Edit: Added review for Jamaican-brasied Beef to La Isla Fresca, updated photos for China’s Gaoli Beef Slider and Strawberries, and added pictures and a review of China’s Dragon Pearl.
We pick up coverage of the 2016 Epcot Flower and Garden and Food and Wine Festival with reviews of the various items available at the Outdoor Kitchens that circle World Showcase.
La Isla Fresca
We begin at the first booth as you take a left towards the Mexico Pavilion. Up first is La Isla Fresca, which is all-new this year.
As in past years, all food items and non-alcoholic beverages count as a snack credit on the Disney Dining Plan. Those with amassed credits can do some real damage here as items cost an average of around $5 each. The only exception is the Spicy Hot Dog at Pineapple Promenade, which costs $7 and is not eligible on the Dining Plan.
Here we have one each of the four food items and the $10.25 Frozen Simply Tropical Juice Drink Served with Cruzan (pronounced croosh-in) Mango Rum.
First up with the good news. This is the $5.25 Jerk-spice Chicken with Mango Salsa, Chayote and Green Papaya Slaw with Lime-Cilantro Vinaigrette.
This is (unfortunately, perhaps) one of the bigger portions for the money at this year’s Festival and the flavor is on point. The chicken has a nice spice to it thanks to the rub, which is heavy on the pepper and creates sort of a crispy exterior that gives way to the juicy chicken. The fresh mango salsa provides not only a burst of color to the dish, but the fruitiness offers a nice contrast to the spice of the chicken coupled with the vinegar in the dressing and acidity of the onions in the slaw underneath. The chayote, which is a variety of gourd or squash, doesn’t have much flavor on its own and instead serves to soak up the best flavors of what’s placed on top of it. Overall, this is some of the best of what the Festival has to offer with many interesting flavors combining into a dish that ends up being more unique than you might expect.
As always, taste and value are compared to other items at the Festival.
The dish is also available with grouper instead of chicken for the same money.
The portion on this one is almost laughably disappointing. Now, grouper is three or four times more expensive than chicken on a pound-for-pound basis, so it potentially makes sense that the amount you would receive for the same money would be less, but the fish here amounts to two bites at best. And you don’t get anywhere close to the same amount of anything else, either. With the chicken, you could count 20 or more pieces of mango. With the fish, you’ve got maybe seven. It’s unfortunate because what you do get arguably tastes better than the chicken with the firm, mild fish pairing nicely with the citrus and parsley notes from the lime-cilantro vinaigrette. Maybe…maybe if you have a snack credit to spare you might consider this. But at three bucks a bite, I can’t recommend it.
The $5.75 Jamaican-braised Beef served with Pigeon Pea Rice and Micro Cilantro is my favorite beef dish of the Festival. One only has to poke the beef once before it falls apart – that’s how tender it is and the flavorful sauce that’s spooned over the top is packed with a variety of spices. Very good and in the grand scheme of things, a decent value.
Like most of the Outdoor Kitchens that follow, the menu offers two savory items followed by a dessert-y dish, this time in the form of the $3.75 Tres Leches with Guava Purée. This was almost terrific and I assume it will be in the near future. Sometimes on the first day you find some items with iffy execution. Our three milks bread was a little on the soggy side, thanks to the fact that it’s traditionally soaked in three different kinds of milk, though the flavor was excellent. The tropical guava combined nicely with the creamy vanilla frosting topped with toasted coconut over the moist sponge cake underneath. It’s a pretty big portion too. Nobody had any apprehension about going in for a second bite.
Value: Very poor.
Red Stripe is brewed by Desnoes & Geddes, which was for a time controlled by Guinness, which became Diageo, and is now distributed by Heineken. And least that’s true for the international markets. The U.S. supply is brewed in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, not unlike Presidente or Kingfisher. The flavor profile is a rather basic, sweet malty cereal with a light body. It’s not terrible by any means, but you’ll find it at most grocery stores in a 12-pack for around $11 and it’s not even on draft here. Very skippable.
The Frozen Simply Tropical Juice Drink is available non-alcoholic for $4.25 or with a drop of mango rum on the bottom for a $5 upcharge. I think without any exceptions all of the various cocktails are just the regular non-alcoholic version on top of an often unenthusiastic pour that is more like a shrug than Tom Cruise in Cocktail. Anyway, this is a pretty decent frozen drink made of Simply Tropical, which is pure filtered water, pineapple juice, cane sugar, mango puree, and lemon juice. It has a nice natural sweetness to it and the consistency is even and balanced. Very refreshing. As usual, there’s typically very little alcohol in any of the drinks. Those looking to get their money’s worth should stick to some of the better beers.
