As Epcot continues to add more and more seasonal entertainment to it’s calendars, part of initiative is extending out it’s current offerings as well, which leads us to the just started 2016 annual Epcot Flower And Garden Festival (for more info check out Parks N’ Wrecked Episode 15). As a firm believer that everything at these events needs to be experienced and appreciated and undertaking the easy and delicious task of sampling every outdoor kitchen at the 2015 Food And Wine Festival, of course tackling the Flower And Garden Fest seems much easier (13 kitchens versus Food And Wine’s 30 this year).
But this time I decided to go about it a different way, as one of the problems I ran into at Food And Wine was that I made a beeline for all the kitchens I wanted right at the start of the festival, leaving the items and kitchens I was less enthusiastic about to wrap up the reviews. Not the best idea. So this time I decided to limit myself by having to follow a counterclockwise path around World Showcase that would lead me to each kisok and having to try it them in order.
Pineapple Promenade – When entering World Showcase you’re instantly dropped next to two of the outdoor kitchens, one on either side of the walkway, Isla Fresca or Pineapple Promenade, where all the dishes and drinks use pineapple. My love of the tangy pineapple fruit made this an easy choice to make, especially since this one of the first dishes I sampled last year during my first visit to the Flower And Garden Festival: the Spicy Hot Dog with Pineapple Chutney and Taro Chips. A spicy red hot topped with a sriracha mayo is a good start to anything but what really amps this dish up is the addition of the pineapple chutney. While sweet and spicy are by no means a new idea, something as flavor forward as pineapple is a lot for the palatte as is, so you may worry that the assault of genuine spice from the hot dog, mayo and pineapple will be a lot to handle. But the flavors work extremely well together, and the taro chips add a nice texture that the soft foods all lack on their own. I can’t praise this enough, and it’s actually a dish that I’ve made with success at home as the ingredients are all readily available at any grocery store.
Urban Farm Eats – Continuing around World Showcase, you need to step off of the promenade to reach the next kitchen. Heading towards the Imagination pavillion will lead you to Urban Farm Eats, a farm to table take on dining. Wanting something a little bit lighter since I had literally just finished eating my hot dog from Pineapple Promenade, I went for the Watermelon Salad with Pickled Onions, Baby Arugala, Feta Cheese and a Balsamic Reduction. What sounds like a lot is actually a pretty simple and refreshing take on a summer salad. Those afraid of onions have nothing to worry about as pickling them really balances out the pungentness of the root. A mildly salty feta always goes well with greens and fruit and the balsamic reduction pops with the sweet watermelon. This is a great offering and being a vegetarian option makes it something for almost every one and stands as a healthy option that again can easily be made at home.
Cider House – Continuing into the UK pavillion lead me to one of the new kitchens this year, Cider House, where all the offerings are made using various ciders. Long being a fan of both cider and slow cooked meats lead me to choosing the Pear Cider-brinned Corned Beef with Braised Cabbage and Pears with Branston Dressing. While I loved everything in this dish, all of it together came out a little too sweet. Opposed to the previous two plates I had this trip where everything worked so well together, the beef was overshadowed by what it came with, which really dissapointed me as a man who loves his corned beef (seriously, ask my friends over at Bagged And Bored).
It was here I also decided to get my first beverage at the festival (remember I’m a cider fan) and grabbed a Black Cherry Hard Cider. Brewed by McKenzie’s from West Seneca, NY (a suburb of Buffalo 3 minutes from almost every apartment I evver lived in), seeing something from my hometown made it a clear choice. When drinking a cider a sweetness won’t come as a surprise, but what I hadn’t expected was the lack of tartness. A nice drinkable cider is always welcomed on an 80 degree day, and this stands as my favorite part of my visit to Cider House.
Final Thoughts – This first week was a great experience and really made me look forward to revisiting the festival over the upcoming months. While the Cider House left me wanting more (and not in the best way), the Spicy Hot Dog from Pineapple Promenade still stands as a favorite, but what’s surprising is how much I liked the Watermelon Salad offered by Urban Farm Eats.