Epcot’s in bloom once again, just in time for the 2019 Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, and there are tons of new booths and bites to sample. This year’s fest features a whopping four entirely new food booths, so you know just where I had to make a beeline to on opening day, right? Let’s take a look at the new booths (plus an honorary “new” booth for this year’s festival)!
Located inside the Festival Center at the Odyssey, Arbor (at the Gardeners Terrace) features produce fresh from the garden in three upscale dishes. First up, we sampled the Fried Green Tomatoes with Blue Crab-Fennel Salad, Remoulade, and Smoked Paprika Oil. This dish is kind of a deconstructed crab cake fused with a fried green tomato appetizer – three halves of perfectly cornmeal-coated, golden brown, tart green tomatoes came topped with this naturally-sweet crab and fennel salad with a generous portion of perfectly tangy remoulade spread underneath. I felt like the overly smoky paprika oil was unnecessary here – the complexity of the tart+sweet+tang flavors plus the crunchy-creamy-fresh juxtaposition of the remaining ingredients really made the overpowering oil superfluous.
I liked the fried green tomatoes, but I loved the Smoked Salmon Stack with Avocados, Tomatoes, Sour Cream, Caviar, and Focaccia Crostino. This was definitely a surprise hit for me – the smokiness of the salmon was absolutely beauteous when you mixed it with the rich avocado, and then at the very end of every bite, the briny caviar and acidic, bright tomatoes cut through it all perfectly to cleanse my palate. This would not have been a dish I would’ve naturally ordered had I not needed to review it, and I left Epcot thinking it was one of my favorite bites of the night!
Less successful for me was the Mixed Berry Buttermilk Cake. The cake itself looked a bit like coffee cake, but really didn’t have the richness or tang I’d expect from a typical buttermilk batter – mostly it was just unidentifiably sweet in flavor. The berry compote on top was strongly tart, which was welcome in cutting through the sweetness of the cake, but the lemon ice cream on top was overly sweet to me, as well. I wished for better texture and flavor from this dense and dull cake, and even in my first festival visit, I tried several other desserts that far surpassed this; I’d definitely skip this on my next trip.
Flavor Full Kitchen
The prime Future World-World Showcase bypass walkway booth spot went to Flavor Full Kitchen, this year, which sits just adjacent to the kid’s play area. Conveniently, the booth serves a few options kids will undoubtedly gobble up, but first, we have to eat our vegetables…
First up, I tried the Citrus-Poached Salmon with Ancient Grain Salad, Roasted Vegetables, and Citrus Greens. The salmon here, evident from my photo, was wildly overcooked (all that white albumen coming out from the fish is a dead giveaway!), but still mild in flavor and not at all fishy, which means even fish-averse people might be willing to give this a shot. The best part of this dish was easily the ancient grain salad lain underneath; it was brighter in citrus flavor than the salmon, and had a nice chew without being gummy or dry. The “roasted vegetables” listed in the menu description were, at least on my plate, entirely composed of two tiny dices of patty pan squash and a half a roasted tomato, which, fine, *technically* qualifies but it’s hardly a veggie-forward dish, so don’t let the description fool you.
The From the Garden salad featuring Roasted Beets, Cashew Cheese, Micro Herbs, and Lemon-Oil Dressing was a lemon-forward bright salad that really woke up my palate in all the right ways. I’m not sure I know anyone growing cashews for their own vegan cheese, but this is a fun way to get folks who’d otherwise shy away from this delicacy to give it a shot – here, because of the lemon in the rest of the dish, it sort of tastes like a mix of Velveeta with hummus, which sounds a little odd but is absolutely a flavor you want to try, trust me. The beets here would please even the heartiest of beet-haters, as the infamous “dirt” flavor is all but erased with everything else going on here – a pity for beet-lovers like myself, as a little earthiness would’ve grounded this bordering-on-tart dish. Overall, though, this is a great salad option that really sings – I can’t wait to try this again in future festival visits.
This tart salad paired perfectly well with the Blood Orange Agua Fresca, a tart-sweet concoction that had way more flavor than a traditional agua fresca, but still served as a refreshing departure from the sweet flavors to come, regardless. It’s a pretty sizeable portion for the price, basically a full glass of drink, and pretty, to boot. I’d venture to say most kids will love the flavor of this – it’s easy enough to sell to them as orange Kool-Aid, and tastes a bit like a sour patch kid on first sip, so have fun with those reaction photos!
For dessert, Flavor Full Kitchen offers both food and beverage options, both kid-friendly in the extreme. The Mickey Tart Peanut Butter Mousse with Strawberry Jam and Boba Pearls is pretty much a classic PBJ sandwich in dessert form, with a peanut-y sweet tart shell in the absolutely irresistible classic Mickey silhouette basically calling your name towards the booth. I’ll be honest – this wasn’t my favorite dessert ever – it was way sweet to the point of being sickly sweet, and there weren’t any fun textures to break this up. Plus, I’ve established a pretty hard line against this weird gelatinous glittery “strawberry” flavored goo that Disney chefs insist on putting on a dish at Every Festival Ever, and it continues to just not be my favorite thing.
