One of my favorite times of year here in Florida is the fall season. The weather is damn near perfect, the holidays are upon us and most importantly, Epcot holds it’s annual Food and Wine Festival. As an annual pass holder this is by far my favorite Disney event of the year in what is (arguably with Animal Kingdom) my favorite of the parks. I figured this was a great opportunity to elaborate on my love of food and drink! I am unapologetically the guy who takes pictures of his food and posts #FoodPorn. I’ve come to terms with the fact I may lose followers as a result of that admission. This will probably make you hungry…
Though not specifically part of the festival, I wanted to highlight the “Cool Zone” as it’s one of the very rare places to get FREE unlimited soda in the parks. (The other being the “Chase Lounge” but it’s only during Food and Wine and only for Chase card members.) Long ago I drank soda like water, but frankly it was making me fat and causing me stomach issues, so I gave it up, dropped about 60 lbs and now only rarely partake. I do have a bit of a weakness for Ginger Ale, and it is one of the very few things I will mix Scotch with (very rarely!!) This Cool Zone features various Coca-Cola products from around the world. Unfortunately they introduced a number of new flavors about a year ago (which took out the Ginger Ale!!!) leaving only Brazil’s “Kuat Guarana” worth drinking. I remember a version of this soda from my Capoeira days! The others are worth trying, but not regularly in my opinion.
So, you’ve probably already gathered I’m a carnivore. But this grilled lamb chop from the Australia section is amazing. The pork is cooked perfectly and slides off the bone effortlessly (impressive considering how many of these they mass produce throughout the day.) The meat is tender and juicy, but even better is that it retains spectacular flavor while not being too gamey. The mint pesto balances the flavor perfectly and even the “potato crunchies” (read: glorified crushed potato chips) added a nice texture in the absence of (undesirable) char. I go back for this every year and feel it’s one of the more underrated offerings.
Singapore is also an annual favorite, but not for what I got this year. A new offering was the seared mahimahi with jasmine rice and “Singa” sauce. Normally I’m not huge on fish that’s not in a sushi roll, however a good friend of mine demanded I try this and she was absolutely right. The fish was good: tender, boneless and flavorful, but WOW that sauce did it. I’m a sucker for a good sauce (I’m addicted to Ponzu…) and it really made this for me. Add that to the cheapest (and surprisingly well paired) wine offering in the park, the Marqués de Cáceres Satinela, and you have a fantastic and flavorful snack! I tend to prefer sweet white wines, this one was a little dry, but it balanced the fish / sauce out really well.
Also from Singapore is the “Singapore Sling”. This gets it’s own section as it is in fact the reason I go back to Singapore every year. For $8.00 you get this cup of what is essentially a combination of two alcohols: gin and “Cherry Heering”. Traditionally a “sling” was an American term for any spirit and water that was sometimes sweetened or flavored. It seems a bartender from Singapore initially mixed some sort of cherry brandy (may or may not have been Heering) with gin and the Singapore Sling was born. The exact recipe changes from bar to bar, but almost always involves gin and some sort of cherry flavor. The important thing about this particular incarnation is that on Disney property you’re getting essentially 3.5 – 4 shots of liquor for roughly $2.00 a shot. Good deal. In past years the gin ratio was really high resulting in a really potent drink that smelled and tasted like rubbing alcohol. This year they evened it out making it a bit weaker but much more palatable.
Normally the Italy pavilion is all about the stuffed ravioli (offered every year,) but this year they had a chicken marsala that was new to the menu. I’m a sucker for mushrooms and a good wine sauce and this did not disappoint. Even more surprising was how tender the chicken was. I have to hand it to Disney, not only do they have natives from each country serving the food, but they manage to perfect the cooking process enough to mass-produce really well cooked food. I wouldn’t call it “gourmet”, but regardless really tasty! Well about the average you could find in your average chain restaurant!
