As you may be aware, the website reviews more than 250 items at the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival each and every year. You can find an index of those reviews, along with the respective menus for each Marketplace, here. The first day of the Festival is always a bit of a slog. Picture a bunch of socially-awkward, very sweaty dudes carrying big cameras and taking pictures of itty-bitty food samples in a tight semi-circle in more than 40 different locations over the course of eight hours and you’ll begin to get an idea about what “Festival Day” entails. Amusingly, we all could have dined at the Chef’s Table at Victoria & Albert’s for the amount of money we spent on day one and then it’s about 50 hours of writing the reviews. Of course, we return to Epcot over the course of the Festival to revisit some items that we didn’t much care for and to make sure some of our favorites are still worth the money. I’ve already updated the reviews a couple of times during the Festival, but I thought I would take an opportunity to look over some stuff Erin and I enjoyed(?) last week.
First up, a return to the $4.75 “Piggy Wings: Roasted Pork Wings with Korean BBQ Sauce and Sesame Seeds.” This is what the original review states:
The wings offer a surprising amount of tender, tangy, satisfying roasted pork topped with a generous sprinkle of crunchy, nutrient-rich sesame seeds. Relatively speaking, I think these are at least a dollar overpriced – if the dish arrived with three wings it would be a no-brainer. But as is, they’re worth picking up if you have plans on ordering another item or two. I’m not sure I’d specifically seek these out if the wait to order was 10+ minutes.
I’ve been really impressed with these so far this year. They first appeared a couple of years ago at the Craft Beer Marketplace. They were good there, too, but just about everything from Flavors from Fire is roasted, smoked, and grilled right next to the Marketplace, making for some incredibly fresh, delicious offerings. While paying nearly five bucks for two wings is on the rough side, the meat is so tender and flavorful that I think the original value rating is a little low. There’s also quite a bit of pork clinging to the bone, which also increases the value proposition.
Interestingly, just three days after ordering the first pair, we returned for another go-around, this time finding a sweet cabbage slaw underneath. It’s probably an unnecessary addition – if anything, the creaminess of the slaw adds too much moisture to the wings, but it was nice to have something to soak up the tangy sauce after the pork was gone. Whatever version you’re served, the wings are a crowd pleaser.
Also found at Flavors From Fire, we have the $5 “Smoked Corned Beef with Warm Crispy Potatoes, Pickled Onions and Blonde Ale Beer Fondue featuring BelGioioso Romano and American Grana Cheeses,” which I think is one of the best overall dishes at what is probably the Festival’s best overall Marketplace. The corn beef is lean and smoky on top of the crispy chips that are covered in a deliciously creamy beer cheese sauce. Very shareable, though you probably won’t want to.
Originally, the $5.25 “Braised Beef ‘Stroganoff’ with Tiny Egg Noodles, Wild Mushroom, and Boursin Garlic and Fine Herbs Cheese Sauce,” found at the Cheese Studio, was one of my least favorite items at the Festival. I actually wondered out loud how it could be so bad. I even returned to it a second time this year about a month into the Festival.
And it was even worse. Look at that disgusting blob of fat glistening in the sun alongside a pickle and overcooked beef.
After hearing some good things beginning about two weeks ago, I returned to give it another shot and it actually appears to be considerably better now with a sizable hunk of fork-tender, lean beef sitting on top a large portion of the egg noodles and a tasty, herb-y sauce full of fresh mushrooms. I’d give this a 7 on Flavor and a 9 on Value – it’s a really hefty portion. I’m still not sure about the pickle, though.
I give the $8 “Le Cellier Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle-Butter Sauce” from Canada a shot every year – sometimes it impresses, other times it gives Toy Story Land a run for its money on the dud scale.
The website’s official review this year states:
Quality on this typically varies as no two pieces of beef are exactly the same, but I think Disney has improved quality control quite a bit in the last couple of years. Or at least the six steaks that we’ve purchased over the last three years have all been lean, tender, and cooked to a perfect medium. The sauce remains rich and creamy with a real earthy component from the truffle and grilled mushrooms that adorn the top of each piece. Presentation has also improved with the sauce neatly ladled over the meat along with the herb topper. At $8, it remains an expensive proposition, but it’s “only” about $2 more than other beef items for a much higher quality piece of steak. It’s recommended and a no-brainer on the Disney Dining Plan as it’s one of the most expensive food items at the Festival.
