Last week, we took a look at every new item at the 2016 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival, but it’s always hard to resist trying our longtime festival favorites again first thing. This week, we’ll take a look at 15 family-friendly festival favorites (yes, even kids will like many of these options!) to see if they’re just as good as we remember. I took a stroll at dinnertime one evening just after festival opening to try a few dishes I recommended in my preview post, plus a few more that always seem to be the most popular dishes of the festival. I’ve included a quick summary at the bottom of this post, with my take on whether each of these dishes is a skip/maybe try/must-do, as well.
The pulled pork here can sometimes be a little dry, but on my visit, it was perfectly succulent, very savory, with a little punch of sweet from the pineapple chutney. The spicy mayo isn’t really very spicy, but it does help keep the whole slider together. You’ll only get about five bites out of the sandwich this year, with a lot of bread in there, but it’s just as solid a pick as in previous years.
- Patagonia: Grilled Beef Skewer with Chimichurri Sauce and Boniato Puree ($5.75)
I’ve always found this to be a solid pick, as most everyone loves food on a stick, and while it sounds kind of scary with the boniato puree and the chimichurri, these are flavors that many are familiar with and happy to sample. The beef on this year’s skewer was tender and nicely grilled without being dried out, with the starchy puree (think: mashed potatoes) helping round out the bite and give a bit more richness to the whole plate. The chimichurri is packed with garlic, cilantro, parsley, and a little bit of a peppery kick – you’ll want it slathered over every bite, it’s that good. Chefs at the Patagonia booth were even offering a side of the chimichurri for guests ordering the beef empanada, as well!
- Canada: Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup Served with a Pretzel Roll ($4.75)
This dish is so famous at the Food and Wine Festival that no modifiers are necessary – it’s just “The Soup”. This year’s portion has, once again, shrunk slightly, but it now comes with a pretzel roll (which will look familiar if you’ve ordered the bratwurst from the Germany booth in the past). The soup was a tad too salty for me, though still deliciously creamy and packed with a slight smokiness from the bacon inside. The pretzel roll was a little stale, but a better delivery system for the soup than a spoon, so I went with it. With the smaller portion, this was overall a bit disappointing – it’s probably still going to be a super-popular option for most festival-goers, but I’d skip unless you are seriously craving it.
- Canada: “Le Cellier” Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle Butter Sauce ($7.75)
At $7.75, this is one of the most expensive food buys of the festival, and to be honest, my portion was not worth that price this year. Even during a fairly busy dinnertime visit, with fresh steaks being cooked and served every few minutes, I got a slightly tough and unevenly cooked steak (very well done on one end, medium on the other). The mushrooms and truffle sauce were as decadent as ever, earthy and savory without being too salty. This is another “skip” for me (an unpopular opinion, to be sure), but even for kids and picky eaters, there are better options for a better value out there.
Yes, this dish has a wine-base in it, so families wary of serving this to little ones should take note, but these short ribs and mashed potatoes blow most other beef dishes away at the festival this year. A deep and rich sauce coat two fairly large pieces of short ribs, tender but not totally mushy, atop super-buttery, just plain good mashed potatoes. I’ve found this dish to be inconsistent in past years, but this was well worth the cost and will fit most palates. As one of the busier booths at the festival, you’ll want to aim for this booth early or late in the day, and be sure to check if both ordering lines are in use before committing to a long wait.
One of the hidden-gem snacks at the festival, in my opinion, these cheesy bread rolls are also a very popular item because they are both vegetarian and gluten-free. Don’t let that scare you away – the dense roll gives way to a savory, stringy cheese interior that kids will absolutely love. At two rolls to an order, this is an easy dish to share and at a decent price (for Food & Wine), to boot.
Though this is usually one of the slower lines to wade through during most times of day, the dessert waffles here are always worth the wait. The chocolate ganache waffle is also great, but for something a bit lighter, I checked out the berry compote-topped version this year. The buttery waffle was crisp on the outside, tender and fluffy inside, with a strawberry/blueberry/raspberry-rich sauce on top. I still find this to be a reasonably large and very tasty portion for dessert compared to many options.
Another popular dessert option, the carrot cake here is one of the simpler dishes you can find at Food & Wine, but usually pretty well-done. Soft and full of spices, this cake tends to be pretty sweet (and with the warm cream cheese icing, even sweeter), and my sample was no exception. I’d recommend this dish as a good choice towards the end of the festival once cooler weather sets in, but if you’re in the mood for carrot cake, it’ll definitely hit the spot.
