Friday, June 20, 2014
2014 Busch Gardens Food & Wine Festival Review
This year's event runs until June 29th, Friday-Sunday, so there's still a couple of weekends left to get out there and try what they've got on the menu for this year.
Like last year, the event was packed with 14 food pavilions, 4 wine tasting pavilions, food carving demonstrations and live shows all centered around food and drink. There's so much to see and do that you should probably plan just a day to experience it all without rushing to get to rides and waiting in lines there as well.
Visit Date: 6/6/14
Weather: Sunny and Warm
Overall Rating: Excellent
Food Rating: Very Good
Show Rating: Good
Sample Prices: Good
Recommendation: If you haven't gone, you need to!
Review Team: Myself, +Carrie H.C. and +Alexandra F
**Disclaimer: Despite being invited down by the park, we still bought our tickets for the event and we were not comped for any of the food. This is because we like to visit more than one day and the Fun Card option is too good to pass up!
As I said, we really enjoyed the first year of this event that took place in 2013 and we were eager to see just how they would corrupt our tastebuds this time around. Not only is the park beautiful, but the atmosphere and theme of Europe lends itself perfectly for an event of this type to take place. That said, not everything we tried went over that great with us. That's just how food is, but I'm getting a head of myself. Let's start at the beginning, shall we?
Not only do you get a nice, private are to relax away from the crowds but you get a fridge, soft drinks, Quick Queue passes and a locker that you can come back to throughout the day. Seriously, it's one of the best things you can do.
Once we were settled, enjoying our ciders from Ireland (Carrie and I went with Magners and Alex with the local Bold Rock) and had our game plan, we struck out on a journey that would lead us to hit 12 of the pavilions and two of the wine tasting stations that are spread throughout the park. We decided to stick to going counter clock-wise and from where the pavilions are, that meant Crepes & Coffee was up first.
However, we had serious business to attend to and a stop at the French Wine Tasting center was in order. One of the lessor known facts is that you can actually buy a whole bottle and carry it with you through the park and this is particularly nice as you have a nice traveler as you take your culinary adventure through Europe and beyond.
One of the nicer things here is that they will serve you your food once it's ready since they're cooked fresh for you right there. Hard to argue with that one.
After a short wait, we were presented with our meals and ready to dig in. Both were very good, but there were a couple of things that could've been improved upon to make them even better in our eyes.
On the flipside, Alex was finding that the Poulet Cordon Blue was unbalanced as well. Definitely a bit too heavy on the chicken and very light on the ham. Maybe balancing this out would serve the dish a little better and give a more even profile in the end.
Our next stop was Belgium and lucky for us it was only a short distance away. However, there were a few other countries nearby as well. France, Canada and the American Southwest were all also in close proximity. So, we decided to make the seating area just past Griffon's splash down pool as our base of operations for the next little while.
Interestingly enough, it also went really well with the Leffe Blonde, even if Carrie said it was a little more hoppy than Hoegarten.
Now, right nearby was France so while we digested a bit, Alex and I headed over and picked up a few things that sounded really good. Well, okay, we ended up getting everything here almost. Alex wound up with the Coq au Vin, red wine-braised chicken stew with rosemary roasted potatoes. I went with the Steak au Poivre, which was peppercorn-crusted beef sirloin with a brandy creme sauce, and last but not least, Carrie went with the Ratatoullie.
France is definitely a stop that everyone should make this year. Just try something and before we head off for our next country, we're also happy to report that the Sparkling Rasberry cocktail is way better than last year. Not nearly as sweet and sour as last year's frozen version. Try it, you won't be disappointed!
Okay, so next up is Canada and it's really not far from France at all. It's really is crazy how close together France, Canada and The American Southwest were put together. So, prepare to spend time in the area if you're going to try something from everywhere.
The Cheddar Cheese and Lager Soup was, not quite as good as the one in Epcot, sad to say. It's really close though and maybe with a little tweaking this one can be right up there with Epcot's offering. Either way, it was still really good and definitely something to try if you're a fan!
Alex wound up going for the Macaroni and Cheese with Peameal Bacon on this one. Her only complaint was that it could've used a little more seasoning to bring out the flavors more, but we all had a taste and agreed that it did taste really good. Interestingly enough, everything also paired really well with the Wyder's Dry Pear Cider as well. Bonus note on this one, try the Ice Wine! You don't get a lot but it packs a rich and smooth punch!
The Sonoran Pork was really amazing, and the jicama-chayote slaw and sweet pepper salsa just brought the whole together. I could've eaten twice as much as I was given and was really tempted to for seconds! (Hint, Hint BGW, make it happen!)
The lava cake was just sinfully good, they nailed this one and with the bite or two that I stole, it was a great way to follow the pork. That said, the cake had a little kick of it's own due to the Ancho-spice that they used and really made for an interesting experience. The only thing that Carrie and Alex thought that could make it any better would be a bit of vanilla ice cream to accompany it. Other than that, don't change a thing with it! Seriously, we liked it so much we went back on Saturday and got another serving.
Since Carrie can't have seafood, Alex was more than happy to for the Gamba Fritters and I went for the Jamaican Jerk Chicken. Carrie opted for a liquid stop and grabbed the Frozen Caribbean Sunset, which was really good but you could definitely taste the Malibu in it!
Anyway, on with the food. The Jerk Chicken was tender and moist and the guava bbq sauce and grilled pineapple salsa made for a killer combination. I easily could've eaten twice as much on this one as well.
Since we were in Germany by this point, Carrie decided to try the Wild Wolf Blonde Honey from the Beer Flight pavilion. While she enjoyed it, she felt it was a little too hoppy for her tastes here as well.
You might wonder why we skipped over eating at Germany. Well, nothing had really changed and the only additions were the deserts from Austria this time around. So, since we had tried everything last year (and it's all really good), we didn't see the need to repeat and moved onto our next destination, Italy.
Carrie also picked up the Caprese Salad, which definitely hit the spot and quite refreshing at that point.
At this point we only had a few stands to hit and only one that was really on our list. Though, before we moved on, we watched the Food & Wine version of Mix It Up and enjoyed the chaos of it all while we polished off another round of Lemoncello and finished our food. Before leaving Italy, we had one more thing to address. The Italian Wine Tasting pavilion.
This time we all agreed that the Moscato L'Armangia was the clear winner. We liked it so much that we started coming up with ideas of what to do with it. The best one? Making it into a sauce to put over cheesecake!
Our next little bit of wandering had us skipping over Greece. Again, nothing had changed here and while we enjoyed everything that was offered last year, we didn't want to miss out on Scotland. So, definitely stop for the Souvlaki Tzatziki and the Backlava if you're in the mood, they're both excellent and I doubt that's changed.
With nowhere to really sit and eat, we decided to head back to our pavilion to chow down and enjoy our drinks and food. Along the way we skipped over Scandinavia, which like the others we passed didn't have much in the way of new offerings for this year.
Carrie and I both really enjoyed the Shepherd's Pie and while the Scotch Egg was really good, it could've been a little bigger as you only get half of one. The only complaint that we had about the Shepherd's Pie was that it was a bit fatty, but otherwise delicious as well.
So, there ya have it. Everything that we tried during this year's Food & Wine Festival at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. Overall we enjoyed pretty much everything that we tried, with only a few things falling flat for our tastes. All three of agreed that while last year was good, this year was a huge step up and shows some great promise for the future of this event.
In the end, we can't wait to see what new and exciting things are offered during Food & Wine next year and keep an eye out for our all new park review that will be coming soon a well, detailing everything we did the following day!