We continue on with what I feel like is an even more disjointed post than usual. I am mostly going in order of booths starting on the Canada side, but now we’re going to skip back to the start again, so…
Part 1 is available here.
Speaking of disjointed, hopefully I am not the only person amped up for the season finale of Mr. Robot. I feel like Whiterose would not be amused by the length of these posts, but also have a ball in the Germany cuckoo clock store. So maybe it’s a wash.
I am not a big proponent of what is now the $4.75 Patagonia Beef Empanada. I feel like it would be so much better with just a dollop of sour cream on the side. Maybe we could take it to Pecos Bill. But the beef does have a nice spice to it and it’s a relatively safe dish that’s fried up fresh.
The $5.75 Grilled Beef Skewer with Chimichurri Sauce and Boniato Purée is a perennial favorite of many, though I feel like what I’m served is usually overcooked and gristly. It’s perhaps hard to go wrong with this much butter though.
This is the $4.75 Jamaican Beef Patty from “The Islands of the Caribbean” which is actually two hockey-puck-looking things. It’s sort of the antithesis of Homecoming’s Chicken and Biscuits, which literally comes with one biscuit. Anyway, these have a nice chewy exterior that gives way to what tasted like curry spices mixed in with quite a bit of densely packed meat. Corless in particular didn’t care for it, but Bricker and I enjoyed them.
Ireland’s $3.75 Warm Chocolate Pudding with Irish Cream Liqueur Custard is a very chocolate-y, decadent dessert that’s made even more sweet with the custard. I feel like what’s underneath resembles more of a brownie situation than pudding, but it’s a very safe dessert that should please just about everyone that orders it.
The $6.50 Seafood Fisherman’s Pie is one of my favorite dishes at the Festival, though I felt like this year’s was lighter on the seafood than previous years. It’s still very cheesy and very tasty – but it’s not overflowing with shrimp and scallops this year like it would have been in 2k13.
We weren’t sure Brazil was a winner this year.
I’m batting one for three on the $5.50 Crispy Pork Belly with Black Beans and Tomato. Didn’t care much for it the first year. Last year was really flavorful I thought. This year’s, or at least what we were served, just kind of tasted blandly of bacon and the pork had an offputting, stringy texture. I won’t ordinarily complain that something wasn’t fatty enough, but this wasn’t.
Italy is typically in the running for worst booth I think as nothing is actively made inside the kiosk. Our $6.25 Pennete alla Parmigiana: Baked Ziti and Chicken Parmigiana, Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella and Parmesan Cheese. Nothing about this is fresh and it will have just been sitting in a food warmer until you order it. Easily bottom five overall. The pasta was gummy and virtually inedible. The chicken is a little better but I don’t see any reason to pay for it here with so many other options.
After trying the ziti, the bar was set much lower and the $6.25 Spezzatino alla Toscana con Polenta: Tuscan-style Stew with Carrots, Mushrooms and Crispy Polenta was better with several meaty bites of beef in an aromatic stew. We were less impressed by the polenta, which seemed more soggy than crispy considering it’s sitting in the sauce for however long. This might be worth a pickup if you are getting in line for something else, but I don’t think I would make a day of it.
There is typically one or two items at the Festival that I am not looking forward to. And that item is usually at Poland. Smothered in a tomato sauce of some variety. This time around that item was the $5.50 Golabki: Pork-stuffed Cabbage in Tomato Sauce. But Poland has impressed in the past and this year is no different – the cabbage doesn’t have as much to do with it as you might expect and the flavor overall is more tomato-forward than the Italy dishes with a subtle spiciness from the beef/pork mixture inside. This one might be slightly out of your comfort zone or I might just concern myself with this more than anyone else. I thought it was really good and something that I haven’t had before, which is what I think the best Food/Wine dishes epitomize.
The $9.50 Frozen Szarlotka Apple Pie featuring Zubrowka Bison Grass Vodka is a returning item with a completely different presentation.