Cheese. If there is any reason in the world I would hate to go vegan, it would not be giving up meat, it would be giving up cheese. I love cheese. I often joke that one of two things in this world will be the death of me: women, or cheese (or some freaky combination of the two. This offering was at the “Hops and Barley” pavilion (read: USA.) This actually had the one cheese I’m not terribly fond of: bleu cheese. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll eat it, it’s just my least favorite in my favorite category. However, the other two made up for it. In the middle of the tray was a fantastic cloth-wrapped cheddar, and on the left was (my favorite of the three) soft, creamy goat cheese called “Purple Haze”. It was so good that I think I understand why then made it’s name sound like a designer drug.
Next up was the France pavilion. It is very difficult to choose here as they offer arguably the best assortment of food and drink that is, while pricey, generous and well-made. While not the deal the sling was, this “La Passion Martini Slush” gives you more than enough to cool off in the Florida heat while a combination of (presumably mid-level) vodka and Grey Goose Le Citron helps you feel it. It’s tasty, cold and easy to drink, so basically an expensive slurpee for adults, which is pretty fitting for this sort of event.
France has an equally wonderful selection of foods. Most people go for the escargot, an annual favorite. I’ve had it before, and I love the garlic, but it didn’t win me over enough to ignore other offerings (and my wallet can only handle so much!) New this year was the “Gratin De Crozet De Savoie” Since I have no idea what the name means, it was the description that sold me: “Wheat pasta gratin with mushrooms and Gruyere cheese.” Carbs..? Mushrooms? CHEESE??? SOLD! Let me tell you, it was probably the highlight of my festival this year. It was a pretty good serving but it was just not enough. By now I was already quite full and I considered getting another. Very, very good. I hope it makes it back next year.
Canada is probably the winner for my kind of diet. I’ve had the pleasure of dining there at the legitimately gourmet “Le Cellier Steakhouse” thanks to an amazing friend of mine who works at Epcot and put our names on the list months in advance. This offering during Food and Wine is a petite version of the amazing steak I feasted on before and it does not disappoint. Granted, it’s really hard to go wrong with a decently cooked Filet Mignon, but what you see on top is truly wonderful truffle butter accenting a bed of wild mushrooms. Really, really good. Compared to the full-sized, fresh cooked to order version I had, this is probably an 8 out of 10, which is pretty good considering the circumstances. I love steak… and mushrooms… and butter. Yum. Also worth mentioning is the Canadian cheddar cheese soup! However, it doesn’t photograph well (rather plain) and this was already a long entry, so ask me about it if you like (also really good!)
My last highlights come from Ireland. (Greece is also great, but again the presentation left a bit to be desired and that’s an important part of the package!) As I mentioned before, I prefer sweet wines so when I come across something called “Bunratty Meade Honey Wine”, it gets my attention. You get a relatively small serving (about your average shot.. maybe a bit more) but the flavor is distinct and sweet. Though this is not a pure mead (from honey only,) it’s a dessert wine and you can absolutely taste the honey heavily used to flavor this treat. Most importantly the dulled bite of the white wine pairs really well with…
Irish cheese! I can’t resist another cheese platter, especially one offered by Kerrygold! I’ve long been a fan of their unsalted butter (I’ve even put it in my coffee!) This particular selection includes a Reserve cheddar, Dubliner with Irish Stout and Skellig (a slightly sweeter Irish cheddar developed specifically by Kerrygold.) The chutney, bread and butter add substance to the platter for the price, but the cheese is exactly what you expect: quality Irish cheddar with no real surprises. In my world, that is very, very okay. I’ve picked up this platter every year for the last three years (or more.. I don’t remember…) and I will look for it next year. If you love cheese like I do, don’t miss it.
There are many more pavilions, and probably a lot of fantastic food I didn’t try, but that’s what next year is for. In the meantime though, if this manages to make you as hungry reading it as it made me posting it, I’ve done my job. Unfortunately the Disney Food and Wine Festival is done for the year, but I’ll see you there next year!