With the start of another Flower & Garden Festival season brings tons of new dishes to taste test (check out my preview from earlier this week), and today I’m here to bring you a few of my favorites from this year’s fest. I wandered World Showcase on the first day of the festival to bring you reviews of a few of the best new dishes at the 2018 Flower & Garden Festival, so you know what to splurge on and what to skip in favor of your returning favorites. Check out my thoughts below on these new items (and be on the lookout next week for reviews of a few familiar dishes from the festival, to see how they stack up to previous years).
La Isla Fresca
- Tropical Mousse Cake: Layers of Passion Fruit Cake, Coconut Mousse, and a Tropical Fruit Glaze with Fresh Pineapple
If springtime in Florida isn’t tropical enough for you, taste this cake – you’ll feel like you are sitting on a beach listening to the waves crash by, it’s so tropical. Dense and rich, tangy sweet passion fruit vanilla cake is layered here with a sweet coconut mousse, topped with more passion fruit/pineapple/citrus-y glaze, served with a pineapple relish made from some incredibly fresh fruit. I had a lot of dishes to try on the first day of the festival, but I couldn’t stop eating this. A definite winner for those in search of a sweet treat!
The Honey Bee-stro
- Roasted Cauliflower with Buckwheat Honey Carrot Puree, Wild Rice Pilaf, Asparagus, Honey Blistered Grapes, and Sunflower Brittle (GF) (V)
- Honey Tandoori Chicken Flatbread with White Cheddar Cheese, charred vegetables, Clover Honey Sour Cream, and Micro Watercress
- Local Wildflower Honey-Mascarpone Cheesecake with Orange Blossom Honey Ice Cream garnished with Fennel Pollen Meringue Kisses
- Honey-Peach Cobbler Freeze with Blueberry Vodka (Non-alcoholic option available)
An all-new booth this year, I felt it my duty to give all the dishes a fair shot and see which were most worthwhile. The flatbread, while a fairly decent portion, isn’t your best bet here, as it’s sparsely topped (though full of charred red pepper flavor, if that’s your thing). The true winners here were the roasted cauliflower dish, almost entrée-sized in flavor, composition, and portion; and the ridiculously simple-but-tasty honey-mascarpone cheesecake.
The cauliflower dish comes with several simply roasted florets atop a rice pilaf, with several addictive roasted grapes and a bit of greenery over a sweet honey carrot puree. Again, veggie lovers, rejoice – this is way more complex and fun than a typical salad, satisfying and tasty to boot. I nearly finished the whole plate before eyeing the melting honey ice cream on the cheesecake plate – boy, I’m glad I saved that ice cream from certain death. Alongside the fennel pollen-kissed meringue kisses, they offered a sweet contrast to the more savory-end-of-sweet cheesecake, a fluffy and creamy affair that I could’ve easily eaten five of, if given the opportunity.
- Toasted Pretzel Bread topped with Black Forest Ham and Melted Gruyère Cheese
I didn’t expect a lot from this dish other than that it would be tasty, simple, and kid friendly, and that’s exactly how it stacked up. The pretzel bread seems to be a similar soft texture to the pretzel rolls served inside the Germany pavilion at Biergarten, with a slight toast on the bottom (a total plus – it wasn’t too tough to eat, but don’t expect “toasted” to mean “totally crunchy” here). The black forest ham had a wonderful smoky flavor, and the melted gruyere was ooey gooey greatness on top of it all. Pretty much everyone (from picky eaters, to kids, to kids at heart) will love this dish.
Taste of Marrakesh
- Harissa Chicken Kebab with Dried Fruit Couscous Salad
This is a dish of successful contrasts – spicy harissa and sweet couscous; warm grilled chicken with a cooling side. While the portion isn’t huge, this is a great introduction to traditional Moroccan flavors if you’ve always been a little wary. The harissa sauce on the chicken is mildly spicy, with a great grilled flavor underneath. The couscous, packed with fruit and a few veggies, is a sweeter version of the side you’ll find at Tangierine Café, almost bordering on too sweet on its own, but perfect when paired with the chicken.
- Fried Cauliflower with Capers, Garlic Parsley and Chili Ranch Sauce
This is the dish that will convince your kids cauliflower is not the enemy, I promise. Deep-fried, golden brown, crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, and served with a ranch dipping sauce with a slight kick, I dare any cauliflower hater to try this and not want one more bite. The capers and garlic parsley added in to the fried cauliflower bites add a nice touch of visual greenery, but for those in search of more complex flavors, also help take some of the richness off the cauliflower, offering a bit of tang and herby notes to the party.