It used to be more of a frozen concoction, but maybe there isn’t enough room in the Park for both? Anyway, I feel like the apples on the bottom of the drink are kind of silly and unnecessary, but it does give it much more of a dessert vibe. And unlike most drinks, this one is dedicated and doesn’t involve any Pinnacle flavors. It’s definitely a top five cocktail if not in the top three. Very sweet and satisfying with a decent amount of alcohol that’s almost completely masked by the apple juice. You can pick up a bottle of the vodka at the Festival Center for $30 ($23 at Total Wine).
Pretzel bread giveth and pretzel bread taketh away.
For years, this had been served in a hilariously small pretzel roll. Where else can you buy a sausage with a roll that is only 40% as long?
But perhaps like energy or Guardians of the Galaxy, pretzel bread is not created and it is not destroyed, so Canada adds a piece along with the cheese soup and Germany replaces it with what is basically a roll from Be Our Guest Restaurant. I think that removes a lot of the novelty of the brat, which is still spiced nicely and a decent portion for the money, all things considered. But I think the “hard” roll makes it a lot more skippable. And it was actually pretty soft.
The website takes theme park beer (obnoxiously) seriously and you may have seen what was very real concern on my part over the possibility that Food and Wine beer flights would be downsized from four beers to three. But instead we just don’t have any beer flights outside of Craft Beer in the Odyssey Building.
Brewer’s Collection had eight offerings as recently as two years ago before dropping to four last year. The Schöfferhofer is 2.5% ABV so I’m not even sure if that counts. Heavy sigh.
I enjoyed the $3.75 Schinkennudeln: Pasta Gratin with Ham and Cheese – $3.75 more than previous years for whatever reason, though I don’t think anything has really changed other than it’s gone up in price slower than a lot of other items.
It’s a significant portion that “feels” heavy in the tray. Very creamy and cheesy and perfectly prepared. I would add it to any visit.
The $3.75 Apple Strudel with Vanilla Sauce returns. It is another very tasty dessert, but I feel like most people have probably tried apple pie before. But they do a nice job – the crust is appropriately crispy and the apples inside are firm. The vanilla sauce is a nice change of pace too.
The $6.50 Spicy Hot Dog with Kimchi and Mustard Sauce returns to the Cool Post in between Germany and China. Corless in particular loves this thing but then his affinity for sausage is unlikely to surprise anyone. I really like the sourness of the “kimchi” and the acidity of the mustard sauce and the spiciness of the hot dog combining in between the very soft bun.
It would be a little more authentic if they moved it back to South Korea, but there is typically no wait at the Cool Post and this is a large, shareable snack when cut in half.
Africa returns two food items.
I am a Sanaa-snob, so Food/Wine’s version of the $5 Buttered Chicken with Micro Cilantro and Naan Bread doesn’t do a ton for me, but it is a relatively unique dish that has a very creamy, distinct taste. It’s not quite spicy enough for me, but it does arrive with some peppers and the naan does a nice job of soaking up the sauce. It’s not a “must buy” for me personally, but this is one of the more interesting items available and a nice portion.
The $5 Berbere-style Beef Tenderloin Tips with Onions, Jalapeños, Tomato and Pap is a similar deal. I appreciate what they are going for, but I feel like this one in particular just has a kind of generic spiciness to it and the beef isn’t particularly high quality. But it is an interesting addition for those that would like to try something a little different.
All three food items return to South Korea, including this Korean-style BBQ Beef with Steamed Rice and Cucumber Kimchi. I think most of the other beef dishes, including Africa’s, are more novel, but this is perhaps “safer.” The beef is a little sweeter than you might expect and the “kimchi” designation is kind of ridiculous. This is just cucumber and vinegar. Overall, I’m not sure that it’s compelling enough to demand a purchase, but it’s solid enough.
