The big news for this year’s Flower & Garden Festival at Epcot is the return of the delightful food and beverage booths, which are now called “outdoor kitchens.” Get ready to welcome spring with a beautiful floral feast for the eyes and a flavorful feast for your taste buds!
I headed out to the opening weekend of the festival to taste some of the returning food offerings from last year and to sample some of the new foods that have gotten everyone’s curiosity in bloom.
As a Florida native, I have to start with the “Florida Fresh” booth. The two main dishes are back: the shrimp and grits was one of my absolute favorites last year, and it is just as delectable this year ($5.75). The plump Gulf shrimp are succulent, and the gumbo-style sauce is smoky-yet-bright thanks to the veggies. I am so happy to see this dish returning this year.
And the watermelon salad with pickled onions, baby arugula, feta cheese, and balsamic reduction is very refreshing ($3.50). While I am not generally a fan of arugula, I ate up every bite of this salad.
Over in China, a surprise hit for me that I am happy to see return is the spring pancake with grilled chicken and green apple ($5.25). The flavor is bright, vibrant, and yet very savory. The candied strawberries are a very unique treat, though the candied coating easily came off the berries and made for a messy experience.
At the UK pavilion, you’ll feel like you’ve come upon a little cottage along the English countryside when you find the Buttercup Cottage. One of the disappointing dishes for me last year was the potato-and-cheddar-cheese biscuit with smoked salmon tartare ($4.50); I didn’t dig the texture of the tartare with the biscuit. But since it is returning this year, maybe other guests enjoyed it, or perhaps they have improved the recipe. I did sample two of the new offerings at Buttercup Cottage, and they both were surprise favorites – stay tuned for more on this later.
Get some good, ol’ fashioned American grub at the Smokehouse. The two main dishes return, and both were very satisfying during last year’s festival: the pulled pig slider with coleslaw ($5.75) and the smoked beef brisket with collard greens and jalapeno corn bread ($6.75).
Not much has changed this year with these two dishes, which makes me happier than a pig in mud. Also returning is the Rib Shack Red Wine ($3.00). Never have I tasted a red wine that goes with barbecue like this delicious red wine.
The beautiful Japan pavilion is home to the Hanami outdoor kitchen.
“Hanami” is the Japanese word for the act of viewing and appreciating the beauty of flowers, and what an appropriate name for this outdoor kitchen! The frushi is back ($4.50), and while I was not all that impressed with it last year, I found it to be slightly improved this year.
New tastes you gotta try
The two dishes that everyone is buzzing about are both sweets.
Up first is the “Piggylicous” bacon cupcake with maple frosting and pretzel crunch at the American Adventure Smokehouse ($3.50). I knew this creation would be unique, but I am not sure anything could prepare for the intensity of these flavors.
The cake is vanilla, which lends almost a sweet cornbread flavor, and the bits of bacon are strong and smoky. Then there is the maple frosting. Wow – thick, creamy, and loaded with maple madness. I split my cupcake with my friend, and thank goodness I did; it would have been too much and too rich to finish on my own.
Last year, the Pineapple Dole Whip with spiced rum stole the show. Disney geeks everywhere rejoiced – a favorite treat among diehard Disney fans was given a twist once thought taboo.
This year, it seems the fan-favorite Dole Whip has been replaced with generic pineapple soft serve, although it’s still yummy. This treat is offered with your choice of spiced rum or, now, Parrot Bay Coconut Rum (both $6.50). And as if that weren’t enough, this year brings the debut of the sweet potato cinnamon waffle with pineapple soft serve ($3.50). Paradise is found at the Pineapple Promenade, just before the Canada pavilion.
Though this year the brand of spice rum is different, the flavors are essentially the same. If you prefer a warmer, spicier rum, then this should be your choice. The Parrot Bay rum version really had me excited, and it did not disappoint. The tropical flavors of the coconut rum and pineapple soft serve are best buddies. I let mine melt a little so that I could alternate between sipping and scooping.
As we approached the Pineapple Promenade, the sweet, sugary smell of the sweet potato cinnamon waffle was irresistible. The warm, comforting flavor of the waffle somehow worked really well with the fruity pineapple soft serve. As it melted into the waffle, it made it moister and more delicious.