I had much less luck this year here with an end piece of the beef cooked a lot closer to medium-well than medium. There’s also barely any sauce on the meat and the plating on the shiny black plastic plate isn’t doing it any favors.
On one hand, Disney is swearing off plastic straws and lids at the same time they’re introducing hundreds of thousands of little plastic plates to area landfills instead of using what I’m sure are much more recyclable paper boats. Anyway, the review probably stands, though I’d rate what we received a three or a four on flavor and value. It’s still a good buy on the Dining Plan.
Fortunately, my $5.50 “Lamb Meatball with Spicy Tomato Chutney” from New Zealand continues to impress on each and every outing.
So good and a lot of food for the money, relatively speaking.
It might be disingenuous to say that the $4 “Freshly Baked Carrot Cake and Cream Cheese Icing” from Hops & Barley is “so much more than carrot cake” considering the fact that it’s literally carrot cake.
But it’s so good each and every time.
There are some items that I recommend and then some items that I recommend and the “Bougatsa: Warm Phyllo Dough Strudel with Sweet Vanilla Custard, Lemon Honey Syrup and Cinnamon” from Greece is firmly in the latter camp. It’s a sleeper pick for “Best Festival Dessert That Isn’t the Liquid Nitro Chocolate-Almond Truffle.” The luscious custard interior that’s sweetened up with a natural honey flavor and a lot of cinnamon is surrounded by an airy, crispy phyllo dough wrapper that’s impressively rich and buttery in its own right. Really fantastic – it’s similar to baklava without the nuts.
On the opposite end of the popularity spectrum, we gave Hawaii’s $5 “Kalua Pork Slider with Sweet and Sour Dole Pineapple Chutney and Spicy Mayonnaise” another shot.
They’re in such high demand that the majority of the little sandwiches are made elsewhere and walked over to the Marketplace on large trays. Typically, the freshest foods taste the best, which is why Flavors From Fire, with just about everything cooked minutes before it’s served, fares better than Mexico, where your sad little cheese rollups might be made three or four hours earlier in the day. Anyway, our slider was dry with a paltry amount of pork in between the soggy bun. A bit of a disappointment to say the least.
Here’s an example of what the sliders have looked like in the past.
Erin and I also returned to the $5.25 “Grilled Tuna Tataki with Seaweed Salad, Pickled Cucumbers and Wasabi Cream,” an item that I hadn’t reviewed favorably in the past, saying:
While there’s more tuna on the plate than what you would have received a couple of years ago, it was gummy, virtually flavorless, and had a slimy, wet texture. Disney typically steers clear of real spice, so I’m not sure what they were going for with the wasabi cream, which tasted like watered-down mayonnaise. I’m not crazy about the pickled cucumber mixed in with the seafood salad either. Others have reported better luck and I’ll return to this myself later in the Festival to see if things have improved. I wouldn’t write it off entirely.
I’m not sure that things have noticeably improved. You can see all of the water, most likely from the seaweed, pooling underneath the tuna and in turn creating an unattractive, watered-down mess. This time around, there was barely any of the Wasabi Cream, which is the white substance towards the bottom of the plate. On the plus side, the tuna was flavorful this time around and seasoned nicely. Still, if you have a real hankering for tuna, I’d probably go with the Sesame Crusted Tuna Salad from Sunshine Seasons. I think this remains a pretty easy skip until they find a better way to serve it.
Better is one of my favorite returning items from the Festival in the $5 “Liquid Nitro Chocolate-Almond Truffle with Warm Whiskey-Caramel” from the Chocolate Studio. I describe it as “impossibly creamy, rich, chocolate-y, and satisfying” and while the novelty has probably worn off a bit, it’s still a refreshing and deliciously cold dessert, particularly with high temperatures that still flirt with 90+ degrees.