The $4.75 Vegan Korean BBQ with Steamed Rice and Cucumber Kimchi featuring Gardein Beefless Tips was a surprise addition last year, having not appeared on the original menu. Obviously if you are vegan then you have limited options here, but while we liked the vegan nachos in Greece, this was virtually inedible as someone that will stuff down spicy hot dogs all, day every day. The Beefless Tips had a very mushy, unpleasant texture almost like reconstituted beef.
The $4 Roasted Pork Lettuce Wrap and Kimchi is a venerable returner that offers some different flavors in an area dominated by cow. It’s a bit difficult to pick up, which seems like a shame considering that is probably the point, but it’s a refreshing choice that is milder in flavor than you might expect. It’s an above average value.
China sort of has two new food items and sort of has no new food items.
This is supposed to be the $5 Black Pepper Shrimp with Garlic Noodles, but these are very much not garlic noodles.
These are garlic noodles.
I’m not sure this is that different from what you can order 365 days a year at Lotus Blossom Cafe, but four shrimp and a pile of noodles for five bucks isn’t terrible. The dish is a little blander than you would hope for though and I’m not sure it’s special enough to deserve a purchase. You might spice it up with some hot sauce. Not disappointing though.
Speaking of Lotus Blossom, this is another “new” item in the $5.75 Sichuan Spicy Chicken.
I say “new” because you might remember that I reviewed literally the same dish that was recently added at Lotus, pictured above with rice for $10.49. So you might take that into consideration. The chicken has a nice rub to it though I think Disney typically dials down the spiciness to appease a larger demographic.
Anyway, the shrimp offer more heft but I think the chicken is a better tasting dish.
I like the $6.50 Beijing Roasted Duck in a Steamed Bun with Hoisin Sauce though it’s on the expensive side of things. The duck is sweet and salty with the sauce and the vegetables and onion provide a nice crunch. It does seem a bit rude to eat it with all of the ducks meandering about on the grass. Be discreet.
I feel like China usually has some of the stronger, better tasting drinks, but the $7 Strawberry Plum Wine Cooler with Takara Plum Wine is not one of them as they pour about an ounce of plum wine on top of the non-alcoholic juice. The other drinks should see heavier pours of the vodka, cognac, rum, etc. But it is seriously refreshing in the heat and more unique than your typical bottled Coke product.
Mexico again changes up its margarita game, necessitating their purchase from bloggers worldwide.
The $3.95 Flan de Chocolate Abuelita: Mexican Chocolate Custard was really nicely put together. We all commented that it “felt” like they were individually made inside of the dish rather than being scooped up out of a vat or sliced from a much larger flan brick. It has a rich, natural flavor to it that’s enhanced by the pinch of cinnamon up top and a faint spiciness on the back end. If you’ve had creme brulee or flan or something in the past then this probably isn’t going to change your life, but I think most people will find it enjoyable and it’s pretty refreshing even in the heat.
We liked the Barbacoa Enchilada: Corn Tortilla filled with Beef Barbacoa and covered with Oaxaca Mole too. Mexico’s offerings at the Festival are typically overpriced by a dollar, but that shouldn’t necessarily cause you to avoid the $5.50 enchilada this year with its subtle sweetness of the mole(ay) contrasting nicely with the fried onions. Mexican food is obviously pervasive but this is executed well enough that I would get in line specifically to order it.
There are two options here – the $9 Jalapeño Margarita on the Rocks. And at half the price of Cava, it’s pretty decent quality for what is basically now the same thing.
The jalapeno in particular tastes and smells strongly of tequila, so if that’s a turnoff you’ll want to avoid it. Personally, I want the drink to taste as bad as I know I’m going to feel the next morning. But relatively speaking, the Jalapeno is a good value and comes recommended if you’re doing cocktails.
The Mezcal Pineapple Margarita on the Rocks is a much sweeter proposition and at least with the one that we were served, seemed to pack less of a punch than the Jalapeno. A better choice if you don’t like spicy, obviously.
The layout over here is a little different but this is what you’re looking at.