The Buttercup Cottage in the UK pavilion is offering a pork-and-apple sausage roll ($4.00). I was a little worried that this would be too heavy, but I rather enjoyed the robust flavors, and the pastry was crispy and buttery. I had never before tried piccalilli, which accompanies the sausage roll, and I rather enjoyed it.
The mustardy sauce of the piccalilli was great for dabbing onto the sausage roll. The Tea Berry Cocktail turned out to be a surprise hit for me, as well – sweet and refreshing ($7.50).
I am a pretty big fan of sushi, but I have to admit I personally have been a little let down in the selections at the Japan booth over the years during the Food & Wine Festival, but there is something new this year that had me curious: Hanami sushi, a selection of salmon, scallop, and beef-topped rice balls served with shiso violet sauce ($5.50). Personally, I did not enjoy the Hanami sushi all that much. However, it should be noted I am a bit of a sushi snob.
For health-conscious diners and adventurous foodies alike, the new Urban Farm Eats booth has the most interesting lineup of all, and I enjoyed each and every bite!
Land-grown eggplant “scallop” with romesco sauce and spaghetti squash is a nice vegetarian treat ($3.75), though the spaghetti squash is watery (it is a veggie, of course) – so if you’ve never had it, just a heads up. My pal thoroughly enjoyed the pickled beet salad with goat cheese cream, mizuna, and pistachios ($3.50). Personally, I loved the ghost pepper-dusted tilapia with crisp winter melon slaw and mint oil ($4.75). They’re dusting this fish in ghost pepper – are you kidding me? The ghost pepper is known as the world’s hottest pepper! I am happy to report that while this dish had plenty of heat, it was not overwhelming at all, and the goat cheese cream from the beet salad was a perfect way to cool off.
I adored all of the food and beverage offerings at the France booth during last year’s festival, so I am a little bummed that none of the food offerings are returning. However, the new line up looked magnifique.
I did enjoy the Gnocchi Parisien à la Provençal, especially the veggies ($4.75). I was very excited for the confit de canard, pommes de terre Sarladaise – pulled duck confit with garlic and parsley potatoes ($5.50). However, the onions overpowered this dish, and the potatoes were very soggy. In fact, both dishes were a little too greasy for me, but I would consider going back for another try.
The macaron à la fleur d’ oranger – orange blossom macaron with white chocolate ganache – was sinfully sweet ($5.00). The color alone was delightful; I suppose that’s part of the charm of macarons, but the intensely sweet flavor and dreamy texture made this dessert tres bon!
Another entry on my “must try” list is an item that finally motivated me to leave World Showcase and head all the way over to the Festival Center, located in Future World East. It sounds refreshing and a little out-there: Caprese Push-Pop – tomato, mozzarella, and balsamic ($1.00). Maybe it’s because I love tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella is so creamy and dreamy, but this push-pop was calling my name to try it. Unfortunately, they were sold out when I arrived at the Festival Center in the early afternoon.
I finished my trip at my favorite booth: the Florida Fresh booth, of course. This year, it is finally getting the attention it deserves. It has taken over the garden area in-between the Outpost and the Germany pavilion. I was in heaven, and don’t be surprised if you find me there practically every weekend, jamming to the fun sun-themed playlist in this area.
Two new items were introduced this year, with the first being the Festival of Flowers Farmhouse Ale ($3.75 & $7.00). This ale, which was brewed just for the Festival by Florida Beer Company, is very hoppy, with some citrus and clove. I loved it and will definitely go back for another serving. And, finally, an underrated Florida fruit is featured – the kumquat – in the Florida Kumquat Pie ($3.00). It’s fun to say, isn’t it? I remember sneaking kumquats from my neighbor’s yard. Oh, memory lane.
The kumquat pie is a great use of the sweet, citrusy fruit. The pie is similar to a lemon meringue pie, but less tart and more tropical.
The 2014 Flower and Garden Festival runs from now through May 19. Come celebrate the return of warm weather and beautiful gardens, and save room for lots of yummy new treats!
What new item are you most curious to try?
Epcot’s outdoor kitchens – photo gallery
Click any image to view it full-screen. When the full-screen image is open, click to the right or use the right arrow on your keyboard to advance through the gallery.
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