The real surprise here was the incredibly rich, incredibly deep in flavor Cookie Butter Worms and Dirt. I was confused about this being a drink, but realized staring at the menu that the “(non-alcoholic)” after it, along with its placement among the drink options, really meant it was a drink, but I had no idea what to expect. In short: it’s a cookie butter milkshake. Oh yeah. Let me repeat that: a Cookie. Butter. Milkshake. Are you already running towards this booth? Yeah, me too. I want another one right now. Basically, this tasted like a creamy Bailey’s milkshake – my tasting partner and I debated for a while about the strong almost coffee-like notes in this drink, which matches perfectly with the sandwich cookie crumbles. I did not eat the worm (that advice isn’t just applicable to La Cava del Tequila, friends!), but I bet any kid would love to dig through this milkshake, make the biggest mess ever, and very happily gobble up the partially frozen, chocolatey delicious worm served in every drink.
The Citrus Blossom
The Citrus Blossom booth, located across from Refreshment Port, is probably best known as “that booth with the enormously long line to buy a cup shaped like that Orange Bird thingy” (actual quote from a passerby as I waited in the 30-minute or so line for this booth on festival day one). Shockingly, though, they sell more than just this one thing – they also have some pretty great food options!
The Lobster Tail with Meyer Lemon Emulsion and Grilled Lemon was surprisingly good for a lobster tail cooked in a temporary food stand. At $8, this is a relative splurge, but for lobster lovers, it really doesn’t get as simply delicious as this. The lemon sauce on top was perfectly emulsified (I totally expected a split mess, but no issues there), with a strong butter-forward base serving to up the richness factor on an already lavish dish. The grilled lemon offered a bit of sweet, acidic respite from this decadence, which was welcome. Overall, I didn’t expect a full-on petite lobster tail to be served (in-shell, no less) in a festival and have it actually turn out edible, so props to the Epcot chefs who figured out the cookery on this one – it’s really a feat.
The Tuna Tataki with Spicy Yuzu Glaze, Mango, Avocado, and Papadum Crisp is the most citrus-forward of all the options at this booth, to the point that the tuna is almost lost in the three-way melee of mango, yuzu, and spice. This was a pretty hearty portion, served almost Asian bruschetta-style atop the crunchy papadum (which indicated a few flavors with the seeds and herbs visible, but really didn’t amount to much, flavor-wise). For seafood-eaters, this is a really great dish that will refresh during the hotter days towards the middle and end of the festival.
One of my favorites from this booth, and my first day of tasting, was the simple but effective Crispy Citrus Chicken with Orange Aioli and Baby Greens. Kids will eat this, picky eaters will eat this, and everyone should eat this. It’s perfectly crisp chicken cutlet (almost half of a full portion – fairly large) with a slight hint of orange in the breading and a fun sauce on top. Essentially, it’s all the flavor of Asian orange chicken with a slightly different wrapper and without all the sweetness, which I am all in for.
For dessert, this booth might’ve gone a little too simple – they offer a well-executed but easily overshined Citrus Shortcake with Orange Chiffon Cake, Lemon Curd, Mandarin Orange, Whipped Cream, Citrus Crumble, and Apple Cider Sorbet. Looking back now, I can see I didn’t get any apple cider sorbet at all (what a bummer!), so I’ll have to retry this dish soon for a full review. I enjoyed the light cake and bright curd, but overall it was missing something – and now I know!
Finally, the thing everyone’s really coming to this booth for – the Orange Cream Slushy served in souvenir Orange Bird sipper. This is an Orange Julius, or a creamsicle in milkshake form – or at least, it’s supposed to be. Mine was not totally frozen, likely a byproduct of how fast these drinks are flying off the shelves. It was a little sweet for me; I would’ve preferred more of an orange-forward drink whilst sipping the guts out of Little Orange Bird, but let’s be honest, most everyone is here for the cup over the drink, anyways.
Trowel & Trellis
I almost don’t want to spoil the biggest secret of this booth, because trying the food first and then discovering this afterwards is way more fun (my experience!)… are you ready? Everything here is vegan! Stop running away, this is totally a great thing! Sponsored by Impossible Foods, one of the industry leaders in bringing affordable, sustainable, plant-based options to your local stores and restaurants, Trowel & Trellis does something that Terra Eats (rest in peace!) never did – it truly can convince anyone that vegan food can be just as satisfying as everything else.
