Spring has sprung, and the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival has finally arrived for the 2017 season! Originally just a great time of year to see some of the coolest topiaries around, over the last few years, Disney has steadily transformed the Flower and Garden Festival into a must-do for those looking to sample some of the freshest flavors of the season. This year, two new food booths join the festival, and more than 20 new dishes complement the growing list of must-try treats. Today, I’m reviewing every new food dish (and, as a bonus, a few of the new beverage samplings); below my reviews, I’ve ranked the new food items so you know exactly where to head on your next festival visit. As always, click on every photo for a larger view of each dish – you might spot a few returning festival favorites I’ll review in a future post!
- Crabless cake with crispy vegetable slaw, lemon vinaigrette, and old bay remoulade ($6.25)
If you can get over the texture, this is a definite winner for me. The crabless cake itself is vegan (plant-based, no crabs involved!), so the texture is a bit firmer, more like a moist burger patty. The old bay remoulade had a nice kick to it, still savory, but helped bring a little zing to the crabless cake’s mild flavor. The veggies in my slaw weren’t super-crisp, but the bright vinaigrette really tied the whole dish together. An unexpectedly good dish.
- Seared scallops with French green beans, butter potatoes, brown butter vinaigrette, and Applewood smoked bacon ($6.25)
The coating on the scallops was odd: it’s meant to be a crust, but mine never made it to crispy stage, nor would it stay on the scallops. It was, however, flavorful, with the nutty notes of the brown butter there along with the just-salty-enough bacon bits. The scallops were nicely cooked, though it took a long time to get this dish from the booth. The green beans and potatoes both could’ve used a bit more cooking, as they were a little more tender-crisp than I prefer.
- Beef tenderloin tips with mushroom bordelaise sauce and whipped potatoes with garden vegetables ($6.50)
One of my top tastes of new items, this dish is the lovechild of Food and Wine Canada booth’s mushroom filet and the Belgium booth’s braised beef (or your mom’s best pot roast). Three fairly large beef tips are served seared to medium/medium-well with a rich beefy mushroom and shallot sauce, a perfect gravy for the simple smashed potatoes. I loved this dish, gladly ate the whole portion (filling for the price), and will definitely be back for another sample before the festival is over.
- Nanaimo Bar Trifle ($4.25)
This is a really adorable authentically-Canadian dessert that is way overpriced at $4.25, but that you may enjoy regardless of cost. The bottom layer of the trifle is a vanilla custard-y pudding-like delight, with melted chocolate and crushed oreos on top. This tasted a bit like a more chocolate-y bite of Boston cream pie. It is one of the sweeter things I’ve tasted at a festival, but if you’ve got a sweet tooth, you’ll definitely enjoy this.
- Maple Popcorn Shake ($4.50)
Another top pick for the festival, this was just a quality milkshake, through and through. Not at all icy, very creamy and not too sweet, even with the maple, it definitely had a slight buttery popcorn flavor, but one that made this addictive. Even though I was at the end of a long tasting day, I finished the whole thing. I can’t wait to try the alcoholic version (mixed with maple whisky) next trip.
Fleur de Lys
Don’t let the crawfish scare you away from this dish, as it almost did me – it’s definitely worth a try. Several pieces of tender chicken and a few crawfish (think: tiny shrimp) rest in a light gravy with a healthy portion of simple rice pilaf in this dish, another quality portion for the price.
- Brut de Peche ($7.50)
Light and bubbly, without being sickeningly sweet, this peach flavored sparkling wine pairs with the festival favorite raspberry macaron well.
- Carne Asada with Black Bean Cake and Cilantro Lime Sour Cream ($6.50)
I’ll start this off by saying I think this dish has definite potential as a sleeper hit of the festival. The meat itself was tender and flavorful, not too spicy, but there was entirely too much sour cream sauce on top, and the black bean cake underneath was mushy. I expected a crisper base, but I ended up with black beans and olives that ate a little like refried beans (which was fine, but not what I expected). The flavors here are spot-on, just hoping for a better presentation (which I noticed in later festival visits!).
Admittedly, I’m picky about key lime pie, always in search of desserts that master both tart and sweet with a creamy decadent base. This, sadly, did not quite achieve that – it needed way more lime flavor to overcome the sweet meringue and tart crust. This is just plain ok key lime pie – if you’ve never had the real deal, you’ll probably like it, but otherwise, it’s a skip.
