Christey and I live an hour from Walt Disney World in Orlando. When fall hits, one of the biggest draws for locals and tourists alike is the Epcot Food and Wine Festival.
Epcot normally is a destination at any time of year for foodies with the World Showcase international pavilions — food, beer, and wine from Japan to Norway, Mexico to France. Add in 29 kiosks nestled in between the pavilions, serving food and wine from countries and regions around the globe… and suddenly there are more possibilities than is possible to sample in a day.
Christey and I went with our friends Rachael and Jon from iPhoodies.
Some samples of the food available this year:
The selection was amazing. In some cases, like Mexico, the choices seemed almost safe (steak taco, shrimp taco, Flan). Other countries were more adventurous for what is generally an American market (like Poland’s golabki — stuffed cabbage rolls).
Since Christey and I go every year, I’ve also noticed a difference in quality from years in the past. New Zealand used to have a chunk of grilled lamb with a demi glace sauce for their sliders, but for the last two years the slider has been ground lamb. Argentina used to have a small cut of skirt steak chimichurri, now it’s a thinner strip on a skewer. The economy may be a factor, as well as crowd control — the lamb and skirt steaks take longer to cook (or warm) on a grill than patties and skewers do. On the other hand, New Zealand, at least, experimented within their limitations — this year included a rosemary bun when two years past was served on plain bread. I’m not a fan of rosemary personally, but the rosemary bun was a great way to introduce the herb in an innovative way, instead of a more traditional approach in the ground lamb or sauce.
Even favorites seemed a bit different this year. Christey had an issue with the Ireland fisherman’s pie — the lobster was wonderful and meaty, but then paired with little mini-chunks of scallop. Why go all out with one ingredient, then minimize the other? And, other than the amount of steak in Argentina, the chimichurri seemed more oily and less herby than other years.
Our favorites and misses (and this was hard):
Christey’s top three: Pork Kakuni (Japan), tender and juicy and full of flavor, and the mustard was really interesting. Lobster roll (USA), it was all lobster with no mayo filler, and that wonderful buttered roll you don’t get down here. Kielbasa and pierogi (Poland), creamy pierogi, and the kielbasa is the most flavorful sausage I’ve ever had, and I don’t know how they do it.
Christey’s top miss: Beef Empanada (Argentina). Too much dough and the meat was a little dry, and not enough sauce to make up for the dryness.
Peter’s top three — Escargot and Brioche (France), garlicky and buttery, and so tender and light. Grilled Lamb Chop with Shiraz Reduction (Australia), an actual lamb chop “lollypop” with no skimping, and man, a nice tannin bite to the sauce. Nuerenberger Sausage in a pretzel roll (Germany) — I was worried the pretzel dough would overwhelm the delicate sausage, but they actually matched really well. For me, the most pleasant surprise of the day.
Peter’s miss — Beer and Cheddar Soup (Canada). Only because I look forward to this every year (and at Le Cellier when we can get in). It was a little floury and pasty this last time. It may be because of the demands of the festival, but I remember it being better in years past.
The crowds weren’t bad for a weekend. We were hoping the occasional drizzle would keep people away, but no such luck.
The lines weren’t that bad, though. We’ve been in much worse, even this year — we had a chance to duck into Epcot for a couple hours on opening weekend, and we couldn’t even walk between kiosks. This last weekend, I think my longest wait was 10 minutes.
It was fun being here just mingling with foodies. Finding places to put your plate down is always a challenge, but only in Disney would anyone feel safe plopping down food and drink for a quick bite on the nearest garbage can.
Of course, we took pictures of everything, but we weren’t the only ones by far. Everywhere around, people were taking pictures of their samples.
I’m curious how many Epcot food servers will show up on food blogs around the world.