Nothing was new at Australia but we gave the $5 Grilled Sweet and Spicy Bush Berry Shrimp with Pineapple, Pepper, Onion and Snap Peas a shot. Like with Flower/Garden, the size of the shrimp has come down over the years and while pineapple is billed at the top of the accompaniments, the flavor is mostly bland spiciness from the pepper and onion. I do like the pea pods though – crunchy and the spiciness works really well with the fresh flavors. It’s not a terribly unique dish overall, but it should satisfy.
At least on the first day, what they were serving as Lamington: Yellow Cake Dipped in Chocolate and Shredded Coconut for $3 seemed to be abysmally sized though the price is lower than a lot of other items. The cake is also typically on the dry side. I don’t think I’d recommend it over the flan in Mexico.
New Zealand returns all three food items as well, including one of my favorites in the $5.25 Lamb Meatball with Spicy Tomato Chutney. It’s a big portion for the money as the well-seasoned lamb sits inside of an unadvertised bread puff that’s then topped with a flavorful tomato sauce that’s packed with even more stuff. It’s top five for me.
Florida Fresh at Flower and Garden is called Farm Fresh at Food and Wine, which doesn’t make a ton of sense in my opinion. But perhaps Farm Fresh at a Garden Festival would be redundant. This is the $4.75 Chicken and Dumplings: Stewed Chicken with Mushrooms and Spinach, which we all thought was on the blander side of things. But the soup did complement the dumplings quite well. Creamy comfort food at its finest. At this price point it’s hard to give the couple bites of mushy chicken a ringing endorsement, but it was okay if you’re looking for something hot.
The $3.75 Pickled Beet Salad with Herbed Goat Cheese, Minus 8 Vinaigrette and Toasted Walnuts was a better proposition.
The goat cheese worked exceptionally here with the creaminess contrasting nicely with the sweet/sourness of the beets and acidity of the dressing. The walnuts provided a nice crunch. I am not usually a beet person, but I appreciated trying a couple of bites here with the spinach and other fresh, vibrant flavors. Quite good, particularly if you’re in the mood for a salad, which is a somewhat rare item at this year’s Festival.
Craft Beer again situates itself inside of the Odyssey Building, which is a nice, air-conditioned respite from the afternoon weather, whether we’re talking about the blistering high temperatures of September and early October or the potentially cool weather of mid-November.
Six beers in total are offered, each 6-ounce pour of which will set you back $3.75 to $4 or they are available as a 3x 4-ounce flight for $9.
As I mention every time, I appreciate that Disney is going local with the beer. The cash infusion certainly helps small business owners and it’s a nice opportunity for snobs like myself to try some beer that isn’t going to be available in most other locations. The bad news is of course that Florida beer is not very good for the most part with 3 Daughters and Orlando Brewing being two of the worst. But there is not much risk here with 4-ounce pours particularly if you go in it with a couple of other people. Pick up. One sip. Gag. Put down. No harm, no foul.
And it’s all on draft. We all did enjoy the Passport Belgian though. It might be a shame that nothing larger than 6-ounces is available.
Food-wise, there is one new item in the $4.25 Piggy Wings: Fried Pork Wings with Korean BBQ Sauce and Sesame Seeds. At $2.125 each, they are on the expensive side, but they are meatier than they look with tender chicken with a really robust, tangy flavor. I wish they would throw us a bone and stick a third in the tray, but you could do worse. Others in our group were raving about them even more than I was.
Overall, I thought this was a pretty solid Festival with many of the new items coming in better than the ones they were replacing. Italy in particular strikes me as a hard skip and you’re going to have to do your best to ignore prices, but put $100 on a gift card and have a good time sampling the various kiosks. My advice would be to share on the first lap around and then return to favorites during a second loop. You never know what will surprise you and this is a fun opportunity to try a lot of different things in a festive atmosphere without having to commit to larger portions.
We might take a look at the Festival Center and some merchandise before I basically rewrite this booth-by-booth giving each item a lower rating than my description would indicate.