- Foodles ($3.75) (also available at a few other booths)
Pre-packaged carrot sticks, ranch dressing, pretzels, and cheese cubes in a cute Mickey Mouse head package. It’s nice to see a kid-friendly (especially young kid-friendly) option at a few of these booths, but I’m a little disappointed it arrives as in pre-packaged form instead of an actual dish. That being said, if you’re making a point to snack around the world on your trip and have kids in tow, this may be a lifesaver if you run out of snacks midday.
Taste of Marrakesh
Morocco’s booth offerings are sometimes hit or miss, and often direct reflections of the pavilion’s restaurant dishes. This dish is no exception, with the spicy beef and lamb merguez link here coming straight off of Spice Road Table’s menu. I am a fan of this particular variety, but this preparation was a little confusing to me – while the sweet sautéed onions offset a little of the spice and acidity in the sausage, I had no peppers in my sample, that came served on a comically oversized stale plain roll. While the filling I had was tasty, it desperately needed a sauce and some crunchy veggies to compensate for the dry and overwhelming bun. I much prefer the way this sausage is served at Spice Road Table, so for the rest of the festival, this may be a skip.
I did not expect this dish to be worth the price, but the quality and amount of diced tuna involved here make this a great buy if you’re a fan of this simple preparation. The sesame ginger sauce on top gives the rich tuna a bit of a nutty, sweet, slightly floral flavor that made it impossible to leave a single bit uneaten here. My only gripe was that the bed of lettuce underneath the tuna was undressed, and while it provided a bit of crunch, it had no flavor – a touch of miso and ginger dressing would’ve been welcome here.
- Matcha Sake Cocktail ($7.50)
A perfect drink for those afraid to try sake, or looking for a sweeter cocktail at this year’s festival. It was not a particularly strong pour, but the earthy and light green tea flavor cut through the sometimes-astringent sake to create a refreshing drink that I easily finished alongside the tuna poke.
- Antipasto Misto: Cerignola Olives, Sweet Soppressata and Salami, Ovolini, Mozzarella, Sweet Roasted Peppers and Ciabatta Bread ($6.00)
The Italy booths at Flower and Garden and Food and Wine never typically impress me, but after last year’s surprise success at Food and Wine, the booth has hit another stride with a solid slate of savory offerings. This antipasto plate isn’t revolutionary, with two pieces each of soppressata and salami, a few olives and peppers, and a mini ball of mozzarella, but it’s satisfying for an easy-to-share snack plate and perfectly pairs with a glass of wine.
- Meatball Parmigiana: Hand-made Beef and Veal Meatballs, Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella, Parmigiana and Fresh Basil ($7.00)
Another surprise favorite, this dish is exactly as advertised – 6 meatballs topped with cheese, broiled to slightly-crisp, and a solid marinara sauce. This portion is only a little bit smaller than what you’ll find inside Tutto Gusto (and the meatballs are just as delicious, tender and herbaceous), so for the price, this is actually a really great option for a light meal.
- Strawberry Tiramisu: Ladyfingers, Mascarpone Cream and Marinated Strawberries topped with Strawberry Sauce ($5.50)
This was the only disappointment of the Italy booth, for me. The description really sold me on this fruity “tiramisu”, but nothing about this screamed “fresh” or “tiramisu”. The ladyfingers were indistinguishable flavor- and texture-wise, and the marscarpone was too sweet and very soupy. The strawberries in the inside layer were sweet and tart, but the top layer was an artificially-strawberry-flavored gel that really threw the whole dessert off. Considering the high price compared to other festival desserts, this is a definite skip.
- Potato Pancakes with House-made Apple Sauce ($3.75)
The potato and onion pancakes come topped with a chunky apple compote in a dish that works on several levels. I think this would be a great introduction to complex flavors for kids – a step up from the normal “applesauce” flavors they’re accustomed to, with hints of cinnamon and ginger, on a super-accessible and easy-to-eat pancake that will satisfy most palates.
This dish is a surprise stand-out for me for this year’s festival. The same potato and onion pancakes as above come served with a healthy portion of addictively salty-sweet caramelized ham and onions, topped with a cool chive and dill-speckled sour cream sauce. Everything about this, from taste to portion size for the price, is a success, and is sure to be a repeat dish for me this year.
