It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, I’m not talking about the holidays; I’m referring to Epcot’s annual Food and Wine Festival! Foodies and fall lovers unite! This event makes Epcot one of the most desired locations as the weather begins its metamorphosis out of summer and into fall. Whether you’ve had the pleasure of attending this event included in your regular theme park admission in the past or are bristling with anticipation as a first-timer, this year’s festival is a winner and a must-attend, offering several new dishes that are sure to make your mouths water and stomachs grumble just at the sight. Bring your empty bellies and diets be darned! Prepare to graze your way around the countries during this culinary extravaganza debuting September 21 and running a record 53 days until November 12, savoring dishes of new and old, impressing even the pickiest of palates. Grab your Marketplace Discover Passports or a pen and paper (and a napkin as these are decidedly drool-worthy) and join me as we count down to our top 20 Food and Wine Festival picks for 2014.
A few words as a disclaimer of sorts: If I know one thing it’s that people are passionate about the foods they love—I know this because I am myself quite fanatical over certain favorites! These are opinions and if you don’t see your favorite listed below, it doesn’t mean they aren’t popular or amazingly delicious—it simply means that I can only put so much on a “Top 20” list. Also, keep in mind that the food items often change from year to year, so check out the actual menu items (listed on the official Disney website) to see if your favorites made the cut this year. Please feel free to share your picks—past or present—in the comments below!! This list includes top foods only, not beverages.
20. Grilled Beef Skewer with Chimichurri Sauce and Boniato Puree (Patagonia)
A huge hit among festival goers and something they bring back year after year is this skewer of tender, juicy meat with a very flavorful drizzle of chimichurri sauce on top, resting on a lump of slightly sweet, mashed potatoes. The beef was cooked perfectly, the chimichurri sauce was herbaceous and garlicky, and the potatoes were a nice compliment to the entire dish. A definite must-try!
19. Beef Empanada (Patagonia)
A fair word of warning: Give yourself a few minutes before you dive right into this sealed pastry pocket of boiling hot beef. I am always so eager to get that first taste in my mouth that I forget just how hot these are on the inside and have had the misfortune of scorching my tongue a time or two which is never recommended, to say the least, especially if you plan on needing those taste buds throughout the rest of the day as you graze (and you will). Moving on…In festivals past the beef empanada has always been a hit for its delicious meat enclosed in a light, flaky pastry and once again it didn’t disappoint. The meat is very well seasoned and there is a good portion of it tucked inside the golden crust.
18. Garlic Shrimp with Roasted Tomatoes, Lemon Myrtle and Rapini (Australia)
The shrimp was deliciously plump and large and had a sweet citrus fragrance courtesy of the lemon myrtle. If you’re unfamiliar with Rapini, or broccoli rob, this leafy green vegetable is very much like broccoli but not quite as dense. All together the flavors mingled well and it was a delicious and light dish!
17. Shrimp Taco (Mexico)
The beloved shrimp taco makes another appearance at this year’s Mexico stand and slight modifications were made deviating from last year’s chipotle lime mayo and cabbage topping. These insanely fresh and lightly fried shrimp are topped with pickled habanero pepper and onions which added a nice flavor to the taco. There was a very slight kick to it but no worries, the dish is not as spicy as you might expect. The only thing you might be in danger of is going back for seconds…and I totally did.
16. Sweet Corn Cheese Cake (Mexico)
Sweet and savory all at once, this dish was a pleasant and unusual surprise. An anomaly of sorts, the corn taste is very prominent in this dessert yet everything about the texture screamed “cheesecake!” When I took the first bite I wasn’t sure how I felt about it…but I kept going back for another bite, and another…and another! I’d never had anything like it. My brain was just having a hard time processing the strong corn flavor in the midst of a sweet and creamy cheesecake with the caramel drizzle on top. But the final verdict is that I loved it—for the flavor, texture and overall uniqueness of it! You must try this!
15. Roasted Pork Lettuce Wrap with Kimchi Slaw (South Korea)
I’ve always known this was a super popular selection but now I completely understand why. This was the first year I’ve tried the lettuce wrap and I was astounded that a dish so small could pack such an explosion of flavor! The pork is oh-so-very tender and the kimchi slaw adds a nice extra crunch to the already crunchy lettuce (but eat it fast as the heat from the pork coupled with the juiciness of it can easily wilt it!). There is a nice drizzle of mayo on top which ties it all together. Juicy, delicious and succulent!
