The 16th annual Epcot International Food and Wine Festival has once again arrived, offering a wide selection of food and drinks from all over the world. With small dishes starting at as little as $1.50, guests circling the theme park’s World Showcase can try new cuisine and revisit old favorites from the past 15 years. And last night I did just that, with the goal of only trying recipes and kiosks that are new for 2011.
UPDATE (10/21/11): We made our second trip to the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, enjoying old favorites and trying more new dishes. After finishing the report/reviews below, click here to read the new reviews and see photos of all that we ate.
Beginning at around 7:30pm, my wife Michelle and I were hungry for dinner and embarked on our journey through Epcot with the goal of not stopping until we were beyond stuffed or the park’s 9pm closing arrived, whichever came first. As it turned out, the two happened at about the same time.
Epcot has a new high-definition tip board, showing attraction wait times and other information. It also currently shows festival information and tips. When it first debuted last week, it was offering a stream of live Twitter posts – anything tagged #EpcotFW11. But that wasn’t visible last night and I’m guessing that Disney realized a relatively unfiltered live Twitter stream wasn’t the smartest idea.
Disney also released a web-based mobile app for the festival this year, allowing visitors to browse menus, check the schedule for the Eat to the Beat concert series, mark favorite foods, and even share thoughts via social networks.
Heading toward the event, guests notice that Ocean Spray sponsors this year’s Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, with a huge cranberry bog set up between Future World and World Showcase.
Inside, an Epcot cast member stands knee-deep answering questions about the bog, its cranberries, and the bordering cranberry vines (not bushes). Guests are not permitted inside the bog, no matter how much you beg and plead.
Hawaii, the Caribbean, and Portugal are new additions to the 2011 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival. A quick glance at the festival guide reveals that two of these three all-new food and drink kiosks are close to the World Showcase entrance. So our first stop was Hawaii.
But before I jump into the food reviews, I should note that I did not try everything from every menu. With 29 different festival booths, each offering 2-3 small plates of food, it is simply impossible to sample everything in one night. Or even two. Or three. So last night was the first of many trips to the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival that I’m sure we’ll make this year. But I did focus on dishes and recipes that were new to the festival and to me.
The first new item I tried was Hawaii’s Kalua Pork Slider with Sweet and Sour Dole Pineapple Chutney and Spicy Mayonnaise ($3.00). With soft bread, tender and juicy but sauce-free pulled pork, and sweet chutney, this slider is not only a perfect way to start the trip around World Showcase, but add a couple more and it could become dinner unto itself. The spicy mayonnaise isn’t terribly spicy, nor is it even really noticeable in the sandwich, overpowered by the sweetness of the chutney and savory notes of the pork. And non-coffee drinkers need not be concerned about the pork’s flavor, as the Hawaiian cooking method kalua is not the same as Kahlua coffee, despite the name sounding the same.
Disney continues to improve the festival-going experience each year, with one of the newest additions being utensil dispensers. Instead of fishing around cups filled with forks, knives, and spoons, free standing, swiveling devices enable easy access to the plasticware of your choice at the quick push of a lever.
Our next stop was the new Caribbean kiosk, offering the promise of heat and a taste of island life.
I had the Ropa Vieja (Slowly Braised Beef) with White Rice ($3.50) and Jerk Spiced Chicken Drumstick with Mango Salsa ($3.25) and was not impressed by either. The Ropa Vieja was soaked in its own juices but failed to offer any flavors other than that of beef. My white rice was also slightly undercooked and rather ordinary. I expected jerk chicken to bring the heat, but found that beyond the jerk spices on the outside of the drumstick’s skin, the chicken itself simply tasted like chicken, and certainly packed no spicy punch. The only highlight of these two Caribbean dishes was the mango salsa, which was crunchy and sweet and actually improved the flavor of the chicken when eaten together in one bite. Unlike Hawaii, I will not be returning to the Caribbean for seconds.
Jumping to the clear opposite side of the World Showcase near Morocco and France, Portugal is new to the festival for 2011.
There I had one of my favorite dishes of the whole night, Linguica Sausage with Onions, Peppers, and Olives ($4.00). I have eaten many sausage flavors from different countries and cultures, but had never tried – or even heard of – Linguica sausage before. I was pleasantly surprised to find this sausage to be unlike any other, with the best comparison I can make to a cross between a hot Italian sausage and standard American breakfast sausage, with many other notes in between. Crisp on the outside and moist in the middle, this sausage from Portugal offers bold flavor that won’t blow out your taste buds. But expect heat when eating the sausage with the accompanying onions, peppers, and olives. The combination works perfectly but had me reaching for a drink to cool the burn.
There’s an emphasis on cheese in this year’s festival, not only being prominently featured in many of the booths but also getting one of its own, simply called Cheese.
And it’s here that the future of the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival may be seen, with two touch screen kiosks standing next to the human cashiers. The screens offer the ability to order any quantity of any of the menu items without having to talk to anyone. A quick swipe of a credit or gift card is all it takes.
Despite my ever-present love of cheese, I didn’t want to fill up on it during this trip to the festival, so I passed on the cheese plate, but will definitely try it soon. Michelle, on the other hand, couldn’t pass up the Cheese Fondue with Sourdough Bread ($3.00), which we were told had a mixture of gruyere and gouda. I did sink a spoon into it once or twice and found it to be perfectly creamy and soft, with a full flavor that isn’t too strong for the average guest, but just strong enough for any cheese lover to enjoy.