Jardin de Fiestas
Mexico’s Outdoor Kitchen actually moved to the other side of La Cantina, which should help alleviate some of the congestion often found in that corridor.
It’s usually a toss up between Mexico and Italy over which booth I’m looking to spend $25 at least. Both are operated by third parties, which often leads to high price points, small portions, and questionable quality as the operators have to kick back a percentage of their revenue to the Mouse.
A shrimp taco of some variety has been a staple here for years.
This is the Food and Wine Festival version of the same name, here with battered shrimp, pico de gallo, pickled onions, and chipotle mayonnaise.
Here we have the $5.75 Tacos de Camarón: Tempura Shrimp served with Hibiscus Flower, Caramelized Onions and Habanero Sauce. The portion size on this is incredibly small – the tortilla is perhaps three inches across and the shrimp are about a third as big as what we’ll see from the similarly priced and far superior Shrimp and Grits at Florida Fresh. The flavor is better than most of Mexico’s previous entries on the shrimp taco front. The sauce has a zesty, peppery spice to it and the caramelized onions in the viscous sauce help bring that out even more. The subtle, berry-sweet flavor of the hibiscus flower is probably overpowered by everything else, but it does provide a nice punch of color on top. Overall, even for the Festival, this is easily $1.25 overpriced. At $4.50 I’d say go ahead and order one. It’s up to you whether you want to ignore that it costs $1.25 more than that.
Here’s this year’s $5.50 Corn Tortilla Quesadilla served with Roasted Mushrooms and Zucchini Blossom topped with Green Tomatillo Sauce. We saw basically the same item served last year. At the time, I said that entry “might be the worst value at any booth.” This year, I’m willing to go on the record and say it’s absolutely the worst value at any booth. The price is outrageous and insulting for what you receive. This is maybe, maybe three inches long by two inches wide and it’s filled with maybe 12 cents worth of mushroom and zucchini specks. A fair Festival price for this would be $2.50. It’s complete nonsense. Otherwise, there is a very surprising spiciness to it that overwhelms any possible flavors from the vegetables. Whoever is in charge of this booth should be arrested for theft.
The first time any dish has been awarded a zero in 5+ years.
Mexico typically does a nice job with its perennial flan, this time with the $4.20 Flan de Rosas served with Hibiscus Reduction. The custard is rich and creamy and the hibiscus adds a subtle sort of tart, sort of sweet component once the caramelized sugar is broken apart. Very good and not a bad value at all.
Oh man, 3.7% is almost in Schofferhofer-why-am-I-bothering-to-put-forth-the-effort-to-even-swallow-this territory. This is produced by the same brewery that brings us Dos Equis and Sol, among others. Allow me to cut the snobbery for a moment and say that this isn’t a bad light macro with the usual sweet grainy corn flavor, perhaps watered down a bit more than usual with the low alcohol content. It’s certainly a light option for those that don’t want to fill up on the (superior) beer ahead in Germany. On the value front, it’s a little better than the Red Stripe – more expensive in stores and it’s on draft here.
$9 buys you the very pink Rosa Margarita filled to the brim with ice and then dispensed from a vat that La Cava would probably like to get their hands on after the Festival concludes. On the mixed drink front, it’s not terrible compared to what you’ll find elsewhere and you can actually taste the (extremely cheap) tequila at the front of each sip before it’s washed away with the cloyingly sweet syrup. Not good, but nothing else is going to be either.
$8.75 buys you a glass of “Elderflower Watermelon Sangria,” which I’m 97% sure uses boxed Beso Del Sol White Sangria as a base. Otherwise, the sangria is a refreshing, light, fruity drink that’s tempered only slightly by the earthy citrus of the elderflower liqueur. It’s much easier to consume than the margarita, though the alcohol content is likely less. You can otherwise buy three liters of the sangria in a box at the store for $19.
Lotus House returns in front of the China Pavilion.
Two food items return in addition to the $5.75 Gaoli Beef Bun, which is a cross between the Gaoli Beef Slider and Beijing Roasted Duck from this past year’s Food and Wine Festival.
