menu at both Geyser Point Bar and Grill and Whispering Canyon Cafe at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge.
Campfire Packet – Meals on the range were always fixed over an open campfire, so why not carry the idea through to a packet style meal. Chicken wings, legs or thighs with flavorful veggies like tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and zucchini seasoned with a savory blend and sealed in a foil packet while grilled to maintain the delicious flavors and juices. This could also be crafted with other protein options such as smoked sausage, pork belly, or as a vegetarian offering with beans.
Chili with Cornbread – Chili and cornbread have been cooked in cast iron kettles and skillets for centuries, and before it is tossed from the menu because of the Florida heat, consider that Magic Kingdom Guests have been ordering Clam Chowder and/or Vegetarian Chili at Columbia Harbour House for years.
Beef and Sourdough Sandwich – Interestingly, many journal entries from the late 1800s tell of ranchers dining on salted beef and sourdough bread while out on the range. Disney Chefs could easily create a Panini style sandwich featuring roast beef and sourdough bread to please the masses.
Wild Berry Salad – It was common for cowboys and pioneers to find berries along the trail. While lettuce for a salad is not something that would have been common, perhaps Pecos Bill was able to procure some for his friends. Maybe a blackberry and honey vinaigrette would add a bit of authenticity.
Cowboy Charcuterie – Charcuterie small plates are wildly popular, so why not give the Italian staple a wild west twist? Dried or cured meats with a hard cheese and dried or wild fruits would be a fantastic add-on menu item or a great snack with a protein power punch to get through the rest of a long day at Magic Kingdom Park.
Fried Doughnuts with Wild Berries – Whether a 19th century cowboy or a 21st century tourist, there is one thing everyone can agree on: doughnuts are delicious. If ranchers loved doughnuts, then they clearly deserve a place on the dessert menu at Pecos Bill’s. Top some crisp, fluffy sugared doughnuts with a wild berry compote, and it really would not get much better.
Johnny’s Apple Bread Pudding – One of Pecos Bill’s friends was American legend Johnny Appleseed. It’s possible that Johnny was willing to supply Pecos with a bag of apples from his famous trees planted across the country. If so, the Inn would be able to add a tasty apple bread pudding to the dessert menu.
Coffee and Cider – Coffee helped get western travelers through the long nights and woke them up in the morning, and has that fact changed? In addition to the typical soft drink menu, it would be nice to see a good cup of pressed coffee on the menu. Also, for those who need a refreshingly cool but theme worthy beverage, ice cold apple cider would be an appropriate addition.
Some of the items suggested above could be sized down or simplified for a kids menu such as a having a chili dog instead of the Chili with Cornbread or modifying the packet meal to be a bit smaller. Traditional items such as macaroni and cheese or the classic chicken nuggets could still be offered to accommodate little diners with a less adventurous palate.
What do you think of the menu at Pecos Bill’s Tall Tale Inn and Cafe? Would you like to see some items that would better fit the theme of the restaurant or are you happy with the current offerings?
(Photo from the personal collection of Alyssa Wiseman.)
To learn more about Kendall and read her recent posts for WDW Radio, visit her author page by clicking the link on her name at the top of this post.