One of the tastiest events on the Disney World calendar is back for another year, and we've got your guide to the good stuff.
Dry rosé cider. Liquid nitrogen ice cream. Sustainable seafood. Local craft beers. Delicious meat-free alternatives. Kombucha flights. These are all things that are so hot right now, and they are all things that you will find on the menu at Epcot's International Food & Wine Festival, kicking off later this month.
Not only one of the biggest events on Walt Disney World's annual calendar, but also one of the largest food festivals in the world, this exceedingly popular event, kicking off August 30th and running all the way until November 12th, turns Epcot's World Showcase, already a top destination at The Happiest Place for eating and drinking, into a whole thing.
As if the year-round offerings weren't enough to contend with—fine dining in France, mezcal tastings in Mexico, late-night shawarmas in Morocco, gelato in Italy, and so much more—along comes this long, extremely involved festival, with its dozens of temporary mini-pavilions, highlighting places like New Zealand and Brazil and Belgium, plus gala events, a ton of live music, demos by celebrity chefs, and full-blown seminars for people who actually want to learn things.
The fun begins in just a couple of weeks and takes us nearly all the way through to Thanksgiving (at which time, the annual holiday festival, a world unto itself, starts up for another year), and if you haven't been and are planning to go in 2018, it definitely helps to know what you're walking into, because even the most ambitious festival goers will find themselves no match for the wealth of comestibles on offer, even if they are all served in tiny little portions.
In the interest of public service, we flew down to Orlando and spent some quality time in the behind-the-scenes kitchens where the festival planning magic happens, tasting a great deal of the food that you'll see at this year's event. The result? Your guide to the very best of the expanded offerings (nearly 100 new items!) for Epcot Food & Wine in 2018.
25. Seared Scallops Coastal Eats
A recently-added, seafood-centric pavilion serving Oregon wines was big hit—looks like this one might be here to stay, and that's good news for fans of dishes like this rustic but also restaurant-ready dish, served on a roasted corn and butterbean succotash (tastes like fall!), then zipped up with a chipotle butter sauce.
24. Teriyaki SPAM Hash Hawai'i
Not a country, okay, but when you invented Hawaiian food, why shouldn't you get your own pavilion? This delicious (if lowbrow) dish calls upon that notably authentic regional ingredient to create a tasty teri hash, doused in spicy mayo. The kind of thing you think you're not going to eat, and then suddenly, it's gone.
23. Mango Bubble Tea China
Mango, Assam Black, milk, pearls. Boom—your new favorite Disney World walking-around beverage. Like what you're tasting? Once the festival is over, you'll find this increasingly popular treat available at China's Joy of Tea kiosk, operating year-round.
22. Madras Red Curry India
After a lengthy break, India came roaring back with a kiosk at last year's festival, and happily, it wasn't a one-off, because, oh look, here we go again. The chicken korma served here gets a lot of attention, but we'll happily start with this veggie-friendly (and gluten-free) curry with cauliflower and chickpeas, served over basmati rice.
21. Crispy Pork Belly Brazil
While there are other, more traditionally Brazilian things on the menu (and we'll get to that) at this popular pavilion that's back for a second consecutive year after taking plenty of time off, you will definitely want to try this healthy little portion of roast pig, served up, like last year, with black beans, fresh tomato and onions. Simple, and simply delicious.
20. Croissant aux Escargots France
Who doesn't love a croissant, right? A rather large number of festival attendees love this croissant specifically, a veritable explosion of garlic and butter, with that French favorite—little squiggly snails—baked right on in.
19. Butternut Squash Ravioli The Wine & Dine Studio
Served nicely al dente (at least during a tasting) with a brown butter vinaigrette, big shards of parmesan cheese and a scattering of toasted pumpkin seeds, there's only one flaw with this top-notch vegetarian dish—the portion is too small. Some will find the vinaigrette a touch too sweet. Most people will eat it right up.
18. Local beer Festival-wide
From some of Florida's most interesting breweries to hard-to-find brews from far flung countries, what was once primarily a food and wine festival has over time become something of a craft beer festival, as well. From Orlando Brewery's smoked porter at Flavors from Fire to Belgium's St. Bernardus Abt 12, a very fine, quad-style ale, beer lovers are well catered for.
17. Hummus Fries Morocco
Technically, this is cheating, because you can order yourself a mini-Jenga stack of these crispy beauties at Morocco's lagoon-side Spice Road Table restaurant, but they're bringing them out into the street, and we're biting, because while hummus makes for a very fine snack indeed, are we not in agreement that chickpea fritters—served up with tzatziki sauce for dipping—is perhaps even better? Thought so.
16. Loaded Greek Nachos Greece
Vegan nachos, at Disney World? Not only that, this surprising dish is a returning favorite, in spite of the fact that there's no meat or cheese to be found, anywhere. How does it work? The cheese is actually tofu, seasoned and crumbled to taste and look like feta, the meat is crumbled up Gardein sausage, and the sauce on top is a vegan tzatziki. You think it's not going to come together, and that's fine, but go ahead and take a bite, or two or three—it really works.
15. Steamed Green Lip Mussels New Zealand
Dripping with garlic butter and topped with toasted breadcrumbs, a handful of these chunky little Antipodean bivalves will disappear from your brown paper boat in a second or two, they're that tasty. Follow that up with a frozen wine cocktail, made with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, because why should rosé have all the fun?
14. Guinness Baileys Shake Ireland
We've no quarrel with sausages, colcannon potatoes, or that pretty delicious cheese and stout dip served with hunks of brown bread, but this year, all anyone was talking about at a widely-attended preview event last weekend was the new Guinness and Bailey's Irish Cream milkshake, which tastes, well, exactly what you'd expect such a thing to taste like, though to be fair, it does lean rather heavily on the Bailey's, which makes a whole lot of sense, and nobody's complaining, leastways us. Drink responsibly, because this thing goes down mighty easy.
13. Baked Shrimp Scampi Dip Coastal Eats
You might have seen this one before, but we're not nearly tired of it—not yet, anyway. Cheese, cream, herbs, garlic, butter and shrimp, end of list. This appealing little snack comes with not nearly enough sourdough bread to scoop it all up.
12. Spice-Crusted Salmon Active Eats
Farmed fish—no good, right? Verlasso, a salmon farming company based in Chile's Patagonia region, does things differently. A close collaborator with the Monterey Bay Aquarium on issues of sustainability, Verlasso's salmon earned a "Good Alternative" designation through the aquarium's highly regarded Seafood Watch program. Try a hunk of it here, served with a warm lentil salad, crushed avocado and sherry vinegar.
11. Moqueca Brazil
Scallops, shrimp and white fish mix it up in this coconut and lime accented stew, served over rice at Brazil's back-and-bad festival presence. They've also a got frozen caipirinha here, and we're not saying the two things pair well, but we're also not saying that they don't. Either way, you're going to have a nice time.
10. Grilled Lamb Chop Australia
Seemingly one of the most confident countries to show up to the festival, Australia's menu is essentially the same as last year's, and if we recall correctly, the same as the year before that. This simple dish—a well-grilled little chop, topped with mint pesto and crunchy potato bits—is the entrée in what really should be a three-course mini-meal, beginning with a handful of grilled bush berry shrimp and ending with that very Australian dessert, the Lamington, which is yellow cake dipped in chocolate and rolled in shredded coconut. Oh, and there's Australian wine, of course, too—you'll need to have some of that.
9. The Impossible Burger Slider Earth Eats
What's been called the best veggie burger around is now here at Walt Disney World, and it's available every day of the festival at a stand that also offers Kombucha flights, in case you are interested. Served with a spicy slaw and a zippy wasabi cream on a sesame seed bun, this is fast food for the 21st century, and while it's not quite as difficult to tell that you're not actually eating meat as some people have said, it's an impressive little veggie burger, good enough to get at least some people to eat less meat. That's a good thing, right?
8. Seafood Salad Spain
What a classy little dish this is, and a very colorful one at that, with shrimp, bay scallops and mussels, tossed around, devil may care-like, with olive oil, white balsamic, smoked paprika, chopped peppers and olives. The whole thing makes you want to fly to Spain and crash a picnic, but you can also just stay here and do your own—they also sell a little cone of Spanish meats, cheese and olives tossed with an herb vinaigrette that happens to be one of the most civilized little snacks available at the festival.
7. Filet Mignon Canada
We're not here to talk you out of Canada's cheddar cheese soup, that hall of fame-level festival favorite, but don't fill up on the stuff, because Le Cellier's nicely-cooked filet, topped with wild mushrooms and served with a decadent truffle butter sauce, kind of walks all over your basic bowl of cream soup, does it not?
6. Beef Nigiri Japan
Leave it to Japan to take their popular menu from last year, tear it up and start pretty much all over again. While the teriyaki chicken bun could end up becoming a major hit, we're positively bullish on the seared beef nigiri. Good beef, a bit of vinegar rice, diced pickled jalapenos and that hibachi restaurant staple, yum yum, or shrimp sauce, work together to create a couple of bites worth of deliciousness.
5. Liquid Nitro Chocolate Truffle Chocolate Studio
Using liquid nitrogen to make ice cream, and other desserts—perhaps you've seen it happening, perhaps, but have you tried it? This crispy but then superbly creamy dessert, part classic mousse and part science experiment, remains one of the most sought-after at the festival, and for a reason. They make it right in front of you, too, and the warmed whiskey caramel sauce that comes on top makes the whole thing even more delicious.
4. Spicy Ethiopian Red Lentil Stew Africa
When fall finally arrives in Orlando, and it will cool down at some point, put this soul-satisfying vegetarian option right near the top of your list. Bursting with garlic and packed with good-for-you lentils, the stew is topped with cooked quinoa and a bit of vegan yogurt, because even at Disney World, sometimes it's good to take a break for something extremely virtuous. Beats eating a boring salad.
3. New Brunswick Slider Hops & Barley
Slow-braised brisket served pot roast style, chipped down and dripping with gravy, a bracing dash of horseradish cream and crispy fried onions, served up on fresh potato bread—does this sound something you might enjoy? Does this sound like something you might not enjoy? Either way, try it, because here's the thing, it's so good, you might be back for seconds. Your mini sandwich of bliss comes with a nice side portion of spicy giardiniera, or Italian pickled vegetables (Chicagoans, you know what all that's about) on the side, because clearly, the horseradish wasn't enough.
2. Charred Chimichurri Skirt Steak Flavors From Fire
The most solid debut of 2018 deserves its place right near the top of the menu, and not just because they're wood grilling the quality, perfectly marinated meat right off to the side of this popular stand, but because it's only the beginning of what makes this dish so delicious. The other components are the smoked corn cake at the base of the tower, where you will also find a tangy, sour, pickled vegetable slaw and a creamy cilantro aioli (with a nice kick).
1. Seared Scallops Wine & Dine Studio
Our number one pick last year, and perhaps every year until they retire the thing, the preparation on this elegant little number has not changed much at all from last year, and why should it? Besides those juicy scallops, there's a tasty celery root puree with truffle shavings, wild mushrooms and Brussels sprouts. It's earthy, funky, and delicious—order two or three and call it dinner