Also now offered at the Chocolate Studio, the $9.75 “Twinings Pumpkin Spice Chai Tea Frozen Cocktail with Caramel Vodka” arrives with a different look this year.
Here’s last year’s version, which I think I preferred. There was a much greater depth of flavor with pumpkin, cinnamon, nutmeg, and caramel combining to create a cold and refreshing drink. The crumble on top also added some texture and helped cut some of the fall spice, which is what overwhelms the flavor profile this year. The current version is still quite good, but the flavor is just one-note spice with your standard milkshake consistency. I had last year’s as a 10/10 but would rate this closer to a 7. At under ten dollars. it’s still a decent value, relatively speaking.
There are two main scallop options at the Festival, each located just steps away from one another. This is the $6 “Seared Scallops with Roasted Corn, Butterbean Succotash and Chili-chipotle Butter Sauce” from Coastal Eats, which I think might be the better of the two. The butter sauce has a really addicting quality to it, rich with a bit of sugar and chili pepper heat. We also see the addition of a third scallop this year. #blessed
Here’s a lousy picture of this year’s $6 “Seared Scallops, Truffled Celery Root Purée, Brussels Sprouts and Wild Mushrooms” from the Wine and Dine Studio.
Here’s last year’s, which we far preferred. This year, the mushrooms were like gummy curtains surrounding the scallops, which don’t carry much flavor on their own. There was also much less of the mashed-potato-ish Celery Root Puree and just a single leaf from a Brussels Sprout. Hopefully you’ll have more luck, but the Coastal Eats version is far more vibrant this year.
Another terrible picture that was also taken in the dark, this time with the $4.50 “Butternut Squash Ravioli with Brown Butter Vinaigrette, Parmesan Cheese and Pumpkin Seeds,” which is also from the same Marketplace.
Here’s last year’s version, which was served on this more attractive paper plate. Here’s my official review:
We’re not in raviolo territory here, which means each plate arrives with two small ravioli stuffed with sweet, soft squash and topped with a decadent Brown Butter Vinaigrette with a deliciously nutty richness with a little bit of acid to help cut some of the sugar. The pasta retains a nice firm al dente quality and the Pumpkin Seeds add crunch along with a couple thin pieces of freshly-sliced Parmesan Cheese to bring it all together. It’s not an overwhelming portion by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s restaurant-quality pasta and a solid dish that’s only going to taste better as temperatures cool. I wasn’t even mad that it cost $4.50.
While I can’t yet speak to the temperatures cooling, I can confirm that the ravioli remain absolutely delicious and come recommended, even at this price point. I’m sure the temperature will drop under 70 degrees at some point in the future.
Here’s another cool weather favorite, this time with the $4.25 “Schinkennudeln: Pasta Gratin with Ham, Onions and Cheese” from Germany. We lucked out one time last week with a fresh batch that had just been delivered that was absolutely packed with meaty ham. A couple of days later, we ordered it again, and without exaggerating, received a piece with “literally” three pieces of ham. Either way, it’s a delicious mixture of pasta, cheese, and heavy cream with a touch of nutmeg. The one thing I’d like to see out of the Festival is something that they probably can’t provide: Consistency.
Also from Germany, we have the $5.50 “Roast Bratwurst in a Pretzel Roll.” I’ve always thought the pretzel roll was comically small – you’d think a thicker, shorter sausage might work better, but it’s been long, thin, and spilling over long before the move over to the pretzel bread a couple of years ago. It tastes too much like your standard Jimmy Dean breakfast sausage to earn a hearty recommendation from me, “but it’s here.”
Rounding out your German selections, we have the $4 “Apple Strudel with Vanilla Sauce,” which I’ve also tried twice this year. Both times I didn’t think the crust was nearly crispy enough, instead just providing a soft house for the crisp spiced apples inside. The flavor is still on point with the cinnamon apples combining with the sweet vanilla sauce to make for a really comforting dessert. I’d like to see more of a contrast between the crust and filling, though. Four bucks isn’t a terrible price to pay either way.
