The EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival has returned yet again for its longest run ever, with a pretty modified event this year thanks to COVID-19. We ventured out to EPCOT this week to try out some of the newest offerings from each booth and to decide if the modified version of the festival was worth hitting this year. Let's take a look!
Our first stop of the day was Flavors from Fire. This booth is located just across from the Buzz Lightyear Playground in Future World and it's sponsored by the NFL on ESPN. The food names have some fun football-inspired puns and the items we tried were all fantastic.
The Chimichurri-up Offense - $7
Our first dish of the day was the Chimichurri-up Offense. For the $7, the portion was actually really big and the different elements of the dish worked well together. The smoked corn cake was amongst the best we've ever had, and the charred chimichurri skirt steak was juicy and plentiful. The pickled vegetable slaw tied the dish together well and made for an excellent game day-inspired meal.
The S'mores Whoopie Pie-lon - $4
The S'mores Whoopie Pie-lon came with gram cracker, marshmallow, chocolate ganache, and candied bacon. Obviously, candied bacon on a s'more is far from typical, so we were all really excited to give it a try. The base of the dessert is a smoked chocolate cake which is by far the dominant flavor of the whole thing, so much so that it tastes less like a s'more and more like just plain chocolate cake. I was also disappointed to hardly taste any of the bacon component at all. The dish itself was really great, but beware that it's less of a s'more and more of a marshmallow filled chocolate cake.
Our next stop was Mexico for some festival favorites which include tacos, and tostadas.
Pork Tostada - $6.75
First off, we were all pretty appalled with the lack of toppings and color on both of these dishes. While the tostada had a slight advantage over the taco because of its salsa verde, both dishes were completely lifeless and hard to understand the $6.75 and $6.95 price points. The taco costing more than the tostada should be criminal. For what it was, the tostada was actually great. The tortilla was insanely fresh and made the proper way, and the salsa verde, cilantro, and onion lent itself well to the juicy pork.
The taco was really disappointing. I get that its ribeye, which drives the price up, but it was also amongst the least creative and unappealing dishes I've ever seen at a festival. Like the tostada, the tortilla was delicious and for what it was, the ribeye was excellent. This dish could have so much potential with a little more care and creativity.
Next up on our list was China. We've always loved this booth, so we were excited to try the new Crispy Fried Shrimp offering.
Crispy Fried Shrimp - $7.50
This one was an immediate favorite amongst the group. At first, we were extremely hesitant of fries and shrimp doused in Thai chili sauce, but it was an unexpected pairing that left us wanting more! The fries were crinkle cut and came fresh, and the Thai chili was the perfect way to tie the fries and the shrimp together in the dish. This one is a MUST TRY at this year's festival!
Mongolian Beef Bao Bun - $6.75
This was a pretty basic dish, but it was delicious nevertheless. The Mongolian beef was cooked perfectly and was packed with flavor. While we'd opt for the Crispy Fried Shrimp over this any day, we'd recommend this one for any non-seafood eaters.
Moving on to Germany, this booth rarely changes its menu, but we continue returning because it's usually pretty promising. The Bratwurst is always rough, but we love the rest of the items.
Roast Bratwurst in a Prop & Peller Pretzel Roll - $5.75
As noted above, the Bratwurst is almost never any good, and this time was no exception. The brat was tiny and while tasty, it just isn't what a good brat should be. The pretzel bun was also insanely stale and ruined the otherwise passable dish. The small side of mustard helped a little, but ultimately this one is skippable.
Apple Strudel with Vanilla Sauce
The apple strudel dessert, on the other hand, was fantastic. It was warm, fresh, and just what we needed for a pleasant experience at the Germany booth. The vanilla cream was like melted ice cream that went perfectly with the dish. We can't recommend this one enough to the sweets lovers!
Brazil was up next with some more of our all-time festival favorites.
Pao De Queijo - $4.50
Anyone who has ever been to a Brazilian Steakhouse will know what these bad boys are. While basic, the pao de queijo cheese bread is a classic that we have to get every single year. The bread is doughty and the cheese inside is a gooey clump of mess that just makes for a delicious and surprisingly filling snack.
Crispy Pork Belly
The Crispy Pork Belly was another festival favorite of the day. Topped with salsa, the pork truly was crispy and fatty at the same time, making for a melt-in-your-mouth masterpiece that I would have again. The salsa and micro greens complimented the dish well.
Next up was the good ol' festival funnel cake.
Street Corn Funnel Cake - $9
This year's funnel cake was the Street Corn Funnel Cake. Something about this one just doesn't sit right with me. Funnel cakes should be covered in ice cream and powdered sugar, not mayo and corn. But I digress, Cody and Lex loved it. It wasn't my cup of tea, but I can certainly see why it would be for others. The dusted paprika was a nice touch as well as the cotija cheese, which really pulled the dish tougher. I'd say this was a must-try at the festival this year.
Our last stop of the day was the Festival Welcome Center. This massive building is indoors and hosts three booths, a pop-up merchandise store, an entertainment stage, and a plethora of dining tables. We stopped at the Mac & Cheese booth, as well as the Dessert and Champagne booth.
Gourmet Macaroni and Cheese - $4.50
The Gourmet Mac and Cheese was a huge winner for all of us. The dish was served with Boursin garlic and herb cheese sauce and topped with herbed panko. The Mac and cheese was drenched in cheese and the Boursin added an insanely unique taste that worked really well and we all loved. The herbed panko added a much-needed crunch to the dish and tied it all together. This is absolutely a must-have at this year's festival.
Macaroni & Cheese (Vegan) - $5.50
The vegan Mac and Cheese was significantly more disappointing. All three of us are familiar with vegan food, including vegan meat, and none of us were particularly excited about this dish. The cheese was overly cashew tasting and the house-made Italian Sausage and pepper wasn't anything to write home about.
After Mac & Cheese, we finished our day at Desserts & Champagne for the elusive Liquid Nitro Chocolate Cake Pop.
The cake pops are served plain, or with your choice of crushed Twix or crushed M&M coating. Each one is $4 and the portion you get for the price is massive. Watching the Chef craft these cake pops was a lot of fun as they get dipped in the liquid nitrogen and emerge drenched in "fog". The taste, however, wasn't great. The flash freeze made the constancy of the cake pop taste old and stale, and it was virtually flavorless. I would recommend letting the cake pop thaw a little bit before eating to let some of the flavors come back.
It's important to note that the modified festival has switched to a mobile festival guide this year that can be accessed via QR code.
Overall, this year's festival was a great time. We went during the week, so the crowds were virtually non-existent. There were plenty of new food items to try, and even though most of the entertainment was cut this year, we still enjoyed Mariachi Cobre at the America Gardens Theater.