This is basically mildly spicy Mongolian beef inside of a chewy steamed bun topped with a bit of red onion. During Food and Wine coverage, I mentioned that a bun like this would make a lot more sense than the dense poppy seed roll that they used in the fall and apparently somebody agreed. This suffers from a similar fate as Mexico’s taco – it’s not bad by any means, but the serving size is awfully small for the money and doesn’t really present much value. The beef is cheap, chewy, and fatty and the glaze doesn’t taste any better than your neighborhood haunt. $4 would be a far more reasonable price.
The $4.95 Beijing-style Candied Strawberries are a returning cult favorite. They are extremely sweet with the hardened sugar glaze giving way to the (hopefully) juicy fruit encased inside. Watch your teef on the candy shell – one only needs to stand around for a minute or two before hearing someone yell out an enthusiastic “owwwwwww.” I think there’s still some sugar stuck in my teeth somewhere from last year’s Festival. Value and taste are hard to quantify on this one. You either love them or hate them and you’re literally buying three strawberries and seven cents worth of sugar for five bucks. They are easily shareable.
Last year, this was listed as “Vegetable Spring Roll,” which is not particularly descriptive. This year, it’s “Vegetable Spring Roll with Orange Dipping Sauce,” which I guess at a minimum identifies the color of the accompanying sauce, even if it doesn’t offer any more details beyond that. $4.50 otherwise buys you two flaky spring rolls that have a nice crunch to them coupled with the crispy vegetables inside. They are not at all greasy, which is nice.
Unfortunately, they have almost no flavor whatsoever outside of what’s provided by the dollop of spicy sauce. These are a decent vegetarian option and provide a decent number of bites for the money, but they’re only a slight improvement from the Costco freezer aisle.
The $6.50 Peach Oolong Tea with popping bubbles is non-alcoholic and while expensive, is incredibly refreshing on hot days. It’s about $2 more than most of the frozen drinks, but the portion is significantly larger and the flavors more unique.
Pour quality varies a bit from cast member to cast member, but China often does an admirable job of hooking you up and I would visit this booth over any of the others for their Kung Fu Punch, which is an ice cold, sweet, light mango and orange juice drink topped with Smirnoff and triple sec. You might eyeball the drink window and see what the pours are looking like before committing. It should be just one cast member doing the honors.
The $8.50 Dragon Pearl: Beer, Honey, Cream and Tapioca Pearls is easily the most interesting cocktail offered at this year’s Festival. It has never occurred to me to pour honey and cream into my beer before. The taste profile on this one, especially upon the first sip, is very strange and I heard several people around me make that same comment. After the initial shock, I think the flavor starts to grow on you, though the bitterness of the beer never really fully meshes with the sweet flavors of the honey/cream. You sort of get the thinner taste of the beer up front before it’s washed away by the thicker cream and honey. People were typically nursing these as they walked around World Showcase. It’s not a quick drink at all, particularly with the heaviness of the cream. Unfortunately, the tapioca pearls are not pictured here because I didn’t receive any in my drink. I think the cast member was confused because the woman behind me didn’t want any in hers. Occasionally the cast members you encounter are particularly authentic and in China’s case, sometimes difficult to understand. I was a little disappointed as trying to suck up all the little balls is 90% of the fun. Don’t let them hand you one without. I think it’s worth trying, though it’s hard to say just how unhealthy it is. You probably want to start with one and pick up a second if it wows you. At least somebody in your group probably isn’t going to like it.
The $8.50 Honey Mango Wine Cooler is on the right and is a much less boozy, sweeter, lighter version of the Kung Fu Punch. It has a natural sweetness to it from the honey and is altogether very pleasing to the palate, though it’s quite expensive for what you get. Hard to say what the alcohol content is, but you’d think it would be in the very low single digits. I thought it would be served from a bottle or something, but it comes out of a beverage dispenser like the Punch.
$5 is a pretty hefty price to pay for about an ounce and a half of unnamed plum wine, which typically come in around 18% ABV and is available all year at the Joy of Tea stand. The flavor is otherwise sweet with a lot of alcohol at the front of each sip.
Value: Not great Bob.