- Warm Cheese Strudel with Mixed Berries ($4.00)
Another quality portion from the German booth, this will hit the dessert spot if the potato pancakes with applesauce wasn’t quite sweet enough for you. Strawberry, blueberry, and raspberry sauce (tart and sweet with real berries swimming throughout) sits atop a warm(ish – mine wasn’t very warm, but your mileage may vary) cheese pastry, sweet and creamy filling within a flaky, buttery crust. It took a few bites to find the cheese filling, but once I did, this was a match made in heaven.
This was surprisingly “boring” compared to most offerings around the festival. Sauteed minced chicken with a bit of a kick, served simply in a piece of lettuce, I craved a bit of sauce or a few crunchy vegetables to liven up this bite. While nothing about this was bad, I found it to be very one-note (“savory and mildly spicy” was all I could muster in my notes). Better options abound for the price, even for those in search of simple dishes.
La Isla Fresca
- Sugar Cane Shrimp Skewer with Steamed Rice and Coconut Lime Sauce ($6.50)
The shrimp here were a touch on the tough side, but are larger than most of the shrimp served around the festival, and come with a lovely coconut rice and slightly sweet and sour sauce, that, while not my favorite, did complement the shrimp’s natural sweetness. For the price, this was a good portion and a lighter but still filling option if looking for a value.
On the day I ordered this dish, they were out of avocado, but I’m not sure that would’ve made much of a difference as to whether I’d have liked this dish. I was not a fan of the texture or flavor of this dish – the conch tended to be a bit too fishy for my taste (especially compared to how conch can taste), and the salad was mealy with only a little crunch from the fresh red onion and green peppers. Overall, it could’ve used a touch more acid, and less cloyingly sweet mango topping. The previous version at the Puerto Rico Food and Wine festival booth highlighted the conch much better than this.
- FlanCocho: Vanilla Caramel Custard with Chocolate Coffee Cake ($3.75)
Exactly the same as the Puerto Rico Food and Wine festival booth’s offering from several years ago, this is still one of the better dessert options available at an Epcot festival. Perfectly smooth, creamy custard with a dark chocolate coffee cake “crust”, topped with a slightly too-sweet caramel sauce, this flan is satisfying for any sweet tooth.
Jardin de Fiestas
- Chile Relleno de Picadillo – Battered Poblano Pepper with Ground Beef, Tomato Sauce, Queso Fresco, and Toasted Almonds ($6.00)
I loved the flavors here, but not the texture. The ground beef had a nice cinnamon kick to it, making it work really well with the acidic tomato sauce, but the batter was soggy instead of crisp and just made the whole dish a little disappointing. I’m hoping as the festival proceeds, with more practice in the kitchen, chefs will remedy this problem, as this dish is actually a good portion and worth a try.
- Brocheta de Pollo con Salsa Morita – Grilled Chicken, Red and Green Bell Pepper served with Salsa Chile Morita ($6.00)
A definite must-try, and one of my favorites of the new dishes this year. The chicken was nicely grilled and very moist, with a perfect cook on the peppers, but the real star here was the salsa morita – smoky jalapenos and tomatillos blended to make an almost mole-like sauce, rich in deep flavors with a bit of sweet, spice, savory, and sour all at once. Easy to finish, and pretty accessible to even picky eaters.
Though the tres leches cake itself isn’t anything out of the ordinary (sweet, moist cake), the added orange zest really gives it a bit of unexpected brightness that I loved. This is definitely a good choice for picky eaters, and kids, too.
- Lamb Chop with Quinoa Salad and Blackberry Gastrique ($7.25)
The lamb chop on my sample was pretty well done, and unfortunately did not a lot of meat on the bone. The overwhelming portion of blackberry gastrique was sweet and only a little tart, which helped contrast with the nuttiness of the quinoa salad. The red and green peppers dotting the salad offered crunch, but the dish needed a little less sauce and a better piece of lamb to really be a success for me.
In short, skip this and have the buckle instead, as it’s just as sweet as that dessert. I was expecting a refreshing, light drink (like the namesake mint julep) but this was more like a berry slushy with a ton of syrup in it. Only slight hints of green tea or mint flavors are present here, just enough to remind you that it’s not all berry. Overall, it’s far too sweet as a stroll-around-World Showcase drink for a warm, sunny afternoon.