Oh – and the cheese is nice and stretchy.
Having thoroughly enjoyed many trips to the Korean BBQ Taco Box food trucks that frequent several areas of Orlando, I couldn’t pass up a few new flavors in the South Korea booth.
There I got Boolgogi BBQ Beef with Steamed Rice and Kimchi ($4.25). You wouldn’t think small, thin, slightly burnt pieces of beef would be tender or even chewable, but these bite-sized morsels are full of flavor and perfectly cooked. It’s a heaping portion when combined with the sticky, soft white rice and extremely spicy kimchi vegetables. Like Portugal’s sausage dish, I desperately needed a drink to wash down this one from South Korea to calm the heat, but it was worth it. It’s a heavy dish with a lot of flavor that could easily act as lunch by itself.
Mexico is a must-visit ever year, but during this 2011 festival, it ended as a disappointment.
The popular Conga drink is not available at the kiosk this year, much to Michelle’s disappointment. I ate the Grilled Ribeye Taco (Chipotle Pepper Sauce and Scallions on a Flour Tortilla, $5.50). As one of the festival’s most expensive items, I was hoping for it to blow me away. But instead, I wanted to throw it away after one bite of chewy meat on a bland tortilla. The scallions were crisp and fresh, but the ribeye was dead on arrival. And I expected something more to be done to the flour tortilla – at least warming it would have been nice. This taco goes down as the “avoid at all costs” item for the year, particularly at its excessively high price.
Michelle also stopped at Argentina early in the night, craving a favorite from last year.
The Grilled Beef Skewer with Chimichurri Sauce and Boniato Puree ($5.00) is expensive, but unlike the taco in Mexico, this one is worth every penny. While I didn’t eat any of hers this year, I enjoyed this dish last year, with tender meet enhanced by light, fresh green herbs of the chimichurri sauce. The boniato puree is a nice change from standard mashed potatoes, offering a similar flavor and texture but with a twist on the American staple.
Beginning to fill up, it was moving into dessert time and Michelle wanted to try a new item at the Hops & Barley stop in America.
There she got the sponsor-infused item, Pumpkin Mousse with Ocean Spray Craisins and Orange Sauce ($1.50). It’s one of the least expensive items at the festival, but the flavor doesn’t show it. I tried a bite and was surprised by the light, yet present taste of pumpkin, which worked perfectly with the crunch on top. It’s not a huge dessert, but just enough to enjoy a few sweet bites. And the price is definitely right.
Despite my desire to try new things on this trip, I couldn’t resist finishing my meal with the best dessert at the festival, found in Ireland.
The Warm Chocolate Lava Cake with Baileys Ganache ($3.00) is a must-get every year. The name says it all, as not only is the small cake covered with a sea of liquid chocolate, but inside is a gooey ganache with just a hint of Baileys flavor that brightens the sweet and moist dish. Even after finishing the cake, I can’t resist scooping up and drinking the remaining chocolate on the plate.
The chef serving up the cake in the Ireland booth noticed I was going to take a photo and, as a culinary student, she insisted on wiping the plate edges clean for a proper presentation. It was only a paper plate, but a nice touch that shows the employees working at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival enjoy and care about what they do.
Meanwhile Michelle wasn’t quite done eating yet, desiring one of her favorites from last year, also in Ireland. She got the Cheese Selection (Aged-Irish Cheddar, Dubliner and Ivernia Cheese) with Apple Chutney and Brown Bread ($3.50) mostly for the expertly prepared chutney, which pairs with the cheeses perfectly, or works on its own.
And in the end, Michelle also enjoyed a Warm Chocolate Lava Cake after finishing her cheese. It’s a dessert no one should skip.
We left Epcot with our stomachs full, just as 9pm arrived and the nightly Illuminations: Reflections of Earth fireworks show began. We’ve seen the show countless times and had no reason to stick around, but did catch a glimpse of the beginning blasts booming behind the cranberry bog.
We left the 2011 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival having spent $42.50 total on food, with $26.50 spent on me and $16 on Michelle. It’s not a bad price for a full meal featuring a variety of worldly cuisine. And had I skipped the excessively expensive Mexican taco and relatively bland Caribbean dishes, I would still have walked away satisfied at a price of just $14.25, a bargain for the rest of the excellent food I had been served.
UPDATE (10/21/11): We made our second trip to the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, enjoying old favorites and trying more new dishes. Click here to read the new reviews and see photos of all that we ate.
The 2011 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival continues daily through November 13 at Walt Disney World. Browsing the kiosks and booths and enjoying the Eat to the Beat concert series are activities all included with park admission, but consuming food and drinks costs extra.
Plenty of seminars and special presentations are also available for booking throughout the weeks of the festival. And while notably absent from the review above, many drinks, including wine, beers, and other cocktails, are available at each of the kiosks and even at a few drink-only booths. I stick to juice and soda, but drinking around the World Showcase is a popular pastime for many who attend the event.
And for those who can’t make it to Epcot for the festival this year or simply want to enjoy it all at home, Disney has released a few instructional videos showing how to make some of the event’s favorite dishes.
More photos from the 2011 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, including each booth’s menus: