Islands of the Caribbean moves to World Showcase Proper for the 2018 Epcot Food and Wine Festival. It’s the first Marketplace that you’ll see on your left as you walk towards Mexico or the last Marketplace that you’ll see on your right should you start your journey on the Canada side with Hawaii.
Given the menu offerings that we’ve seen in the past, led by the yellow hockey puck beef patties and the uninspired mojo pork, I would have probably advised passing by the Islands. Fortunately, the menu this year is a big upgrade. Astute observers might have noticed that Patagonia has not returned for this year’s Festival, which means we lose the popular Beef Empanada and Grilled Beef Skewer. But don’t be too alarmed.
Ropa Vieja Empanada with Tomato Aïoli – $5.25
Here’s a look at the three food items with the Empanada on the bottom left.
If you read about last year’s Empanada from my Patagonia review, you would have seen these lines:
The website has long maintained that a dollop of sour cream or some sort of sauce would liven up the flavor profile. It only took five years to get you that pretzel bread with the cheese soup in Canada so maybe next year is our year. Overall, this is a safe, consistent bet, but my eyes are on something a little more interesting.
And I have good news. The Empanada itself is very similar to the past offering with a deliciously flaky, crispy crust that both offers a satisfying snap to each bite while still being light and airy. The inside is packed full of shredded beef and spices – a little bit of onion, pepper, and cumin to complement the bold flavors of the meat well. The Tomato Aioli helps cool down the mild heat from the beef and adds a depth of flavor that the Festival Empanada has never enjoyed before. Our fried pasty was also served alarmingly hot, which is something that we very rarely experience during the Festival. A real high point.
Jerk-spiced Chicken Lollipop with Roasted Sweet Plantain Salad and Mango Chutney Yogurt – $5.50
Two for two, right off the bat. I feel like I’m at the wrong Festival.
First, the bad, since this is still easywdw.com: The chicken itself wasn’t seasoned as heavily as I would have liked given the “Jerk-spice” header. The chili and allspice flavors should be more pronounced, which would also allow the heat from the peppers to play against the sweetness of the Mango Chutney and Sweet Plantains a little more. Fortunately, there’s quite a bit of juicy, tender meat attached to the leg that’s easy to pull off the bone with a fork and mix together with the other ingredients in the dish, which is what you’ll want to do. Most importantly, it tastes good and is a reasonable value compared to what else we’re going to see this year. A promising start, indeed.
Quesito: Puff Pastry with Sweetened Cream Cheese and Guava Sauce – $3.75
The “Little Cheese” is made up of exactly three ingredients: puff pastry, cream cheese, and sugar.
The flavor is just about as straightforward as the list of ingredients with a flaky crust that’s similar to the Empanada giving way to a really dense layer of the sweetened cream cheese. The Guava Sauce adds a welcome fruity element, but I think we’re closer to serviceable territory than exemplary. There are plenty of tastier desserts around, but at under four bucks, you certainly wouldn’t be remiss if you attach one of these to an order.
Red Stripe – $4.25
There’s nothing wrong with the Budweiser of Jamaica on a hot afternoon, at least if you find yourself picking up an $8 6-pack from the gas station and enjoying a couple bottles in the backyard. It’s light, refreshing, and a little bit watery for my tastes, making it go down a little too easily considering you’re paying $4.25 for six ounces.
Caribbean White Sangria – $5
This is your standard, low-ABV sugar-bomb served out of a box. It certainly has its place and someone that “doesn’t like wine” and “doesn’t like beer” may appreciate its thin mouthfeel and sugary body, but hopefully we are all pretentious enough at this point to pass it over without a second thought.
Frozen Mojito – $9.50
The good news is that the price is actually down a full 50 cents from last year, if you can believe that. I’m seriously starting to wonder if I’m at the wrong Festival. The bad news is that there’s virtually no alcohol presence whatsoever and it tastes almost exclusively of mint syrup. We’re close enough to Mexico that there are plenty of better cocktails ahead.
Overall, the Islands of the Caribbean Marketplace is an auspicious beginning to our tour around World Showcase. We finally get that sauce that we’ve been craving alongside the Empanada. If the Tomato Aioli doesn’t sound good, you can ask for it to be left off. The Jerk-spiced Chicken is quite good and priced well. Adding a Quesito will set you back less than four bucks. Even the font advertising the name of the booth is more fun. It’s a pretty easy skip on the booze front, but if you want to add the beer to an order, I’m not going to fly out from behind a bush and pour some obscure high-ABV IPA over your head and tell you to do better. You’re doing just fine.
We press onward to Greece, here.