Magnificent Greek cuisine gets star billing at Kouzzina by Cat Cora on Disney’s BoardWalk.
A leisurely walk through the BoardWalk Inn leads to two major restaurants. The Flying Fish Café is deceptively upscale behind its casual attire and has been a top area restaurant since 1996, and one of the few places in town with buffalo mozzarella on the menu. A few steps away, Kouzzina by Cat Cora is a baby in comparison, its striped awning-bedecked doors opening in 2009, but the Greek-inspired kitchen is mature and sophisticated. In a casual, Greek tavern kind of way.
Cat Cora, for those not versed in the world of television celebrity chefs, is an alumni of New York’s illustrious Culinary Institute of America (like a surprising number of our other local chefs), who rose to fame by becoming the first (and only) female Iron Chef on Food Network’s “Iron Chef America.’’ A position as executive chef for Bon Appétit magazine, work with charitable organizations, TV shows and four restaurants soon followed.
But it feels like Kouzzina (meaning kitchen in Greek), is where her culinary vision shines.
Replacing longtime but somewhat tired favorite Spoodles, Kouzzina is a grand-looking place of wood floors, stone and cream-colored walls complemented by displays of backlit olive oil bottles. Family pictures adorn the lobby, with Cora’s mother, Virginia Lee, featured prominently. The very open kitchen is larger than many restaurants, and an occasional cry of “Opa!” can be heard from staff and boisterous diners.
“One of my earliest food jobs,” Cora says, “was on the Disney website, cooking with Muppets.” Relax, kids, she cooked alongside the Muppets in a series of videos; they weren’t ingredients. “I’ve always had a soft spot for Disney, so when they approached me to partner for a restaurant, I didn’t have to think long about it.” Kouzzina is not only Cora’s first table-service restaurant, but Disney’s first company-owned partnership with an individual chef.
The restaurant serves breakfast and dinner, featuring variations of Greek cuisine that are both traditional and creative. If you’re on the BoardWalk at the start of the day, grab some steel cut oatmeal ($6.49) or the turkey-sweet potato hash ($12.49).
Dinner brings saganaki ($7.99), a savory and bright pan-seared and flambéed cheese dish served with crushed oregano and a splash of lemon, that’s a tavern staple named after the pan in which it is prepared. Then there’s spanakopita ($7.99), the hearty handheld pie that balances a deep green, tangy filling of spinach, feta cheese, leeks and dill with a flaky but robust crust. The best values are probably the mezze (appetizer) platters, offering a Kouzzina Sampler choice ($17.99) of marinated olives, stuffed grape leaves, hummus, and spicy prawns, lamb meatballs or pork souvlaki. The delightful spread platter ($14.99 for all 6) has fresh olive tapenade, hummus, melitzanosalata eggplant, salty caviar and olive oil taramosalata, a wonderfully smoky whipped feta and tangy yoghurt tzatziki. Either platter is more than enough to whet any appetite.
And an appetite you’ll need. Even while waving the banner of a grilled, fresh and light Mediterranean diet, these dishes are large and filling. The three most popular items—the Greek lasagna called pastitsio, stewed chicken and a char-grilled lamb burger—are available in tasting-sized portions as the Kouzzina Trio ($23.99). Each item is fragrant with heady smells of cinnamon, allspice, long-roasted tomato and nutmeg, and taste of centuries of Hellenic tradition. The chicken dish alone ($23.99), slow cooked in cinnamon and garlic, is one of my favorite meals anywhere. And I can never visit Kouzzina without ordering the sautéed Brussels sprouts ($6.99), served in brown butter vinaigrette and capers, and the simple but delightful sautéed greens with toasted garlic ($5.99).
Most of the popular dishes remain on the otherwise seasonally rotating menu, and while Cora is in the restaurant three or four times a year, Kouzzina is in the fantastic hands of her resident chef, Dee Foundoukis. A Disney veteran of almost 30 years, Foundoukis takes great pride in her own Greek heritage, and her passion and enthusiasm is equal to the task of keeping to Cora’s high standards.
Kouzzina by Cat Cora
2101 Epcot Resorts Blvd., Lake Buena Vista