We continue from Mexico.
Islands of the Caribbean moves even closer to Mexico this year. Two years ago, you would have found it on the other side of World Showcase. Last year, it was in Thailand’s spot as the first Marketplace on the walk into Canada. Unfortunately, we do lose the Greece Marketplace, along with the delicious Spanakopita and Greek Nachos.
Astute observers may notice that the Jerk-spiced Chicken seems to be different this year. In 2018, it was a “lollipop,” or chicken leg. Everything else is the same.
Ropa Vieja Empanada with Tomato Aïoli – $5.50
The Empanada is deliciously flaky with a crispy, light, and airy crust. 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. 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 with Roasted Sweet Plantain Salad and Mango Chutney Yogurt – $5.50
This is the same idea as last year, except for the fact that you’ll be served several strips of chicken breast instead of a single chicken leg. The meat is also now grilled immediately behind the Marketplace, so you know you’re getting fresh food. I liked the jerk spice this year – the chili and allspice flavors were more pronounced, which allows the heat from the peppers to play against the sweetness of the Mango Chutney and Sweet Plantains a little more. The chicken is also as juicy and tender as past years and it’s easier to cut off a bite and pass the tray around.
Here’s last year’s. The Chicken Leg was fun, but the quality was all over the place with some legs much fattier than others and some pieces under-cooked, while others were cooked to death. I think the change was smart.
Quesito: Puff Pastry with Sweetened Cream Cheese and Guava Sauce – $4
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 four bucks, you certainly wouldn’t be remiss if you attach one of these to an order.
Red Stripe – $4.50
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 $4.50 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 who “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. Considering three liters of the stuff will set you back $20 at the store, spending $5 on two ounces is highway robbery.
Frozen Mojito – $10.50
There’s virtually no alcohol presence whatsoever and the drink tastes almost exclusively of mint syrup. There might not be a more disappointing cocktail at the Festival and it returns year-in and year-out. It’s also unlikely that it will be frozen, perhaps because it’s just that syrupy. I’ve never been to the Marketplace when they haven’t said that it’s not frozen, but you can still order it. Don’t order it.
Overall, the Islands of the Caribbean Marketplace continues to be a smart stop, with a few caveats on the drink front. Fortunately, we’re close enough to everything that the Mexico Pavilion offers that we should be able to get by. The sauce that we had been craving for so long returns alongside the Empanada, and 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 just four dollars, though you may put that money towards the Blueberry and Almond Frangipane Tart from The Alps. 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.