- Field greens with fresh strawberries, blue cheese, strawberry vinaigrette, and spiced pecans ($4.75)
This dish is definitely fresh and berry-ful, but not mindblowing for a $5 salad. There was a lot of blue cheese flavor throughout, even with no visible crumbles, so beware if you aren’t a fan of that flavor, which can overpower even the freshest peppery greens. The salad was also a bit overdressed bordering on soggy, but the crunchy pecans (though not very flavorful) added a nice bite.
- Warm Wild Berry Buckle with Pepper Berry Gelato ($4.25)
A solid warm dessert, probably perfect for the chillier nights at the beginning of the festival’s season. Think of this as a berry cobbler, topped with ice cream. Rich and decadent, it wasn’t overly sweet unless you got a ton of the gelato in your bite. The gelato melts fast so beware on warm afternoons, but this dish is definitely worth trying.
With all of these new dishes to try, it’s hard to know what to sample first during your festival visit. Just like with our 2016 Food and Wine new dishes, I’ve sorted each new food item into three groups: those I can’t wait to try again, those I may try again (but only after I grab a few of my returning festival favorites), and those I’ll skip on return visits.
Must Try Again ASAP
- Urban Farm Eats: Crabless cake with crispy vegetable slaw, lemon vinaigrette, and old bay remoulade
- Northern Bloom: Beef tenderloin tips with mushroom bordelaise sauce and whipped potatoes with garden vegetables
- Northern Bloom: Maple Popcorn Shake
- Florida Fresh: Carne Asada with Black Bean Cake and Cilantro Lime Sour Cream
- Hanami: Ahi Tuna Sesame Poke
- Primavera Kitchen: Meatball Parmigiana: Hand-made Beef and Veal Meatballs, Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella, Parmigiana and Fresh Basil
- Bauernmarkt: Potato Pancake with Caramelized Ham, Onions and Herb Sour Cream
- Bauernmarkt: Warm Cheese Strudel with Mixed Berries
- La Isla Fresca: FlanCocho: Vanilla Caramel Custard with Chocolate Coffee Cake
- Jardin de Fiestas: Brocheta de Pollo con Salsa Morita – Grilled Chicken, Red and Green Bell Pepper served with Salsa Chile Morita
- Jardin de Fiestas: Tres Leches Cake garnished with Orange Zest
- Berry Basket: Warm Wild Berry Buckle with Pepper Berry Gelato
Try These After I Revisit Returning Festival Favorites
- Northern Bloom: Seared scallops with French green beans, buter potatoes, brown butter vinaigrette, and Applewood smoked bacon
- Northern Bloom: Nanaimo bar trifle
- Fleur de Lys: Poulet aux Écrevisses, Riz Pilaf: Baked Chicken with Crawfish served with Rice Pilaf
- Primavera Kitchen: Antipasto Misto: Cerignola Olives, Sweet Soppressata and Salami, Ovolini, Mozzarella, Sweet Roasted Peppers and Ciabatta Bread
- Bauernmarkt: Potato Pancakes with House-made Apple Sauce
- La Isla Fresca: Sugar Cane Shrimp Skewer with Steamed Rice and Coconut Lime Sauce
- Jardin de Fiestas: Chile Relleno de Picadillo – Battered Poblano Pepper with Ground Beef, Tomato Sauce, Queso Fresco, and Toasted Almonds
- Berry Basket: Lamb Chop with Quinoa Salad and Blackberry Gastrique
Skipping for the Rest of the Festival (and maybe on return…)
- Florida Fresh: Key lime tart with toasted meringue
- Taste of Marrakesh: Merguez “Hot Dog” Sausage – Spicy Beef and Lamb with Sauteed Onions and Green Peppers
- Primavera Kitchen: Strawberry Tiramisu: Ladyfingers, Mascarpone Cream and Marinated Strawberries topped with Strawberry Sauce
- Lotus House: Spicy Chicken Lettuce Wrap
- La Isla Fresca: Caribbean Conch Salad with Avocado, Mango and Onions
- Berry Basket: Field greens with fresh strawberries, blue cheese, strawberry vinaigrette, and spiced pecans