Elsewhere on the sausage front, we move over to Ireland and the $5.50 “Roasted Irish Sausage with Colcannon Potatoes and Onion Gravy.”
While the picture is pretty bad, we were impressed by the portion size and flavor of the dish this year, which is a departure from past experiences. The Colcannon Potatoes enjoyed a nice firmness underneath the sweet onion sauce, while still being creamy and decadent with a lot of butter and cream. The sausages may or may not be the same as they’ve always been, but we appreciated more spice than the German version with a satisfying plumpness that you won’t find in the version served alongside the pretzel roll. Surprisingly hearty overall and a good choice in the evening as temperatures (eventually) cool.
Also from Ireland, I gave the $4.75 “Warm Irish Cheddar Cheese and Stout Dip with Irish Brown Bread” another shot. Officially:
Opinions on this one ran the gamut from “hands thrown up in the air terrible” to “wow this is really good.” The dip has more of a gritty fondue texture than you might be expecting to go along with a rich cheesy taste. I liked it a lot with the fresh soda bread – firm, but crumbly with a sweet aftertaste and a hearty character. One downside is that you need at least three times as much bread for the amount of dip/fondue you get. So dip deep from the first bite or grab some spoons. I enjoyed it, but you might want to order one and share before committing to 12 plates/bowls and at $4.75, there probably isn’t an overwhelming amount of value here given the meager amount of bread presented. The Cheddar Cheese Soup coming up in Canada with the Pretzel Bread is always a crowd favorite.
What we tried this year was much less gritty and also arrived with a third piece of bread, meaning you only need about twice as much to mop up all the delicious fondue. I may start carrying a baguette around with me. The Canadian version is a “safer bet,” probably, but I preferred the depth of cheesy flavor here.
While I continue to lament the loss of the Fisherman’s Pie two years ago, we return to Coastal Eats for the $5.75 “Baked Shrimp Scampi Dip with Sourdough Baguette.” Previously, I had this to say about it:
This was packed with butter, garlic, cheese, shrimp, and herbs and served with two long slices of fresh sourdough that pairs really nicely against the rich creamy cheesiness of the dip. It might be more of a November dish than a September dish, but I thought it was deliciously decadent and a good value given the size and amount of shrimp.
It might have been the fact that we tried this during the middle of a hot October afternoon, but what we received most recently was overwhelmingly garlicky and a little lighter on the shrimp than I remember. Hopefully you’ll have better luck.
One item that’s made all-the-more-refreshing in the heat is the $4.50 “Banana Almond Soft-serve Sundae with Fresh Berries and Chocolate Almond Streusel.” This is Erin’s pick for the best of the Festival with its creamy texture and fresh banana flavor sweetened up with the berry syrup and crunchy chocolate almond streusel. It’s not quite as high up there for me, but it’s certainly an interesting take on ice cream and worth a try. Don’t tell anyone that we snapped a picture of the recipe from the cookbook.
Rounding out our food selections this time around, we return to India for the first time with the $5.25 “Korma Chicken wiith Cucumber Tomato Salad, Almonds, Cashews and Warm Naan Bread.” As far as basic red chicken curry goes, this was pretty good with quite a bit of braised chicken underneath the salad. It seems a bit odd to lump the two on top of each other, particularly given the fact that the Korma itself isn’t particularly spicy, but here we are. I like to scoop the chicken onto the naan and eat it that way.
We’ve tried a wide variety of wines over the course of the Festival.
You’ll be the first to know if I run into one that doesn’t taste like wine.
On the non-alcoholic front, we return to China’s $6.75 “Mango Bubble Tea with Assam Black Tea and Milk.” It’s a cold and refreshing drink that’s creamy without being heavy and sweet without being overwhelming. It’s one of my favorite non-alcoholic beverages to enjoy in the lingering afternoon heat.
Beer-wise, I would call your attention back to Block & Hans at The American Adventure, which recently installed a draft system with six options.
It’s your best bet for a quality 12-ounce draft for around the same money as you’d spend on two lesser 6-ounce beers from the various Marketplaces.
Hopefully your Food and Wine Festival travels continue to go well.