14. Nueske’s® Pepper Bacon Hash (Farm Fresh)
Let the aroma of smoky bacon lead you over to the Farm Fresh station and order this delicious combination of corn, potatoes and pickled jalapeno smothered in a rich hollandaise that works those glands into a salivating storm in your mouth. The bacon is pepper-coated and Applewood-smoked, adding a layer of dimension to the dish that will have your fork working in overtime. Another must-try!
13. Lemongrass Chicken Curry with Coconut and Jasmine Rice (Singapore)
What a wonderful marriage of flavors this dish was! The chicken was cooked perfectly, containing a subtle curry flavor and a more prominent lemongrass taste. The essence of coconut was certainly distinguishable and with all that delicious lip-smacking sauce there was thankfully a bed of rice to soak up all the juicy flavors. I would definitely order this one again!
12. Baked Lobster Alfredo (Hops & Barley)
Fans of the previous festival’s lobster roll might be disappointed to not see it on the menu this year (I, for one, am glad—the lobster roll never quite impressed me nor did the price tag attached to the overrated dish). Instead, Baked Lobster Alfredo is making its debut and boy-oh-boy was it good! Oozing, melting, creamy, drippy cheese is baked into macaroni and every other bite you will find an impressive, succulent piece of juicy lobster. The top of the dish had a crispy bread crunch adding a nice contrast to the alfredo underneath. This dish, though pricey (don’t be too surprised—it has lobster in it!), is very filling and very satisfying!
11. Flanconcho (Puerto Rico)
There are a ton of yummy desserts at the festival this year, this Flanconcho being no exception. A layer of sweet flan rests on top of a thin layer of deep chocolate coffee cake which blends wonderfully with the caramel flavored custard. Very creamy and very impressive. It’s small, but the richness of this dessert ensures you only need the exact portion they give you.
10. Kefta Pocket (Morocco)
Though the Spicy Shrimp Roll featured on this year’s menu is delicious, I am a devoted and avid Kefta Pocket fan. I often order these for lunch at this pavilion’s Tangerine Café during non-festival times of the year and always grab one during the Food & Wine Festival. Though it seems like they are getting a tad bit stingier on the portion size (I’ve seen other review pics that showed much larger portions of meat inside the pita so perhaps you’ll have better luck), the flavor is still totally there and just as delicious as ever. Well and uniquely-seasoned ground beef is stuffed inside a pita pocket, along with a crunchy slaw which only really just crowded the pita (I wanted more MEAT, less slaw). In any case, I’d order this again and again—the flavor is just…POW! So good!
9. Belgian Waffle with Berry Compote and Whipped Cream (Belgium)
One bite of this delicious sweet dish and your taste buds will do a little dance of praise in your mouth. This crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside waffle is served with an impressive ladle of berry compote and finished with whipped cream. The already-yummy waffle is improved with both toppings and that berry flavor is so powerfully and intensely tasty you’ll be savoring each and every glorious bite. So “berry” good (sorry, I couldn’t resist!).
8. Gratin de Crozets de Savoie (France)
Escargot is a mainstay at France and a popular choice for some, but the Gratin de Crozets de Savoie is extremely enjoyable and should appeal more to the masses. This wheat pasta gratin dish with mushrooms and Gruyere cheese is hearty and potently delightful, a unique diversion from typical macaroni and cheese. The gruyere alfredo blends dreamily with the cooked mushrooms and pasta and is creamy and perfect in every way.
7. Crème Brulee Caramel fleur de sel (France)
Dare I say that this Crème Brulee which drove out the previous years’ chocolate version is even better?! I was so incredibly impressed by the blend of sea-salted caramel flavors inside this perfectly concocted dessert that I could have eaten five of them (and this was my last stop after eating my way around the countries!). So creamy and so rich your lips will be pulling very slow bites off that spoon so as to savor and prolong your tasting experience. The crispy, torched topping was like crunching candy in your mouth and the crème brulee underneath had a very velvety and smooth texture. Close your eyes and indulge in this dessert, you’ll be very happy you did!