Fleur de Lys
- Tarte à la Tomate Provençale: Provencal Tomato Tart with Sautéed Onions, Fresh Thyme, and Rosemary on a Flaky Pastry Crust (V)
Another winner this year from the France booth, I really enjoyed this crispy, buttery tomato tart, packed with caramelized onions and tons of fresh herbs. This is definitely a dish to order when the booth is busy and they haven’t been sitting out long, though, as the tart will get tough the longer it sits out. This is a great option for those looking for a heavier vegetarian dish, or some complex veggie flavors outside of a salad.
- Macaron au Chocolat en Sucette: Large Chocolate Macaron Lollipop (GF)
This dish will undoubtedly be one of the most popular of this year’s festival – macarons are already great, then you make them chocolate flavored, cover them in more chocolate and candied chocolate, and turn it into a lollipop? Instant buy. The macaron was perfectly crisp and marshmallow-y, with a deep, rich chocolate fudgy filling. I loved the added crunch from the nonpareils on the outside of the macaron, and the lollipop stick not only made it fun to eat, but infinitely less messy, too!
Jardin de Fiestas
- Pork Taco: Slow-braised Pork Taco served with Apple Relish, Goat Cheese, and Chile de Árbol Sauce
Mexico’s booth really stepped up their game this year in big ways, and this pork taco dish is the perfect example of that improvement. Traditional flavors from the slow-braised pulled pork and chile de arbol sauce (smoky, slightly spicy) mix with a modern cooling apple and onion relish (acidic, sweet, crunchy) and salty goat cheese to create a ridiculously great few bites. The portion here is not huge for the price, admittedly, but the flavors are big and bold, really bringing the freshness of the garden’s ingredients to the table.
- Chilaquiles: Chilaquiles served with Chorizo, Mexican Cream, and Cotija Cheese
If you’re looking for more spice, check out these chilaquiles – the chorizo brings the spicy party to another level here, and holy moly, are these good. Chilaquiles (a casserole made out of fried tortillas soaked in salsa/sauce, smothered here with cheese and crema) are a mainstay at the Mexican booth for festivals, but these are really taking it up a notch with a complex flavor, thanks to the smokiness of the chorizo and the rich cream on top balancing out the spice.
- Capirotada: Bread Pudding served with Rompope
Bread pudding drowned in egg nog – I was sold from the start. Cinnamon-packed, rich, and sweet, this bread pudding had a perfect “crust” on top while maintaining that dense, moist texture inside. A sizeable portion for one or two to share, this is a great sweet treat if bread pudding is your thing.
- Spicy Meatballs with Crispy Tofu
I will preface this by saying these are not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but I really liked them and definitely give the China booth points for trying something new and different. These are traditional Chinese stuffed tofu pieces. (Don’t run away, tofu-haters – I promise they’re tastier than they sound!) The square shape comes from the tofu layer, which is fried on the outside, giving it a denser texture than normal spongey-squishy tofu – so dense that it blends right in to the meatball texture (you won’t even know it’s there!). The meatball seemed like it was a pork mixture, with many spices, garlic, and garlic chives – similar to what you’d find in a pork dumpling. Topped with a sweet and sour, slightly spicy brown gravy, along with sliced carrots and jicama, I found this to be one of the most interesting (not in a bad way) and ultimately satisfying dishes I had all day.
- Griddled Maple Pound Cake with Warm Peach Compote and Sweet Corn Gelato
I was so excited to try this new dish, but alas, the booth had run out of them by the end of the night when I got there. (It was super popular!) I promise to bring a review of this next week as a bonus to the returning favorites, as I can’t wait to try it alongside the maple popcorn shake.
- Frittata di Asparagi: Asparagus Frittata, Mixed Greens, and Citrus Dressing (GF) (V)
I know what you’re thinking – how are these two some of the best new dishes? At first glance, I was not excited to try a frittata from a food booth, but I was absolutely floored to see when I got to the Italy booth that they are making these fresh in the booth (alongside freshly fried fritto misto, too)! A chef is making frittatas basically to order, and as a result, this asparagus frittata ended up being the freshest food, most full of the garden flavors I come to expect from Flower & Garden, that I had all day! Tons of fresh baby asparagus were diced and included in the eggy goodness, with a bit of peppery and herby mixed greens and a perfectly tart citrus dressing helping to cut the richness on top. If you’re around the festival early in the day and looking for a great brunch-y dish, look no further.
- Panna Cotta al Melone: Cantaloupe Panna Cotta (GF) (V)
I knew this would be a divisive dish, one totally dependent on how far they pushed the flavor of the cantaloupe and the sweetness. I found the flavor of this panna cotta (think slightly denser than pudding) dish to be spot-on – it wasn’t cloyingly sweet, but a ton of fresh melon flavor really popped through and was ultimately pretty refreshing, even for a creamy dessert. You’ll have to love cantaloupe to like this, but it’s worth a shot if you do.
What new dishes catch your eye? Or are you saving your appetite for a few of your returning favorites? Let me know in the comments below!