I just returned from opening weekend of the 2016 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival and I’m still full… and a bit overwhelmed! There are literally HUNDREDS of items to try, and most folks will only spend one afternoon (or if they are lucky an entire day) at the festival as part of their vacation.
Every time I go I wish someone would tell me what I shouldn’t miss at the festival… so this year I decided to do that for my readers! I also want someone to tell me what to skip, so I’m sharing some items that I think you are better off skipping.
Keep in mind that my choices are limited to what I’ve tried (that’s upwards of 50 items over the years) and my personal tastes. But I have found some consensus from other Disney food lovers and fan sites.
So if I were going to the festival again, here are the ten items I would be sure not to miss and some I would skip. I also stuck with strictly food items because I’m not much of a drinker.
Can’t Miss Items
Smoked Beef Brisket and Pimento Cheese Served on Griddled Garlic Toast (Hops & Barley) – $5.25
This was the first item we tried at the festival this year and did it ever set the bar high. It involved a VERY generous portion of tender, flavorful smoked brisket on top of a smear of pimento cheese served on thick toast. I tried to get a little of each in every bite and it was awesome.
I’ve never been a pimento cheese fan but it just works wonderfully in this combination. I think this dish represents a pretty good value at $5.25 because of how much beef it contains.
Pickled Beet Salad with Herbed Goat Cheese, Minus 8 Vinaigrette, and Toasted Walnuts (Farm Fresh) – $3.75
This one was a total surprise since I had to practically force myself to try it. I usually avoid beets, but trying this seemed like a safe way to give them another chance. OMG was this dish incredible! The beets were done just right – firm, not mushy – and just barely pickled. The goat cheese was almost like a bleu cheese dressing and added just enough tang. I loved the vinaigrette, walnuts, and unidentified greens that topped it all off.
This was one of my top three favorites this year. I did a double take when I saw how much it cost, too – only $3.75! Please spend $3.75 and try this, I promise you won’t be sorry.
Kalua Pork Slider with Sweet and Sour Dole Pineapple Chutney and Spicy Mayonnaise (Hawai’i) – $4.25
This is one of my all-time favorite dishes at the festival, though I skipped it this year in favor or trying new things. The pork is tender and delicious, and the pineapple chutney adds flavor without being overpowering.
There are a lot of pork dishes at the festival this year, but I think this is the stand-out. The Pork Lettuce Wrap with Kimchi from the South Korea Booth comes in a close second (do you like how I sneaked another one in there?) It is also a GREAT deal at $4.25.
Black Pepper Shrimp with Garlic Noodles (China) – $5.50
This top ten item totally came out of left field. I’d never tried anything at the China booth so I figured it was time, plus I had read a positive review of this item somewhere else. I wasn’t expecting much, but this was an awesome dish!
It was a large portion of flavorful noodles and four lightly breaded shrimp. I didn’t pick up too much black pepper flavor and I loved the fine Panko breading on the shrimp. The noodles were just a tiny bit spicy. This was so much food for $5.50! I commented that I could eat this as a light lunch and be satisfied. Definitely one to share with friends.
Buttered Chicken with Micro Cilantro and Naan Bread (Africa) – $5.00
I was expecting this dish to be great and it was. I’ve had the butter chicken at Sanaa and this was just as good. It has a ton of flavors that are exotic without being overwhelming. The chicken is super tender and it has just enough naan bread to sop up all the sauce. The portion we received was pretty small, so not the best deal around, but definitely not something you should miss.
Roasted Verlasso Salmon with Quinoa Salad and Arugula Chimichurri (Patagonia) – $5.50
This was one of the most flavorful items I had at the festival, thanks to the incredible arugula chimichurri sauce. Chimichurri is usually made with parsley, but arugula made it SO much better in my opinion. The sustainably farm-raised salmon was tender, moist, and not at all fishy. I also loved the quinoa salad that accompanied the salmon.
My first thought when trying this was that I could eat a whole plate of it! I encouraged my friend Toni to try some of the salad and chimichurri since she doesn’t like salmon, and she thought it was excellent as well. This item has great value for $5.50.
