I’m not a big fan of hanging out at Citywalk, Universal Studios’ dining and shopping complex, mostly because you have to pay $26 to park there. Because of this, I call it “Shittywalk.” Yes folks, I’m here all week. Tip the veal, try your waitress! But I recently had a friend in town, a brilliant fellow librarian and former Floridian, who was visiting from up north with her husband. She wanted to schedule a lunch with me and two of her other friends, and after several Saboscrivner suggestions, they chose the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen (https://www.universalorlando.com/web/en/us/things-to-do/dining/toothsome-chocolate-emporium-and-savory-feast-kitchen). Even though it’s out at City/Shittywalk, I was happy to catch up with her, and let’s face it, also happy to be invited to anything. Plus, it sounds like something that could only exist in the long-gone glory days of The Simpsons: like T.G.I. McScratchy’s Goodtime Foodrinkery, or the Fantabulous Contraption of Professor Horatio Hufnagel.
I had been once before, a few years ago. The coolest part about the restaurant is the unique steampunk-style theming. For the uninitiated, steampunk is kind of an offshoot of science fiction based in the late 19th Century (usually England, sometimes the U.S.), where there are very modern, fantastical creations powered by steam technology, including luxurious airships, robots, gleaming brass and bronze factories churning out anachronistic wonders, and lots of gears. So many gears. If you can’t think of any famous steampunk movies, TV shows, or books, you’re not uncultured — there just aren’t many. For fans, it’s more of an aesthetic than anything else — a chance for creative cosplayers to dress up all fancy, in an retro-futuristic, well-to-do manner (because in a Victorian society where trailblazing inventors and explorers ruled, there would be no exploited underclasses toiling in those fantastical factories, right?). Men favor waistcoats, vests, jodhpurs, cravats, and the occasional old-timey facial hair. Women get dolled up in fancy dresses and corsets, and I can’t find any fault with that. There are plenty of goggles to go around, due to steampunk’s overarching themes of invention, discovery, and exploration (think of the Industrial Revolution and also — sigh — British colonialism), and a surprising amount of top hats (including tiny top hats for the ladies). Is there jewelry? You bet there is. Just find some old watches, crack them open, and glue gears to various things. Put a gear on it! I always joke that steampunk style is for goths that just discovered the color brown.
Anyway, the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium looks like a fantastical steampunk factory from the outside, with billows of steam rising from the central smokestacks.
On the way in, you can wait for your table in a gift shop that sells all kinds of fancy chocolates, candies (some in fancy glass jars and bottles), and steampunk accessories (goggles, jewelry with gears, and even tiny top hats). Nothing is cheap.
The two-story dining room is actually gorgeous, but it’s dark enough inside that I can never get good photos of it. I apologize for that. I love the look of the place and all the thought that went into the design and theming. It’s truly unique, especially as far as restaurants go. There’s a romantic quality to the gilded, retro-futuristic decor, despite the quirky nerdiness of it all. It feels like you’ve been transported away dine to somewhere exotic, strange, and beguiling, not like you’re chowing down with tourists on the outskirts of two sweaty Florida theme parks.
There is a public face to the restaurant, a steampunk-inspired character named Doctor Professor Penelope Tinker-Toothsome, who is played by a statuesque blonde actress (or probably multiple actresses) in a luxurious-looking blue gown, accessorized with the aforementioned corset, goggles, and tiny top hat. The world-traveling founder and heiress to the Toothsome fortune goes around the dining room doing schtick at people’s tables in a big, stagey British accent. She warmly greeted us, but didn’t linger at our table.
Once our gang of five assembled and started to order, the people who didn’t know each other seemed to hit it off, which is a testament to my friend’s good taste and judgment. Me being me, I ordered onion rings for the table, so… wait a minute… is this a little recurring feature on The Saboscrivner that I like to call RING THE ALARM? I think it is!
RING THE ALARM! These were the Black and Tan onion rings ($10.95), and they were very good, despite a few of them being a little burnt and falling apart. They were served on a bed of lightly crispy fried noodles that were pleasant to crunch on. The cocoa ranch dipping sauce was cool, creamy, and slightly chocolatey, going along with the chocolate theme of the place (as opposed to the steampunk theme), but it worked. Get in with The Saboscrivner and be a good person, and you’ll find I am usually happy to share my onion rings.
I’m reasonably sure my friend ordered the chopped Asian chickenhalf for $7.95 or a full for $11.95. It included grilled chicken, Napa cabbage, Tuscan kale, roasted peanuts, and peanut-lime vinaigrette. I didn’t try it, but she seemed to like it.
