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Best Bets at the 2023 Festival of the Arts

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We’ve already covered The Best $50 You Can Spend at Festival of the Arts, but now let’s map out a food and beverage plan if you don’t want to be bothered with budgets. Here are the sips and nibbles we suggest you splurge on to get the best of this Fest. Some of these also made an appearance in the Best $50, but that’s OK. They’re good enough to eat twice!

Best Seafood

Cast Iron-roasted P.E.I. Mussels from The Craftsman’s Courtyard, $7.50 – a repeat that has earned another appearance! Not a soul is going to pass up such a beautiful seafood dish when it’s priced like this AND the serving is so generous. Plus, I’m a sucker for a good sauce. Save the toasted bread to dip in the herbed, liquid joy at the bottom of the bowl.

A white cardboard bowl holds several mussels with small white flecks of garlic on the shells; bits of dark red tomatoes are visible between the mussels and a piece of sliced baguette toast with grill marks lies across the top
Cast Iron-roasted P.E.I. Mussels with Sautéed Tomatoes, Garlic, and Fresh Herbs

Angry Crab from Moderne. This is the only star at this new booth, but it’s worth the wait in line! The crab is sweet and crunchy, and the sriracha is a nice twist with the tropical flavors.

Two halves of a crispy-coated fried soft shell crab are balanced against each other, supported by a small mount of orange and white slaw-like salad underneath. A thin rope of orange sauce with occasional red flecks surrounds the whole thing, and a few bob-style yellow and orange beads are arranged at the tail of the sauce curl, where it meets the crab.
Angry Crab: Whole Crispy Soft-Shell Crab with Green Papaya Salad, Mango-Sriracha Fluid Gel, Coconut-Lime Foam with Pomegranate and Mango Crush Pearls

Best Comfort Food

Tomato Soup with Pimento Cheese, Bacon, and Fried Green Tomato Grilled Cheese from Pop Eats. So simple but so wonderful. The soup is unreasonably creamy and hearty and the Grilled Cheese is a meal all on its own.

To the left, a plastic cup with the Pop Eats logo is filled with orangy-tomato-colored soup. The texture is smooth but not pureed. To the right, the clear pop-top from the lid rests against the two halves of the sandwich which have been arranged with one lying cross-ways against the other. The bread is toasted brown around the edges and on the middle, and the filling is a creamy orange with tiny chunks of bacon.
Tomato soup with Pimento Cheese, Bacon and Fried Green Tomato Grilled Cheese – $6.50

Best Meaty Bits

Red Wine-Braised Beef Short Rib from Pastoral Palate. This mini Sunday dinner has been on repeat for me. The parsnip pureé is sweet and creamy and provides the most beautiful resting place for the spoon-tender beef.

Two roasted yellow-orange baby tomatoes sit in the foreground atop a large dollop of creamy beige parsnip puree with a drizzle of balsamic peeking out from underneath. To the rear, two dark brown short ribs lie on top of more balsamic reduction with two spears of broccolini laid alongside everything.
Red Wine-braised Beef Short Rib with Parsnip Purée, Broccolini, Baby Tomatoes and Aged Balsamic

Carne Asada from El Artista Hambriento, Mexico. This dish is the most expensive item that I heartily recommend! I love that it isn’t spicy but it is powerfully flavored!

A pile of sliced beef is layered and piled into a triangle shape on the plate. A few crispy onions are piled on top.
Carne Asada: Chipotle-Marinated Beef Sirloin, Sweet Potato Purée and Crispy-Fried Onions

Chorizo and Potato Empanada from Vibrante & Vívido: Encanto Cocina. It’s so impressive that they’re able to produce such beautiful pastry in such huge quantities! Well filled and so reasonable for the size!

A half-moon folded and fried pastry with bright orange drizzles of aioli
Chorizo and Potato Empanada with Turmeric Aïoli and Annatto Aïoli

Best Veg That Features Veg But Isn’t Plant-Based And For Sure Has Dairy Or Meat Ingredients

Usually we like to do a “Best Plant-Based/Gluten-Friendly” category, but there weren’t as many standouts this year. These dishes are vegetable-focused, but they do contain dairy (non-vegan) or in some cases meat components.

