Friday, June 20, 2014

2014 Busch Gardens Food & Wine Festival Review

Two weeks ago we were invited back to Busch Gardens Williamsburg for their second annual Food & Wine Festival. It really wasn't much of a decision since we enjoyed last year's so much and we were very curious to see how the new additions we'd heard about would go over for us this year as well.

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
Day: Friday
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?

To start the day off we had reserved a cabana for the day. If you haven't done this yet at Busch Gardens Williamsburg, you really need to and for what you get the price really isn't that bad if you're with a group or your family.

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. 

While we were a bit disappointed that the more desert/sweet breakfast menu was gone here, there were still a few things that we wanted to try. Carrie and myself opted for the Brie et Marmelade d'Orange Crepe and Alex went with the Poulet Cordon Blue Crepe.

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.

The Marmelade d'Orange could've used a little more time to let the Brie melt a little more and possibly could've used a bit more of it as well to balance out the sweetness of the marmalade. While still good, that would've made it better.

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.

So, first up was Belgium and still being a bit full we all decided to split the Huis van Lum Chocolate Wafel. This was a decadent way to follow up our earlier stop and the chocolate walnut brownie waffle topped with berry compote was rich and delicious. Having just ate, none of us were able to finish it off, despite really wanting to!

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.

We all actually really enjoyed every dish. There's really nothing that any of us could nitpick and the fact that things were peppery enough to have a kick, but not be overbearing was a nice treat.

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.

Now, when we had heard that Canada was featuring a cheese soup, this made Carrie a very very happy camper. We've had the cheese soup in Canada at Epcot in Orlando to compare it to. The only question is would it stack up?

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!

Next up, the American Southwest. This pavilion is brand new for 2014 and was definitely fairly popular from what we saw. Now that I was finally ready to try something else and not just steal from everyone else, it was time for the Sonoran Spice Pork while Carrie and Alex shared the Chocolate Lava Cake.

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.

Our next stop was another new pavilion for 2014, The Caribbean and replaced Austria from 2013. I know, it seemed weird to us as well to have this one amongst the theme of the park.

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.

However, the same couldn't be said for the fritters. The pickapeppa dip wasn't to any of our liking and there wasn't nearly enough shrimp in the fritters either. While it looks good and doesn't taste bad, it reminded us more of a hush puppy with some shrimp inside than something that should be featuring shrimp first and foremost.

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.

Located in the San Marco section of the park, this pavilion offered up the same as last year, but we were hungry again and there was no way that Alex was going to pass up stopping for a cannoli. None of us were passing up the Lemoncello either. Last year it was good, but this year they went as far as to get some of the best you can get straight from Italy. It's only a shot, but it's a potent one!

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.

They have a great selection of four wines here, but there had to be a winner as we needed another bottle to take with us on our journey back to the pavilion clear on the other side of the park.

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.

Finally we reached Scotland and we were rewarded with not only a well deserved Crabbies Ginger Beer. We also decided that we'd get a Scotch Egg as well as try the Shepherd's Pie, featuring lamb stewed with Port wine and rosemary.

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.

Take our advice though and plan for two days at the park. With the three of us we barely managed to hit everything that we had wanted. Others may have better luck with that, but it's easy to spend an entire day just eating, drinking and enjoying the food centered entertainment that the park offers. Besides, you can always come back the next day and hit all the coasters like we did too.

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! 

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