With the absence of Halloween Horror Nights haunting our dreams, it’s a godsend that Universal found a way to bring us a suitable substitute. If you haven’t already read our breakdown of the company’s “Halloween 2020” kind-of, sort-of event, we suggest you do so – as well as experience it for yourself. The same as every year, the haunted houses and theming make up a good portion of the season’s fun, but that’s not all that’s in store for guests – the powers that be also gave us a few choice morsels of that other part of the former Horror Nights equation: the food!
Some of the selections will seem familiar to you from previous Halloweens, such as the legendary Pizza Fries or the classic Twisted Tater. While these are popular for good reason, I was interested more in how the newer offerings stand up, and which are worth your time.
With that said, let’s waste no further efforts and dig right in!
The Halloween food trucks
First up is the culinary craze that everyone has more than embraced: food trucks!
In lieu of the usual vendor tents, Universal has deployed two food trucks in the New York backlot with menus that can best be described as new but familiar. The most notable items from the line-up include the Franken Fried Chicken and Funnel Brains, which is its spin on chicken and waffles, with the waffles essentially being replaced with funnel cake, and the maple syrup being replaced by a berry glaze (with a dusting of powdered sugar on top). The other sure hit is the Twisted Frank-n-Coils – or, put simply, a “Twisted Tater dog.” This can be topped with chili queso, or what we festively call “blood and guts.”
I certainly won’t argue if you choose anything from the food trucks – they’re wonderfully themed and convenient and offer great food and beverage options. However, if you had to make choices and were leaving this to me, I would respectfully suggest spending your money at the Skeleton Bar.
Curious as to why? Well, allow me to explain…
Skeleton Bar – the food
Venturing deeper into the event, Cafe La Bamba is where the bulk of the newer and returning offerings reside. This venue has traditionally been used at Halloween Horror Nights for the RIP Tours; however, dark spirits have taken hold of the quick-service restaurant, transforming it into the Skeleton Bar and stocking it with exclusive food and beverages for the fall. Sure, you’ll find the Screaming for S’mores Fries here, but let’s talk about the new items.
Vegan Jack’D up Mac ($8.99)
This vegan dish was an unexpected winner for me. The macaroni and cheese has the comforting flavor you’d expect from a meal like this; although the sausage is plant-based, the taste is still fully present and adds a little spice to the savory recipe, which is always welcomed. The pasta is cooked perfectly al dente, and the peppers provide a wonderful flavor and texture combination that compliments the Alfredo sauce that lightly coats everything.
I’ll issue another gold star to the Jack’D up Mac in terms of the best value of what you pay. For the price they’re asking, this dish was hearty enough for two to share as a snack or to tide a single guest over between attractions. And if you want the full culinary experience, it pairs very well with the Loup-Garou cocktail.
Chicken Tandoori ($8.99)
According to one of the team members I spoke with, the Chicken Tandoori was the fan favorite, and I can understand why. The curry marinade brings a wonderfully sweet and smoky character to the chicken skewer, making it an exceptional choice. I wish the radish and mango slaw they paired the chicken with was a little more flavor-forward, but I enjoyed it as a crunchy, refreshing substitute for the skewers’ traditional rice bed.
You’ll want to go into this plate thinking of it as more of a quick bite rather than something on the heftier side, but I wouldn’t let that deter you from it. This is raved about for a reason, and I wouldn’t include it if that weren’t the case.
Skeleton Bar – the drinks
Circus Peanut ($12.50)
So, allow me a moment of being an open book – I went into my research looking forward to this signature drink the most. Unfortunately, what I walked away with was a plastic cup full of missed opportunity. The potable’s ingredients of peanut-butter whiskey, Campari, creme de banana, and orange juice would have you believe otherwise, but the star of this recipe seems to be the circus peanut that was used as the ambitious drink’s garnish.
If mimicking and complementing the sugary flavor of that sweet treat was the desired goal, the libation was a resounding success. With that said, circus peanuts are notoriously one of the most disliked candies in the market aisles, and I’m unsure if whoever masterminded this signature drink would want that win. There’s also a slight “cough syrup” taste in the mix that is likely due to the recipe’s use of Campari as a mixer, which is an aperitif with a dominant flavor that can be something of an acquired taste and, when combined, almost mutes the peanut-butter whiskey’s presence.
Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t the worst cocktail at the Skeleton Bar (that award goes to the Mango Inferno, in my humble opinion). However, it left me dreaming of what could have been had they chosen Chambord instead of Campari. This simple switch would have maintained the classiness of the drink and brought a positive relation to its namesake and flavor, which would have been akin to a banana, peanut butter, and jelly sandwich.
This was the clear winner of the Skeleton Bar’s drink offerings. On the surface, it’s a spin on a “hot toddy” (which traditionally mixes whiskey with hot tea and honey, if you don’t know); in reality, though, it’s so much more. If anyone knows anything about me, it’s that I love a good craft beverage, and if I were buying, this is what I’d bring back to you.
The sweet, oak-barrel flavor of the dark rums used in this cocktail essentially hold hands with the mild, herbal flavor of the chamomile tea. In a similar fashion to peach tea, the pineapple and lemon juices bring a tangy complexity to your palette, with the floral sweetness of honey rounding out the taste. To top it off, it’s a chilled drink that made the table I sat at seem more like I was sipping iced tea on my porch on a warm day.
If I were pressed to make a critique, I’d say its pimento bitters seemed overpowered by the other ingredients in the mix and did little more than add to the drink’s potency. I’d also say that no lycanthropic thoughts came to mind when attempting to relate the characteristics of this beverage to its namesake creature. With that in mind, I’ll also say that if this were to cause me to become wolf-like and feel an urge to howl at the moon, I wouldn’t complain.
Which ghastly new creation would you be most willing to check out – or have already tried? Share your thoughts with 100,000+ other Halloween die-hard fans in our OI Community Facebook group.
Want even more Halloween 2020 goodness? You can check out our review of the haunted houses here. And then be sure to follow Orlando Informer on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the latest news and tips at Universal Orlando, Walt Disney World, and other Orlando experiences.