Wild Mushroom Risotto, Gourmet Landscapes. Reminder, this is our “splurge” list. Anything above $7.00 invokes a rant about the cost of eggs and the lack of AP sales, but this $9.75 dish is worth the money. This is a must-do if you have picky eaters in your group, assuming they don’t have a fear of fungi!

creamy pale risotto is topped with a reddish-brown sauce with visible bits of mushroom, a sprinkle of greenery, and a large thin piece of parmesan perched vertically on top
Wild Mushroom Risotto with Aged Parmesan, Truffle Shavings, and Zinfandel Reduction

Deconstructed French Onion Soup, The Deconstructed Dish.  This dish had us writing poetry about onion bread. Sure, there is beef broth, but this is an ode to onions and we’re huge fans. Don’t skip this – especially now that we’re in our winter blast. It was 64 degrees today and I actually had to bust out a sweater. This Soup will help clear the bone-chilling frost of a bitter Florida deep freeze.

A round dumpling sits on the plate; a shmear of white cream sauce is visible underneath as are two small, sauteed, glistening soft pearl onions. A scallion with purple bulb and bright green shoots lies artfully across the plate on the top right.
Deconstructed French Onion Soup: Beef Broth Ravioli, Gruyère Cream, Onion Bread Pudding and Onion Textures

Best Sweets

Rainbow Cake, Figment’s Inspiration Station at the Odyssey. Sure, this one cake is all of the sugar one human should consume in a two-week period, but it’s worth the money and the eventual crash. The colors are happy, the Skittles are the stuff of TikTok dreams, and the whipped icing is delightful.

5-layer cake, with each layer a vivid and different color of the rainbow, with white frosting and decorated with Skittles.
Rainbow Cake with freeze-dried SKITTLES® bite-sized candies

Hummingbird Cake, The Artist’s Table. This is what happens when that one lady at the church potluck decides to show off. The banana sorbet has a tiny buzz of false banana flavor, but it’s still worth the time and money.

A slice of pale brown cake topped with a thin strip of toasted coconut and with a small pile of finely cut pineapple in front
Hummingbird Cake: Banana Cake with Pineapple, Coconut, Pecans and Cream Cheese Frosting with Banana Sorbet
House-Made Crispy Almond Phyllo, Tangierine Café. Have you seen the videos of Len having a spiritual moment with this flaky, crunchy delight? If you see Len walking around Epcot between now and February 20th, he’s going to have powdered sugar and phyllo crumbs on his chin and shirt. It’s fine. We know.

Two dark brown fried pastries lie on a plate within overlapping circles of a brown and dark pink sauce. The exterior of the pastries is fried phyllo showing ruffles and folds and looking super-crispy
House-made Crispy Almond Phyllo Pockets with White Chocolate Pomegranate and Milk Chocolate Orange

Best Chocolate

Black Forest Cake, Pastoral Palate, Germany. Fine. I’m cheap and I’m old enough to remember the Epcot Food and Wine prices from a few decades ago. I am much older, but I’m still cheap while still expecting a serving that is both delicious and enough to share with at least one other person. This $4.75 cake is all of that, plus it’s stunning! Make sure you’re getting a complete bite of cream, the cake, and the cherry – outstanding!

A thick, round disc of chocolate mousse is topped with a scoop of chantilly cream. A few spoonfuls of cherries in juice are artfully positioned on the plate.
Black Forest Cake: Chocolate Mousse with Morello Cherries and Chantilly Cream

Decadent Valrhona Chocolate, Deco Delights. This is the best kind of repeat! We’re so happy this one came back AND they kept the price the same. We fully endorse a $5.00 Festival dish. The Dark Chocolate Mousse, Chocolate Brownie, and Cassis Mousse meet to create a chocolate dream.

A slice of trianglular cake with a purple outer frosting sits on a wide smear of dark currant-colored sauce on the plate with its tip pointing upwards. The brownie on the bottom third is a darker brown, and there is also a scoop of what looks like chocolate ice cream on the plate.
Decadent Valrhona Chocolate with Dark Chocolate Mousse, Chocolate Brownie and Cassis Mousse

Have you visited the Festival this year? What did we leave off that would have made your list? Let us know in the comments!


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Christina Harrison

Christina worked for TouringPlans as a youngster and is back on the team now weighing cupcakes, stalking the Hello Kitty section of Mitsukoshi, and getting social media footage for our rad Instagram feed!

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