I’ve never gotten overly excited about Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival, but this year offers something new to dig into: food and wine booths called Garden Marketplaces. In my opinion, these booths, coupled with the beautiful atmosphere, make for a better experience than Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival. I know — gasp — but hear me out.
Whatever the opposite of a green thumb is, I have it. Try as I might, I cannot keep a plant alive, ever. So a festival dedicated to the art of horticulture hasn’t completely appealed to me. The news about the new food and beverage booths broke months ago and Disney fans around the world took to the Internet to express their excitement. The most anticipated treat of them all, the Dole whip with spiced rum, generated a lot of buzz (pun intended). Slowly as the menu was released online, it became evident that these Garden Marketplaces would offer some very unique tastes.
Trying new foods
The appeal of the Food & Wine Festival booths, and now the Garden Marketplaces, is the ability to branch out and try new foods without spending money on a whole entrée. Since the food and beverage offerings of the Garden Marketplaces are not based on representing traditional foods from each culture, they are splendidly imaginative.
I also enjoy that the menus are very fruit and veggie centric. I am not a health nut, but I do watch what I eat and have always felt that the foods offered during the Food & Wine Festival can be protein and starch focused with hardly any veggies or fruits. Since this is the Flower and Garden festival, the fruits and veggies play a more important role.
My picks for best foods & beverages
It comes as no surprise that my favorite dish is from the Florida Fresh booth. The shrimp and stone ground grits are a perfect representation of Florida seafood meets Southern soul food. Three large, pink shrimp are served atop creamy grits with a light, broth-like gravy, Andouille sausage, tomatoes, and sweet corn.
Over in the France pavilion we find the L’Orangerie booth. I really wanted to try everything, and I mean every single thing on the menu, but resisted temptation. The ratatouille tart with goat cheese is very provincial and robust. The ratatouille was rich and hearty, and the crumbles of goat cheese provided a great tang. I am sucker for goat cheese, though. My particular tart appeared to be a little overcooked, but I still enjoyed the flavors.
Also, at the French L’Orangerie booth, I tried the newest addition to the frozen slush martini collection, the La Vie En Rose frozen cocktail. The color alone is enough to make it desirable. The flavor is very light and fruity, a sophisticated pink lemonade. I love St. Germain liquour, and wished this particular flavor was a little stronger. Overall, on a warm Florida day this cocktail is very refreshing.
Although not that unique, the bbq pork slider at the Smokehouse is a pretty generous portion size. The meat is nice quality, a little on the dry side, but great smoky flavor. And the Smokehouse area is large, with plenty of seating.
Finally, at The Cottage booth, in the UK Pavilion, I found the menu to be very welcoming and appropriate for an English garden setting. I tried all three food offerings, aside from the tempting trifle desserts. My favorite of the foods was the baked goat cheese brie with kumquat chutney. Again, I am a sucker for goat cheese, but I have never had it as brie. The creamy, yet tangy, melty cheese was wrapped in a flaky dough and the kumquat chutney provided the perfect sweetness. I loved it!
Not digging these foods & beverages
Of course, everyone’s got their own tastes and preferences. For me, these items did not do it for me. In the Mexico pavilion, I enjoyed the carnitas taco and heard great things about the Rosita margarita. However, we opted for the organic tequila flight. Each of the three tequilas had a bitter bite to it, not a smooth one in the bunch. No bueno.
The cheddar cheese biscuit with smoked salmon tartar sounds like a good combination of creamy, savory flavors. Sadly, the texture of the soggy salmon tartar mixed with the hard, overcooked biscuit did not go well together. I can usually stomach through any funky food, but not this one. Maybe if the biscuit was soft and flaky it would work.
I am not a thrill seeker, but when it comes to food and drink I am willing try practically anything. At my beloved Florida Fresh booth I tried the carrot wine.
Had it not been for the aroma, I would have enjoyed this strange variation on what resembles a Chardonnay. But whether it was the wine or the plastic cup, the smell killed it for me.
You just gotta try them!
Now we finally come to the Dole whip with spiced rum. The Dole whip is a Disney institution, and now that it has been made into an adult treat, Disney fans are geeking out. The pour size of the rum is tiny, but the warm, caramel and spice flavors of the rum are really cool to taste with the familiar Dole whip goodness. It is definitely worth a try. Lines can be long at this booth, but you can sometimes catch it at a good time.
Another offering of the Pineapple Promenade is the violet lemonade (non-alcoholic). It is nice to have a “mocktail” when you don’t want to indulge and it gives kids something new to try. The color of the violet lemonade attracted me. It is very sweet, very strong lemonade flavor, the violet flavor was a little too light for my taste.
Also in the beverage bunch is the Mango Mama wine from Florida, found at the Fruits by the Glass booth. Lot of fun beverages to try here, I will definitely be back to try the watermelon passion fruit cocktail. However, for my first beverage from this booth I had to enjoy the fruits of my state. The Mango Mama wine is very, very sweet, much more of a dessert wine. It is not a refined glass of wine, but fun and fruity.
Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival is by all accounts a celebration of spring. The imaginative topiaries always delight children and Disney fans, even if many of them are reused year after year. The colors of the gardens and floral displays elevate the liveliness of Epcot.
It is because of this bright and cheerful atmosphere that the new food and wine element of this year’s festival feels different. In addition, I found that, for the most part, the lines are not nearly as long as compared to the original Food & Wine Festival. Of course, on the weekends it is busier. Being the first year of the Garden Marketplaces, there are 12 booths as opposed to the over 20 offered at Food & Wine. I rather enjoyed the fact that there are fewer booths. I did not feel overwhelmed or anxious that it would take a second mortgage for me to try everything.
Because of the fresh, vibrant food and beverage choices, the lower amount of crowds, and the cheerful spring atmosphere the Garden Marketplaces have a slight edge, in my opinion. I hope that this is a new tradition for the Flower & Garden Festival. I have already made two trips, which is the most I usually make to this festival, and will definitely spring in again for more visits before the festival ends of May 19th.
Food & beverages at Epcot’s Flower & Garden Festival – photo gallery
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