Though the pierogi here are nothing that you can’t find at your local grocery store, and you only get one per order with a few pieces of sausage, the caramelized onions offer a sweet contrast to the rest of the dish that really make this a must-do-once-per-festival dish for me. The potato pierogi is fairly bland in flavor, so even the youngest of kids will like it, but those with more sophisticated palates can also enjoy a complete and fairly complex bite from this dish.
Another great “value” for the festival, this heavier dish will satisfy most everyone’s mac & cheese craving with every rich bite. My portion was huge (I’d expect a slightly smaller piece, typically), and though there weren’t a ton of pieces of ham inside, I did find a few, along with lots of sautéed onion and melted cheese. The pasta still had some texture left to it, even after being baked, which is always nice to see. It can be a little greasy, but for such a decadent dish, it’s to be expected.
- China: Chicken Potstickers ($4.00)
These are pretty much what you’ll find at your local Chinese takeout restaurant, but it’s hard to pass up a good dumpling. You’ll get two to an order here, definitely not a great value, but the sweet and tangy duck sauce served alongside the dumplings elevates them enough that I definitely like to get these once a festival, especially if I’m visiting with picky eaters.
- China: Mango Bubble Tea with Assam Black Tea and Milk ($6.75)
Bonus: Another non-alcoholic specialty drink many can enjoy (aside from the Frozen Pumpkin delight I sampled last week)! Downside? It’s definitely a little pricy, and not too different than most bubble teas you’ve probably tried. Kids will love the texture of the tapioca-based boba at the bottom of the drink, plus the fun, huge straw you get to try it all with. It’s sweet, to be sure, but a solid option if you are in the mood for a dessert but sampling so many dishes has stolen your appetite.
- Mexico: Taco de Camarón: Battered Shrimp served over a Flour Tortilla with Crispy Purple Cabbage and Chipotle Mayonnaise ($5.75)
A slightly-changed presentation this year, with purple cabbage instead of pickled onions, this shrimp taco always seems to be incredibly popular with kids and adults alike. I liked this version a bit better than I have before, with the cabbage giving the whole thing a little more crunch, but it’s definitely not a large portion for the price. I’d stick to the amazing barbacoa enchilada at this booth instead, but if the taco is one of your returning festival favorites, this year’s version won’t disappoint.
There’s definitely a reason this dish has been around the festival for so many years – it is just a quality dish from start to finish. From the giant, herbaceous and savory meatball, to the smoky, sweet, slightly spicy and rich tomato sauce, and the fun bread bowl holding the meatball, this is a tough dish to beat on my list of favorites. This year’s version is a spitting image from last year’s, which should make it a must-try on your list of returning dishes.
- Farm Fresh: Loaded Mac’n’Cheese with Neuske’s Pepper Bacon, Cheddar, Peppers, and Green Onions ($4.50)
A fast favorite after last year’s festival, this elevated version of a classic features flavors that most families will find agreeable. I really enjoy the bacon and green onions here, but my sample was a little heavy on the red peppers (an already strong flavor) and had incredibly mushy pasta. Even though it’s prettier and more toppings-heavy than Germany’s similar schinkennudeln, I much preferred the baked version’s texture and portion size over this dish’s.
After all these thoughts, how would I prioritize these dishes?
Classics That Are Still Must-Dos
- Kalua Pork Slider with Sweet and Sour Dole® Pineapple Chutney and Spicy Mayonnaise (Hawai’i)
- Grilled Beef Skewer with Chimichurri Sauce and Boniato Puree (Patagonia)
- Boeuf Bourgignon – Braised Short Ribs in Cabernet Sauvignon with Mashed Potatoes (France)
- Pao de Queijo – Brazilian Cheese Bread (Brazil)
- Belgian Waffle with Berry Compote and Whipped Cream (Belgium)
- Lamb Meatball with Spicy Tomato Chutney (New Zealand)
Maybe After You Sample A Few New Dishes… (Still Good, But You Might Love Others More)
- Freshly Baked Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Icing (Hops & Barley)
- Kielbasa and Potato Pierogi with Caramelized Onions and Sour Cream (Poland)
- Schinkennudeln – Pasta Gratin with Ham and Cheese (Germany)
- Chicken Potstickers (China)
- Mango Bubble Tea with Assam Black Tea and Milk (China)
- Taco de Camarón: Battered Shrimp served over a Flour Tortilla with Crispy Purple Cabbage and Chipotle Mayonnaise (Mexico)
Skip This Year (Unless It’s Your Absolute Favorite, Must-Have Dish Ever)
- Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup Served with a Pretzel Roll (Canada)
- “Le Cellier” Wild Mushroom Beef Filet Mignon with Truffle Butter Sauce (Canada)
- Loaded Mac’n’Cheese with Neuske’s Pepper Bacon, Cheddar, Peppers, and Green Onions (Farm Fresh)