Liquid Nitro Chocolate-Almond Truffle with Warm Whiskey-Caramel (Chocolate Studio) – $4.50
This item doesn’t represent a great value, since it is only about four large bites, but WOW, was it so good. It is frozen, which I guess you could figure out from the terms “liquid nitro”, but I was pleasantly surprised by how cold it was.
The truffle is very chocolaty without being bitter and has just a hint of almond flavor. I loved the crunchy topping (not sure what it was but that didn’t bother me) and the whiskey-caramel sauce was divine. I could also eat a whole plate of this stuff, though I would definitely regret it later.
Seared Scallop, Truffled Celery Root Purée, Brussels Sprouts and Wild Mushrooms featuring Melissa’s Produce (Wine and Dine Studio) – $5.50
Toni and I both loved this scallop dish, and we agreed that it was the accompaniments that made it stand out. The celery root puree had both great flavor and texture, and the brussel sprouts were roasted to perfection. I even liked the wild mushrooms though I don’t always go for those kind of earthy flavors.
The scallop was nice sized, but overall this wasn’t a tremendous value for $5.50. There is always a scallop dish somewhere at the festival, and this is the best one I’ve had.
Freshly Baked Carrot Cake and Cream Cheese Icing (Hops & Barley) – $3.75
I know that you can get carrot cake anywhere and cream cheese icing isn’t that special either. But this little cake is just so good. It is tender and delicious and just SWIMMING in cream cheese icing. I swear it is larger than in years past, but I could be thinking of other items.
Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup with Pretzel Roll (Canada) – $4.75
And last, but not least… I had to include the perennial favorite, the cheddar cheese soup in Canada. The soup itself isn’t very photogenic, so here is my husband geeking out over it. I thought about leaving it off the list because I can now make it at home, but there is no getting around that it is one of the best items at the festival.
The pretzel roll is a welcome addition and another cult-favorite from Le Cellier. Don’t leave the festival without trying this soup, even if you skip the Filet Mignon and even if the line is long at the Canada booth (it almost always is).
What to Skip
Grilled Beef Skewer with Romaine, Apricots, and Feta Cheese (The Chew Collective)
I honestly didn’t like anything at the Chew booth and I liked this dish the least. The beef was overdone, the lettuce wilted and the apricots and cheese nothing to write home about. There are so many better beef dishes at the festival. SKIP.
Grilled Sweet and Spicy Bush Berry Shrimp with Pineapple, Pepper, Onion and Snap Peas (Australia) – $5.00
There just wasn’t anything notable about this dish. The sauce tasted like a basic sweet and sour sauce, the shrimp were so-so and there wasn’t much to it. There are much better shrimp dishes at the festival (such as the aforementioned Black Pepper Shrimp in China and the Shrimp Tacos in Mexico). SKIP.
Tuscan-style Stew with Carrots, Mushrooms and Crispy Polenta (Italy) – $6.25
This was an above average beef stew with a little bit of polenta. Nothing worth the $6.25 price tag and nothing you couldn’t easily make at home. SKIP.
Crispy Pork Belly with Black Beans and Tomato (Brazil) – $5.50
This dish looked so good that I really wanted to like it, but I didn’t. It could just have been the portion we received, which had way too much fat and very little pork. And the salsa fresca and beans were mediocre. SKIP.
Beer-braised Beef served with Smoked Gouda Mashed Potatoes (Belgium) – $4.75
We tried to eat this waffle concoction right away, but we still got a soggy waffle. Maybe some folks don’t mind that, but I just couldn’t get past that I was eating stew on a soggy mashed potato waffle. Just ewwwww. If you need a waffle, go for the Belgian Waffle with Whipped Cream and Chocolate Ganache. SKIP.
So those are my can’t miss items at the festival and what I wish I had skipped. I’m sure some of you are amazed that I missed your favorites, so please chime in below in a comment! What are your “can’t miss” items at Food & Wine?