Her husband, an accomplished artist and cartoonist, ordered the Southern-fried chicken BLT ($14.50), with a crispy boneless chicken breast, tomatoes, butter bibb lettuce, bacon, and Dijon mustard on a toasted brioche bun. He seemed to like the sandwich, but I don’t know how he felt about those fries.
One of my friend’s friends I had never met before chose wisely, ordering off the brunch menu. This was the patty melt ($12.95), which inspired awe around our table. The half-pound house-made fresh hamburger patty was served on thick slices of challah bread (CHALLAH IF YOU HEAR ME!) with cheddar cheese, topped with a sunny-side up egg and grilled pork belly, and served with Lyonnaise potatoes that looked more interesting than the fries. If I go back, I’ll probably order that.
On my one previous visit, I ordered a burger that was quite good: the “May Contain Bacon” burger ($15.50). That was another half-pound burger served on a pretzel bun with bibb lettuce, smokey thick-cut bacon, grilled pork belly, pineapple chutney, and chipotle Jack cheese. I couldn’t find a photo from that meal from almost three years ago, but back then I was still using my awful phone camera, so it probably would not have been any good anyway. The photo, I mean. The burger was very good.
I made friends with one of my friend’s friends, another foodie. She was vacillating between two menu options, so I asked if she wanted to order one thing, I’d order the other, and we’d split both. She was down with that plan, so she ordered herself a burger: the “Tour de France” ($14.95). Of course it had another half-pound patty, this time served on toasted brioche, with bibb lettuce, roasted tomatoes, sunny-side up egg, avocado, crispy onions, and French brie. Ooh la la!
I got to enjoy half, and it definitely was a tasty burger. Funny enough, as much as I love cheese, Brie has never been one of my favorites, but it worked well in conjunction with the other ingredients here. (Ironically, my wife isn’t big on cheese at all, but brie is one of the few she enjoys!)
I went with her other choice, which I was already considering anyway: the Fork & Knife grilled ribeye steak sandwich ($15.95), and I gave her half. The steak sandwich sounded right up my alley, topped with sautéed onions, roasted tomatoes, arugula, herb shallot aioli, and horseradish cheese (awww yissss!), served on a toasted onion brioche roll. It also came with sauteed mushrooms, which I asked them to serve on the side so she could enjoy them and I wouldn’t be poisoned by them. I asked for fresh, house-made chips with the sandwich, which looked way better than the fries, and did not disappoint. I thought it was a rather small sandwich for $16, but hey, that sort of thing happens at theme park restaurants. At least it was a solid steak sandwich, despite being on the puny side.
Well, as I’m sure you surmised from the name, the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium is big on decadent desserts, especially massive, mountainous, monstrous milkshakes. Pardon the blurriness, constant readers — these beauties were on display behind glass.
When I was here years ago, I tried the key lime pie milkshake, garnished with an actual slice of key lime pie. (That’s it in the foreground in this recent picture from their milkshake display.) It was okay, but actually ended up being too much, on every possible level. For one thing, I thought the whipped topping tasted more like artificial Cool Whip than fresh whipped cream, although it’s possible I am wrong about that, or they might have changed it since then. And being a native Floridian and enjoying key lime pie whenever and wherever I can, I’m always a little put off when key lime pie is tinted green. The pie slice on top clearly isn’t green, but I don’t think the milkshake had to be that pale, almost seafoam green color either.
Surprisingly, only my one brave librarian friend ordered a shake this time. The rest of us were just too full. This was the Espresso Buzzzz12.50 milkshake has everything: coffee ice cream, espresso, and chocolate espresso beans, and it was topped with “fresh whipped cream” (that’s what it says on the menu!), and a cherry. She was craving coffee, so this was the best of all possible worlds. Sea turtle lovers, you’ll be relieved to know the large, festive straws in all these milkshakes are paper (more like cardboard).
So it was a really pleasant lunch in a beautiful dining room with old and new friends alike. The distance and having to pay for parking keep me away from “Shittywalk,” but we end up down there every year or so for a show at the Hard Rock Live, so I’d totally return to the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Savory Feast Kitchen. In fact, we’ll be back a little over a month from now to see Patton Oswalt perform at the Hard Rock, so maybe I’ll go back again with my wife. But she’s not a corset-and-goggles kind of girl, so I know better than to even ask.