Tsingtao is a fairly ubiquitous American adjunct lager, similar to Corona Extra or Budweiser. Some may deem it thin and watery, while others will respect its light mouthfeel and slight sweetness. I fall on the thin/watery side, but it is refreshing in the (potential) spring heat. It’s always available throughout the Pavilion. Maybe Disney’s entry into Shanghai will bring some more interesting options from the likes of Boxing Cat or Great Leap. Not that their foray in Hong Kong has produced much fruit on that front.
Bauernmarkt, a name I spell correctly approximately zero percent of the time, has moved across from the model train set on the Italy side of the Germany Pavilion.
The German entry into the Festival would ordinarily be situated here to the left of where Snow White ordinarily meets, but some sort of permanent-looking installation is going in.
Perhaps a permanent home for Snow White.
The Outdoor Kitchen returns after a hiatus that lasted a couple of years – it was one of the originals from 2013 before glowing away in 2014 and 2k15.
$4.50 buys you the Chicken Fricassee with Green Asparagus and Peas served with Uncle Ben’s Rice Pilaf. Because nothing says Oma’s cooking from the motherland like Uncle Ben’s microwavable rice cups. I always say. Anyway, the portion size is pretty decent for the money, relatively speaking. You’ve got several hearty pieces of chicken hiding underneath the peas, asparagus, and onion with a solid base of rice. Unfortunately, I thought the chicken was grossly under-seasoned and the sauce only offered a bland creaminess on top of what are likely frozen vegetables. Not great, but more filling for the money than most of what we’ve seen so far.
This is the $5 Currywurst with Paprika Chips: Roasted Bratwurst with Curry Ketchup and Paprika-spiced Chips. It’s a heaping portion for the money with something like ten slices of sausage and a generous handful of paprika chips.
Longtime readers may remember that for a short time back in 2013, Sommerfest, the quick service in Germany, was serving a very similar tray of Currywurst as pictured above for $9. The Flower and Garden version is nearly identical in size and vastly improved on flavor. The pork sausage is tender with a little snap in each bite from the casing. On the downside, the cast member in charge of ketchup poured way too much on the dish, covering the currywurst and causing the paprika chips, which probably shouldn’t really come into contact with the ketchup at all, to be extremely soggy. So if you do order this, you may want to refuse the first one they offer you and ask for the ketchup to be more on the side of the sausage. Otherwise, as it stands, this is probably the best food value at the Festival. You also get that cute little green Epcot swizzle stick poked into one of the pieces.
The $3.75 “Arme Ritter” – Egg Battered Toast with Cherry Compote and Powdered Sugar is probably on the receiving end of prettiest looking, most vibrant dish.
Literally translating to “poor knights” and something we would both probably call “French toast,” the arme ritter consists of a couple bites of fluffy bread that soaks up the generous, heaping portion of mostly tart cherries that are then sweetened up with the powdered sugar. I thought the bread itself could have used some cinnamon or nutmeg or something to make it taste a little more lively. Almost all of the flavor here is coming from the cherries. Still, this is a relatively “light” dessert and is fabulous after enjoying the other more savory dishes here. Good for the money and hopefully you’ll do better on the bread itself.
Since I’m already 3,000 words into this review, I’ll spare you the retread of the gory details of beers I’ve reviewd in the past and are otherwise available throughout the Germany Pavilion. The two exceptions are the Paulaner, a very good hefeweizen that I reviewed very favorably also on draft at Jock Lindsey’s, and the Shwarzbier. I don’t personally have any use for the 2.5% Schofferhofer, a beer that’s available all over WDW. But if you “don’t like beer,” it might be a good choice as it’s more of a grapefruit shandy not unlike a Leinenkugel shandy. The Dunkel here is only okay, though it’s a very fun word to say. The beer pictured above is one that I hadn’t tried before and as far as I know, hasn’t appeared on property yet. It’s the Köstritzer Schwarzbier, which is an excellent 4.8% ABV black lager served on draft. It’s very smooth with the usual coffee, caramel, and roasty malts present. It’s lighter and crisper than a lot of similarly tasting beers that would fall closer to the porter or stout varieties. It’s definitely the most interesting of the bunch. A 6-pack at Total Wine would set you back $11, so it’s a better value proposition than the other beers available too.
I should be back on Monday with the next four booths – Primavera Kitchen, Smokehouse, Hanami, and Taste of Marrakesh. We should have a moment to pop into Animal Kingdom in the meantime.