6. Lobster and Seafood Fisherman’s Pie (Ireland)
I pretty much always order the cheese plate here as it’s a safe bet (though I’m really thankful they didn’t bring back that bleu cheese addition from two years back—bleh) but the real star of this menu is the Lobster and Seafood Fisherman’s Pie. It’s a heavy dish, packed full of hearty potatoes, cheese and seafood and super satisfying with every creamy mouthful. It’s worth the hefty price in my opinion and a favorite for most festival goers!
5. Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup (Canada)
Oh Canada! How we love your cheese soup! Okay, so here’s the thing—I didn’t order this menu item from them this year because, well, splurping down piping hot soup in almost 90 degree weather (throw in some of that post-rain, thick Florida humidity) just didn’t sound appealing to me, even though I know this soup is uber-tasty. I feel like not including this menu item would have gotten me banned from Disney Fanatic for life (okay, perhaps just a slap on the wrist) as this is one of the festival’s most beloved and popular items. Year after year they bring this famous favorite back and it is well-loved by most for its subtle and rich, creamy flavorings. It’s salty and cheesy and divine.
4. Kalua Pork Slider with Sweet and Sour Dole Pineapple Chutney and Spicy Mayonnaise (Hawaii)
I don’t just eat the Kalua Pork Sliders each and every festival year, I DEVOUR them. Yeah, I know I’m not the only one who wolfs these bad boys down, barely coming up for air. Another tried and true favorite, the slow-cooked pulled pork is dripping with finger-licking flavors, enclosed within a soft, sweet bun. That pineapple chutney? The stuff dreams are made of. There is such a complex dimension of flavors here, working so well together. It’s a genius combination. Make this one a must-have!
3. Seared Sea Scallops (Scotland)
Seafood lovers have every reason to get stoked over the festival this year, this dish offering a favorite mainstay—sea scallops. The new cheddar-spinach gratin resting underneath alone is worth getting excited over but top that with a perfectly seared sea scallop and crispy, crunchy bacon and you’ve got a dish worth drooling over. You might not want to share this one!
2. Griddled Greek Cheese (Greece)
Go ahead and order everything on the menu here. Really, all the selections are THAT GOOD. But if you mustn’t, then this Griddle Greek Cheese might be the winner amongst all these perennially loved selections. Cheese is typically adored by the masses. Griddle it, throw some honey and pistachios on top and BAM! You’ve got a party of flavors dancing in your mouth. If the combinations sound peculiar to you, just try it and see why this dish simply WORKS.
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1. Fresh-baked Carrot Cake with Craisins and Cream Cheese Icing (Hops & Barley)
If you only get ONE THING at this year’s festival, get this. Perhaps I’m being too melodramatic, but one taste of this new dish being offered at Hops & Barley in America’s Pavilion and you will readily agree with me. Seriously this was nothing short of amazing. Served warm and ladled with a cream cheese sauce that oozes into the pockets of sweet carrot cake bread, each bite will have you tempted to just shove the rest of it all in your mouth at once (feel free to do just that—it’s a free country after all!). Inside this insanely moist, delectable dessert you will find bits of walnuts, carrots and Craisins, each of these adding such intense dimensions of flavor that you will have a hard time describing just how good these are. With the warm notes of cinnamon and spices, it’s like “fall” on your tongue. Worth the money? Absolutely. Go ahead and lick the rest of that icing off your plate too—everyone else is doing it.
In conclusion, choosing a “Top 20” certainly isn’t easy when you are selecting from hundreds of delicious options. There are many that I still LOVED and didn’t include on this list. Be sure to check out the new coconut candy from Brazil if you have room after trying the tasty Brazilian cheese bread. You also can’t go wrong with some sushi from Japan, pierogies from Poland and pasta from Italy! There was really only one item that I tried and wasn’t too impressed by and that was the Refreshment Port’s Dessert Trio. I did go into it with high expectations however, as year’s past have proven these trios delicious. The presentation itself is spectacular, but the flavors this year were just not congruent or on point with these three mini desserts. Despite this one hiccup, I had a blast sampling so many foods at the festival and I have a sneaking suspicion you will too. If you are able to, do yourself a favor and hit each and every country, opening up your palate to all the scrumptious and unique flavors being offered this year.