We continue from Flavors From Fire.
Active Eats is part of Future World’s “Culinary Corridor” along with Earth Eats and Coastal Eats.
All of the food items are new this year, though some see bigger changes than others:
The Loaded Mac ‘n’ Cheese subtly changes, adding Leeks this year. The Salmon is still Spice-crusted and Verlasso, but the bed of vegetables is considerably different, arriving with Quinoa and Ancient Grains instead of last year’s “Power Salad.” The Fruit and Nut Energy Snack is also a big departure from last year, while the M.I.A. Sparkling Water is simply a different flavor.
- Loaded Macaroni & Cheese with Nueske’s Pepper Bacon, Cheddar and Leeks — $5.25
- Spice-crusted Verlasso Salmon with UNCLE BEN’S Quinoa & Ancient Grains Medley, Crushed Avocado and Sherry Vinegar — $5.75
- Fruit and Nut Energy Snack: House-made mixture of Apricots, Almonds, Pecans, Coconut, Puffed Rice and Chocolate Chips — $4
- L’Ecole No. 41 Chenin Blanc Old Vines – $6
- Evolution by Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley – $5
Loaded Macaroni & Cheese with Nueske’s Pepper Bacon, Cheddar and Leeks — $5.25
I’m still not sure how Macaroni and Cheese fits into “Active Eats,” but I have used the excuse of eating an entire box of Kraft Dinner to help carbo-load before my walk to the mailbox, where, ideally, a new video game will be waiting for me. Last year, I mentioned that I was surprised that the smiling strawberry, which indicates a “Kid Friendly” item when it appears on the menu next to a particular item, was listed alongside the Mac & Cheese. The classic side is typically a straightforward blend of creamy cheese and basic macaroni pasta, but the Active Eats version arrived with big pieces of peppers and onions that 5-year old me wouldn’t get within a hundred feet of.
This year, there are no spicy peppers or crunchy onions, instead replacing them with a much milder vegetable in the same family as garlic and chive. And even then, there doesn’t look to be a whole lot of Leek involved in our dish. The Leek is also a garnish, so you can opt to omit them entirely if you like, which wasn’t something that was true with the Onions and Peppers version. Much to my surprise, I actually enjoyed the new version more. Spicy is fine in a lot of situations, but “comforting” and “cheesy” are what I’m looking for when it comes to Macaroni and Cheese and this is exactly that with a nice coating of cheese mixed in with a decent number of noodles that hold their shape better than in past years. The breadcrumb topping elevates things a bit, adding just a little bit of crunch to the dish. The Bacon also takes a back seat this year, where in previous years it added a lot of smoky flavor. We’re not in “must buy” territory by any means here, but it’s a nice side if you’re interested in any of the other items in the vicinity.
Here’s the previous version, which was crunchier, spicier, and arguably, more flavorful.
Spice-crusted Verlasso Salmon with UNCLE BEN’S Quinoa & Ancient Grains Medley, Crushed Avocado and Sherry Vinegar — $5.75
Active Eats has offered a different take on its salmon dish each year, perhaps trying to see how many of the ingredients that they can get sponsored. This year brings both Verlasso Salmon and UNCLE BEN’S Quinoa and Ancient Grains Medley. Disney typically does Festival Salmon well, grilling each piece fresh inside the kiosk, and that continues to be true this year. If anything, this is the best version of the fish yet, with a crispy golden crust and flavorful spice rub, which is tempered by the bright Crushed Avocado on top. The slaw underneath was far too vinegary for my tastes, but you may enjoy it more and they may temper things a bit moving forward. But the fact that the Medley is ice cold doesn’t help things much. The flavor, texture, and temperature are harsh compared to the hot, flaky salmon.
Here’s last year’s, when it was served with a “Warm Lentil Power Salad,” which I deemed to be an improvement over the cold Quinoa Salad that had been served the year before. On the plus side, this year’s looks more attractive, even it doesn’t taste better.
I’m going to go ahead and rate this one a “6” on taste – an “8” for the fish and a “2” for what lies beneath.
Fruit and Nut Energy Snack: House-made mixture of Apricots, Almonds, Pecans, Coconut, Puffed Rice and Chocolate Chips — $4
I’m not entirely sure where I come down on this one. On one hand, I’d be happy enough to pick up a box of them from the grocery store and unwrap one whenever I’m in the mood for something that tastes like a candy bar, but was next to all of the fruit and nut bars at the store, so it’s assuredly health food. This is a huge improvement over what was offered last year – it’s crispy, fruity, chocolaty, and “feels” like it was just made with plenty of fruit, nuts, and more all mixed together. But it basically just tastes like a fresher fruit and nut bar, which isn’t particularly exciting in the grand scheme of things at the Festival. On the other hand, we did manage to visit every single booth on the first day of the Festival, and I can’t directly say that it didn’t have anything to do with taking a bite of this Energy Snack. If you’re looking for a fresh, dessert-y item that is probably a little healthier than giant gobs of cheesecake on a stick, then this would be a good choice. Otherwise, there are some tastier items.
M.I.A. Beer Company HRD WTR Key Lime Hard Sparkling Water – $4.50
It was disappointing to see everybody’s 6-ounce cup filled with just about four ounces of the 5% ABV Hard Sparkling Water. I’m not a big Key Lime guy, which makes me a poor judge of the quality of the drink, but the few ounces that you’ll receive are light and refreshing with just a hint of sweet lime flavor. The liquid does go flat pretty quickly in the heat, so you’ll want to guzzle it in short order. That shouldn’t be particularly difficult. With the number of hard seltzers available in the store these days, I don’t think M.I.A.’s outing demands a purchase, but it’s here if you want it.
L’Ecole No. 41 Chenin Blanc Old Vines – $6
“L’ecole” means “The School” in French, so we are already starting off on the wrong foot. Occasionally, someone will tell me that I seem like “a smart guy,” but all of this intelligence was born from the streets, not the classroom. Most of the Chenin Blancs I drink hail from South Africa, where some real values are still available if you know where to look. This one comes from Washington state and remains a good value at the store with its $15 retail price, making the $6 pour here a little more questionable. It’s tasty with bright pear, apple, and citrus notes along with a crisp finish, but it should be closer to four dollars than six.
Evolution by Sokol Blosser Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley – $5
This is a fruit-forward, light, easy drinking pinot noir. It’s nothing spectacular, but you could pretend it’s some famous wine. In the heat, it’s pretty easy to go delirious. “This ’96 Château Margaux tastes delicious. And to think, just five dollars a glass!”
Overall, Active Eats is relatively solid with most items being served with a caveat or two. On the plus side, lines are short and with communal tables in the center of the Culinary Corridor, you can have one person grab something here while others forage at Coastal or Earth Eats. And next time Mother is harassing me about all of the wine I’m drinking and macaroni & cheese I’m eating, I can tell her that I’m living an active lifestyle. Just like I found at Active Eats.