First up, Disney brings one of the best snack additions to any theme park in recent memory (the grilled corn served outside Kilimanjaro Safaris) and amps it up with new flavors for this festival with the Grilled Street Corn on the Cob with Savory Garlic Spread. I’m not sure what wizardry was involved here to make this garlic spread – it tasted like that amazing Boursin cheese spread had been rubbed all over a freshly grilled smoky ear of corn. The charred bits of corn on my ear were perfectly caramelized, bouncing the corn’s natural sweetness off the umami-laden topping. It’s messy, it’s fantastic, and no one, picky kids or adults alike, will say no.
Next up, the also-vegan Farmhouse Meatball with Lentil Bread, Spinach, Marinated Vegetables, and Creamy Herb Dressing. This was like eating a gyro-style wrap – the spiced meat with a slight kick on the back end, fresh and crunchy vegetables full of brightness, and a tzatziki-esque sauce tying it all together. This wrap was served on a lentil bread that was pretty similar in texture and appearance to the onion kulcha you’ll find on the famed bread service at Sanaa, but a word of warning: it can be a bit chewy if you end up with a plate that’s been sitting around for a bit, so try to sample this dish at a busy time when they are making them fresh.
The dish that will absolutely blow your mind (it did mine) with both its vegan-ness and tastiness is the Chocolate Pudding Terrarium with Avocado Cream, Matcha Crumb, Pomegranate, and Baby Herbs. This is the richest, deepest chocolate pudding I’ve ever had at Walt Disney World (and maybe ever, aside from the divine version from a certain grocer), all thanks to the avocado cream base. There’s unlabeled chia seeds present here, too, which give the top of the terrarium a fun tapioca-like texture. The matcha crumbs didn’t offer a ton of flavor, but the bright pomegranate arils and baby herbs packed with sprints of “green” flavor punch up the otherwise almost-too-rich pudding into a dish you will struggle to share. I can’t wait to have this dish again, full-stop.
Jardin De Fiestas
OK, OK, the Mexico booth is far from new, but every year, they seem to completely change their menu to the point that they may as well be. This year’s offerings borrow from previous years’ menus, with an injection of more fresh produce into the savory dishes (a welcome return to roots here).
The Tlacoyo with Blue Corn Masa topped with Black Bean Spread, Ground Chorizo, Queso Fresco, and Crema is best eaten hand-held and fresh (otherwise your masa cake may be a tad stale). This is the epitome of Mexican street food, melding all the spice, richness, and freshness you’d expect from any great traditional dish in one portable meal. This is a pretty hearty portion, and definitely traditional to the core – I really appreciated the attention to detail here and emphasis on presenting a truly authentic dish to folks who’ve probably never tried it before.
The Beef Torta with Braised Beef served on a Crispy Sourdough Roll with Queso Oaxaca, Avocado, Pickled Onions and Jalapenos in a Spicy Habanero Sauce is for the spice-fiends amongst your family. The barbacoa is perfectly tender, juicy, and full of heat, contrasted with the salty cheese and relatively sweet avocado. The bright and acidic pickled onions balance the dish overall and bring some much needed freshness to this dish, but sadly the roll was a little overwhelming for the whole deal. I wished for a little less density, overall, but it is much improved if you drown it in the habanero sauce swimming at the bottom of the serving bowl – much more traditional, and helps take care of the toughness this bread can have.
I’m a huge fan of Tres Leches anywhere I can find it, and this was not what I expected at all. Here, we see a Tres Leches with Milk-Soaked Sponge Cake topped with Cajeta Whipped Cream and Almond Powder. Sounds traditional and tasty, right? It did not taste like any tres leches me or my tasting partner had ever encountered – my first impression was that they ran out of milk-soaked sponge and substituted Entenmann’s coffee cake. (You know the one – streusel topping and drowning in powdered sugar? That one.) The cake here really wasn’t soaked in milk – a shame, since it could’ve used an infusion of something here. There’s a dominant cinnamon flavor here, and the caramel notes of the whipped cream are lost, but the almond definitely takes first prize in flavor. Overall, I don’t want to steer you away from this dish, because it truly is a tasty dessert, but this version isn’t as traditional as I would’ve expected considering the push towards tradition in the savory dishes.
Flower and Garden food has really come a long way in the last few years – we’ve gone from a few booths with some dishes only approximating the best you can get from Food and Wine, to now several new booths being added a year with fresh flavors and industry-wide trends leading the way. I’m overall really impressed with the new booths this year, particularly Citrus Blossom and Trowel & Trellis. I liked several dishes at Flavor Full Kitchen and Arbor, and Jardin de Fiestas saw a new-and-improved take on traditional Mexican fare. I can’t wait to sample some of the new dishes from this year’s returning booths, along with trying my favorites from years’ past. I’ll have reviews of both of these in the coming weeks, but until then, enjoy #FreshEpcot and let me know your favorite eats in the comments below!